Commentary

The hidden silver lining in the Supreme Court’s decision

Dobbs decision could unite the left like Roe united the right

July 4, 2022 3:50 am

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 24: People protest in response to the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24, 2022 in Washington, DC. The Court’s decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health overturns the landmark 50-year-old Roe v Wade case and erases a federal right to an abortion. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

And all along I thought the topic of abortion had been settled more than 30 years ago when I was in high school.

During that time, speech and debate coaches throughout the state of Montana decided they were absolutely sick and tired of hearing speeches and debating the topic of abortion so they collectively banned the topic, barring speech, debate and drama kids from expounding on it, forcing us consider other worldly topics like the first Iraq War or whether the television show “Murphy Brown” should be censored.

Ah, the good ol’ days.

Still, there was a certain logic and wisdom stemming from the decision, and there was more to it than the sheer boredom of debate judges who just couldn’t handle one more expository speech musing about when life begins.

Even then, most people considered the topic settled, and if the legal complexities of abortion weren’t completely hashed out, even high school kids had already made up their minds on abortion. Ironically, while practicing the art of persuasive speech, there was no one left in the audience to persuade.

Yet I have to give credit to a minority of Americans – and by all polls numbers I’ve seen in the past few days, it is a minority – who have labored for a half-century to keep settled law and history alive. Abortion has been called the primary example of a wedge issue, something politicians use as a clear line of demarcation for partisan politics. It’s not as much of a “wedge” issue as it is magnetic – a powerful force, possibly the only one that united an increasingly fractured conservative wing of American politics, which has rallied around a number of disparate issues from gun rights to picking on LGBTQ people, all with one great common denominator, abortion.

As conservatives rejoiced that their half-century battle had been successful, I wonder if any of them, in their ecstasy, had considered the breathtakingly high cost of the battle, or contemplated whether such a win-at-any-cost strategy could backfire if liberals copy-and-paste from the same playbook?

For years, Republicans have brokered deals with fringe groups to hold onto power. The George W. Bush-era GOP had to realign itself with the zealots of the Tea Party. The so-called “moral majority” brokered a similar deal: Either kowtow to our social agenda or risk losing large swaths of voters en bloc. Yet, as a majority of Americans shifted to more moderate views, the fight for political power forced the party to turn to increasingly fringe groups, including the “alt-right” and their shadowy world of Q-Anon conspiracies and a dressed-up reformulation of white supremacy.

Even when Donald Trump became the Republican nominee for president, conservatives were told to hold their nose and avert their eyes as example after example of shocking disclosures were brought to light about the failed New York real estate tycoon. Conservatives were told it would all be worth it when the Supreme Court would be packed and the holy grail of politics, the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, would be at hand. But, in trading the souls of the unborn, the Republicans may have lost theirs along the way.

Thousands, even in little old Montana, have turned out to rally against the decision this weekend at the Capitol. Just one business day after the decision, the Democrats in the state attempted to codify abortion access in Montana law.

The Republicans should be cautious about any valedictory laps. And they should be concerned by the opinion of United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who may have said the quiet part of their plan out loud and in print in his concurring opinion, where he outlines a veritable wish list of other socially regressive policies, like banning all birth control or reconsidering gay marriage – policies which virtually no one on either side is asking for.

In other words, Thomas is searching to find that next wedge issue that will unite the right, which, after the hangover of the abortion ruling clears, must find some new issues to galvanize conservatives whose policies, ranging from abortion to gun control to the Jan. 6 insurrection, are increasingly falling out of favor with the majority of voters.

The Democrats may have also been given a gift, courtesy of the majority of the Supreme Court. For years, the center and left have also fractured into different camps, but the new Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health ruling offers an opportunity to speak with a more unified voice. The right used the topic of abortion to hold political power for a half-century. If the left and liberals were smart, they wouldn’t invent the wheel, instead they’d rally support for candidates who support more freedom, and believe the government has no legitimate business regulating who people love and when they have families. This must be the new litmus test for the left.

And, it’s not just abortion, but our attention has also been diverted by the other bombshell decision, handed down just the day before when the Supreme Court made it harder to keep America safe by undoing some common-sense gun laws.

I am not even sure how to reconcile the doublespeak coming from the high court when it struck down a state’s ability to control guns and then punted the issue of abortion to every state, saying that important decisions like reproductive freedom should be done by the states themselves. So, we trust states enough to regulate a uterus, but not enough for guns.

Nothing speaks more clearly about our priorities and values than that.

If the left cannot unite around these issues, gift wrapped by an activist court, then it will be missing an opportunity that I can only hope will never happen again in my lifetime.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.

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