Daily Herald opinion: With new elections ahead, Roe's apparent fate offers an object lesson on voting
It's been a long-standing axiom that we get the government we deserve -- meaning the government that reflects how much voters invested in studying the candidates and whether people voted at all. Whatever you think about abortion in America or about the draft opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito that was leaked to Politico this week, the meaning of that axiom is profoundly evident.
It can be argued that the road to Roe's demise began in November 2014, when as is typical in midterms, complacent voters who would support President Barack Obama stayed home while motivated Republicans turned out at the polls to ultimately take over the House and Senate, enabling the procedural shenanigans that allowed Mitch McConnell to block Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to the court. Two years later, it is generally acknowledged that thousands of voters, progressives especially, stayed home in November 2016 thinking their vote wouldn't really matter. Thus was the way cleared for Donald Trump to win key swing states, take the presidency and dramatically reshape the Supreme Court.
Whether that is a good or a bad thing relative to abortion depends, of course, on your stance on the topic. But whatever your position, the impact of failing to vote could not be clearer.
For many progressives who may be marching even today to protest the possibility Roe v. Wade is about to be dismantled, if not overturned altogether but did not vote in 2016, this is a bitter truth. They may point to Gallup Polls that as recently as a year ago found that 80% of Americans support letting a woman and her doctor make a decision about abortion. They may cite a Pew Research Center survey finding that 59% of Americans support permitting abortion in all or most cases. They may shout that recent polls have increasingly indicated Americans support keeping Roe v. Wade as the law of the land to protect the right of all women to choose an abortion, regardless of their ZIP code.
Certainly, opponents who rallied steadfastly for almost half a century are now taking pride in their perseverance.
But ultimately, it is the ballot box and not the street that determines such decisions.
Presuming the news reports are correct and at least four other justices are prepared to vote with Alito to decertify Roe and end legal protection for medically safe abortions, in a few months' time, only women in certain states who want the procedure will have that opportunity. Illinois is one of those states, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker vowed today that the Prairie State will remain a safe haven for legal abortion, not only for resident Illinoisans, but for anyone from outside who needs or wants an abortion, meets the medical criteria and can get here. Should the Supreme Court decertify Roe, Illinois is in fact likely to become a haven for women seeking abortions from all over the Midwest, as many nearby states have already started the process of limiting access or have talked about it -- including Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky and Indiana.
For many, this will mean reverting to another dark age, where millions of women who can't afford a trip to Illinois or New York may be forced back into the back alleys of pre-1973. For many, though, it will mean new protections for the lives they consider at stake.
The difference between those groups? One side turned out in greater numbers than the other at a critical time to elect a president who had the capacity to shape the direction of the country.
Now, we find ourselves on the cusp of another critical midterm election and less than eight weeks away from the primary elections that will determine our available choices. Abortion may or may not be driving your decisions, but whatever issue is critical to you, today you see abundant evidence of what happens if you do -- or don't -- vote.