A thousand little funerals
The end of a years-long eulogy for Roe.
The slow unraveling of Roe has felt like attending a thousand funerals for the same death.
Each time an abortion case has advanced to the Supreme Court, each time a state legislature has passed a terrifying local ban, the eulogies for the constitutional right to an abortion poured in. And with each emotional event, a small piece of our hope was chipped away. We’ve had years to contemplate this particular end: time to plan for life beyond it, to recognize the utter privilege of having it, and to mentally prepare for the final blow. But whether something is lost in an instant or gradually over time, it still hurts like hell.
Friday, October 5, 2018, the day we learned the Senate intended to confirm Brett Kavanugh to SCOTUS is for many of us one of the most easily recalled funerals. We remember the weather, where we were and who watched along with us as Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, took to the floor to share that she intended to push Kavanaugh’s nomination through. After weeks of pretending she could be persuaded otherwise, Collins seemed certain that the newest conservative justice would respect the settled law of Roe vs. Wade, and that the allegations of sexual predation against him were meritless. Mitch McConnell called her speech, “absolutely inspirational.”
This is not to lay the blame solely at Collins’s feet when she was just one of many bad actors upholding the charade that the Republican endgame hadn’t been to make abortion illegal all along. But the despair, the utter loss, the complete hopelessness I felt that day was burned onto my bones, and in some ways, changed the way I looked at American politics even more than when Trump was elected. It was the exquisite juxtaposition of promoting a man to the country’s highest court to ostensibly serve justice, and knowing that with him on the bench, there’d be none. It was knowing that no matter how we screamed and threw ourselves into elevators with members of Congress and begged them to protect our very humanity, that when they weighed the pros and cons, it was ultimately in their best interest to stick with the greater of two evils.
I remember watching every single moment of Collins’s nearly 45 minute speech because there was still a part of me that believed this preamble would lead back to her doing the right thing. Despite any evidence to the contrary, I thought this leader would, when presented with the clear and present danger posed by an aspiring Justice Kavanaugh, understand the gravity of making the wrong decision here. But as my friend Louie and I watched on a laptop outside a coffee shop, she announced her decision with pride. And the next day, so would 49 of her mostly white male Republican colleagues.
Late afternoon gave way to night. I walked home to my apartment and I cried and when my boyfriend called me after work to see what I was up to, I told him I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t stand the idea of any man telling me what to do, even if it was what kind of takeout to order. It wasn’t fair to him, but nothing about that day was fair, and I only wanted to be around people who acutely understood the pain of what had happened and all the pain that was yet to come. I sat on the floor of my friend’s apartment and drank and cried and drank some more, until finally the tension eased a bit, and the realization that this, too, would soon be normalized settled over us. It wasn’t a matter of if Roe would be struck down, but when. A cosmic hourglass tipped over that day and we’d spend the next three and half years watching each grain land with a thud and wondering when the very last one would fall. And now it has.
Today my thoughts turned to a different set of funerals: The ones that will come rushing in waves as more and more states work to fully criminalize abortion as soon as possible. As early as minutes after the SCOTUS decision was announced, people with scheduled abortions at clinics in Texas were turned away. They woke up this morning, expecting to go through with an important personal health care decision, and ended the day with a forced pregnancy. They’re trapped, and people will go to extraordinary lengths to get free. If a person is unable to have an abortion for whatever reason that is neither my nor your business, death might be their only escape.
The Kavanaugh confirmation happened in the month leading up to the historic 2018 midterm elections, a time of great ebullience and optimism in spite of the darkness of Trump’s first two years. And though I dutifully knocked doors and made calls and spent every free moment trying to help Democrats win back the House, in the back of my mind the end of Roe lurked. Because I knew that control of the House was temporary, but a supreme court justice was, for all intents and purposes, forever. While so many of us worked to secure the next two years, the fate of a generation had already been sealed.
I admire the people who maintain hope at this moment, for which I am not one. But I can say that I hope to be hopeful. I hope that once the handmark from this slap fades and the duty to help the most vulnerable seeking abortions is all that remains, I’ll be able to look back on this death, and hope for the birth of a brighter day.