Our democracy is being challenged on the backs of women. Last week, we witnessed a staggering restriction of women’s reproductive rights. The Texas law, Senate Bill 8 (SB8), represents an assault on women’s health and is one which will disproportionately affect low-income women and women of color. Importantly, SB8 contradicts the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision, which established that women have a constitutional right to decide whether to terminate an unwanted pregnancy until the point of fetal viability. This Supreme Court, rather than allowing the law to go through the course of legal challenges, chose to uphold the Texas law as it currently stands, shattering a precedent that has been the law of the land for the past 48 years.
We are witnessing the erosion of key principles of democracy. The Texas law upturns state officials’ responsibility for enforcement and instead deputizes and incentivizes individuals to act as plaintiffs. In outsourcing the ability of any citizen to sue those who perform the procedure, or anyone who aids in procuring an abortion, the law marks an unprecedented change to whomever can bring a lawsuit. Even private litigants not directly negatively impacted by the pregnant woman can launch challenges motivated purely by ideological considerations. In its design, according to some legal experts, SB8 may compromise constitutional rights.
Expectedly, the Texas law is a catalyst to launch a cascade of other states to adopt similar anti-abortion models. The law, which de facto removes the rights for women to be able to control their reproductive lives, simultaneously encourages an avalanche of similar legal moves. SB8 undermines and erodes the basic democratic values upon which our American society is structured. In exempting state officials and allowing any citizen (even non-Texas inhabitants and family members) to take on enforcement roles is a violation of the Constitution’s intentions. In free societies, democracy is designed to protect the rights of the people while authoritarian states subvert and prevent civil liberties and freedoms. Now, while witnessing this slippery slope that encourages more and more states to pass and enact the “Texas” method, we will simultaneously witness the erosion of the democratic values that constitute the foundation of a free society.
We call on governmental structures responsible to protect the Constitution’s principles on which our founders intended to take action. They must restore the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. While the Supreme Court sits aside, we must raise our voices in opposition. We must demand that the court, Congress, and the executive branch do their jobs.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said, if we remain silent, we become complicit in the erosion of democracy. In Dr. King’s admonition to compel action, he wrote: “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
His voice is a resounding clarion call for justice and rings true across humanity: race, class, gender, gender identity, nationality, and disability status. It is a charge we must embrace, and loudly.
We can no longer stand on the sidelines and complain. Women’s lives are at stake now. As “good people,” we must raise our voices resoundingly. We must be the voice for justice, for equity. Our founders envisioned liberty and justice for all. We have pursued a more just and inclusive definition of the Constitution since its ratification. Justice that ensures opportunities for all persons to succeed economically, vocationally, and socially. Justice that includes the rights of individuals to control their health choices. In extending this broader definition of justice for all, we must strive to create equal justice for those in society who are historically and currently disadvantaged, as well as those who enjoy its power and privileges.
This week, the fight to prevent the loss of women’s rights looms large. Let’s not watch and see what rights are violated next. Going forward, we must commit to a bedrock of democracy and exercise our First Amendment right. We must turn our values into action, patriotic action — for all members of our society. Action that is deeply patriotic.
(Joanne Murray is the executive director of the Women’s Fund SouthCoast located in downtown New Bedford. She is proud to call New Bedford her home.)
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