Decisions to End Roe & Expand Gun Rights Will Put Women “In Their Place,” Redrawing Our Constitutional Map
If conservative Supreme Court justices rule as expected on abortion and gun rights this year, their judgments will inch us closer and closer to taking away other constitutional rights — most of them hard-earned by and for women.
Darryl Miller, a gun rights expert and Duke Law School professor, recently called the two anticipated decisions “broad and broadly disruptive”.
He said the “conservative supermajority on the Court…is clearly ready to flex its muscles on issues that conservatives have long cared about — from abortion restrictions, to free exercise, to gun rights — so I can’t rule out a broad and broadly disruptive ruling…”
Broadly disruptive is right. Women may go to jail for having an abortion, but an 18-year-old with violent tendencies and/or a mental illness is allowed to buy an assault weapon. Somewhere on our ever-evolving constitutional map should be a right for a woman to have control of her body and a right to ban the purchase and use of assault weapons by citizens. New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a bill to ban assault weapons in New York, but what about all the other states? Guns will travel. Passage of a gun safety law in the U.S. Senate is welcomed but is a slow start for what’s badly needed.
This obvious contradiction between abortion and gun rights puts many other rights in extremely precarious positions for mostly women and LGBTQ: what about gender and class equality, sex discrimination, sexual harassment/abuse, equity in sports and salaries, gay marriage and more? If one right tumbles, the rest may all come tumbling down.
In 1971, feminist lawyer Florynce Kennedy, who helped pass New York’s pro-choice legislation, wrote: “Freedom for women is still dependent upon a change in the power structure of male-dominated institutions.”
In 2022, freedom for women is still dependent on men. Predominately white men in the courts, governors’ offices and in the legislature are leading both fights to end abortions and expand gun rights.
Yet, a woman’s vote in a campaign is more powerful than a gun. If a woman has a right to vote or not to vote, then she has a right to decide about having an abortion or not. She can keep the child or not. She can allow the child to be adopted or not. She and her husband or partner can one day teach a child about gun safety, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, pay equity, sports equality and any other challenge a child will face as an adult.
Justice Samuel Alito, though, in his notorious draft Roe v Wade decision, essentially removed women’s rights from the Constitution by ignoring the 19th Amendment and refusing to acknowledge the amendment’s power and worth. Equality for women drove reformers to seek the vote in 1920, the same way equality for women drove Roe v Wade, Title IX in sports and equal pay which, in turn, drove the demand for an Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s to make it clear women are to be treated as equals.
The ERA failed but so did the anti-abortion movement’s effort to latch onto the power of the 19th Amendment in the late 1990s, with the pitiful argument that bearing children will not harm a woman’s economic or education status: movement leaders said the government, the media and the medical establishment have hidden the truth and robbed women of the legacy of the 19th Amendment. Sorry, but the 19th Amendment’s “legacy” does not provide a woman, working at a grocery store, the salary she will need to raise a child. (Passing the ERA would help improve her salary, but when will that happen?)
Alito’s draft decision is just as inept and shows little understanding of the law or of the history of our constitutional development. The Constitution of 1787 was written for a world of horses and carts, not the Internet and its offspring in social media. Which is why we have 27 amendments so that the nation can adapt to emerging and changing realities.
Yet, instead of respecting certain amendments to the Constitution, Alito ignored them to turn women into wards of a state which will dictate the medical advice women must take. As wards, women in states banning choice will no longer be full U.S. citizens. They will be put “in their place” meaning to make women aware that they are not as important, respected or influential.
Losing the right to vote can be a direct consequence of having an abortion or helping a woman have an abortion in certain states which have passed state felony laws in Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama and possibly more to come.
Should the Supreme Court allow states to ban abortions, then a woman who crosses the state lines for an abortion or who helps another woman have an abortion or who takes a morning-after pill could easily violate such state laws and be imprisoned, never allowed to vote again. Never allowed to vote for state legislators, governors, members of Congress and a President who could help stop the mass shootings that started at the University of Texas Tower over half a century ago.
Many Americans will be horrified by the anticipated expansion of gun rights by the Supreme Court. The conservative justices are expected to make it easier to obtain and fire guns with assault weapon strength, based on rights supposedly found in the 2nd Amendment, ratified in 1791 for “citizens” (white men in the militia) to use guns with much, much less fire power than today’s AR-15.
The 1787 Constitution was designed exclusively to protect the rights of white males over 21. It then took the Civil War and 620,000 dead Americans to change and give us the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, the right to be inclusive, not exclusive. It’s “time to heed the Constitution,” Justice Alito argues. We agree, but he is not heeding the Constitution, he’s bleeding the Constitution of its most valuable rights to protect our bodies and our children’s safety.
Ignoring a woman’s hard-fought right to vote, to choose an abortion, to be treated fairly in the workplace, to feel secure when her children leave home for school each morning is dangerous, both politically and ethically. Providing equality for women is far from over, but women have fought to be put in their own place in the Constitution. How about keeping them there.
Francis McInerney is a New York businessman, the managing director of North River Ventures and co-author of “Future Wealth”. Karen Hinton is a women’s right advocate and author of “Penis Politics: A Memoir of Women, Men & Power”.