Sunday Dispatch: How American democracy failed abortion rights
June 29th 2022
On the Sunday Dispatch, Lindsay Riley talks with writers, activists and experts to better understand issues from all around the world. In this episode, he sat down with Margaret Kimberley, co-founder, executive editor and senior columnist for Black Agenda Report.
On June 24, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe v Wade, a 1973 court decision which recognised the right to an abortion. Currently holding a 6-3 majority in the Court, American conservatives have long desired restrictions on reproductive rights at the federal level.
Activists had previously long worried that without abortion rights being codified into law by Congress, Roe v Wade would be in danger. President Joe Biden promised codification if elected, but despite Democrats controlling both houses of Congress, they failed to do so. Margaret said the Democrats must share some of the blame; especially since the same scenario occurred during Barack Obama’s presidency.
“Obama had the best opportunity to [codify abortion rights] in 2009 when he first came into office. He ran as a candidate saying he would pass the Freedom of Choice act. And then, a few months into his presidency, he said, ‘Its not my highest legislative priority.’”
Margaret noted that there is a connection between the Democrats’ failure to pass progressive change, despite large majorities, and the Supreme Court’s powerful and concentrated influence. America’s institutions are still shaped and constrained by their racist and exploitative origins. She explained that the depth of these roots continues to restrict meaningful change in the country’s political system.
“We have a political system that doesn’t meet our needs, but that benefits certain people. So it’s not an accident that all these relics still exist… It’s a larger problem with a system that is constructed to impede democracy. The founders were not people who believed in democracy, they just were not. They did not trust the people. Even at the time with the limits they had on voting, you had to be a free white man who owned property in order to vote.”
This politics of exclusion could threaten even more than abortion rights. As part of his judgment to help overturn Roe v Wade, Supreme Court judge Clarence Thomas said “In future cases, we should reconsider all of this court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.” These three cases recognise rights relating to contraception, non-heterosexual relationships, and same-sex marriage.
Given their current lack of action, Margaret sees little hope in the current administration. But she’s confident that American citizens can win back these rights, the same way they fought for them in decades past.
“We need to look outside the Democratic party. I think it has to be mass action… We need to make them afraid that they won’t get back into office if they don’t do the things we want, like protect abortion rights. But you have to have a sustained mass movement.”
For more interviews like this, tune in to the Sunday Dispatch from 8:15am each week on the Sunday Overhang with Lindsay Riley. In the meantime, you can listen back to Lindsay’s full interview with Margaret Kimberley up top.