So, uh, what’s the plan?


A 26-year old Texas woman, Lizelle Herrera, was arrested two days ago “on the charge of Murder” after “intentionally and knowingly caus[ing] the death of an individual by self-induced abortion”. Her bail is set at half a million dollars. She is one of the first women, but certainly not the last, to be criminally charged for committing an act that has been protected under Roe v Wade since the 1970s. As such, Roe v Wade is functionally dead. The right to an abortion no longer exists in Texas, Mississippi, and Oklahoma, with many more states to come.

It’s even worse than that, actually. If the destruction of a fetus is considered a murder, then every miscarriage becomes grounds for an investigation. (Of course, the targets of such investigations are far more likely to be Hispanic women in South Texas than white women in tony suburbs.) Furthermore, the scope of the Texas law is not limited to the pregnant woman alone. It drags everyone in her vicinity into suspicion:

As Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in dissent, the law “deputized the State’s citizens as bounty hunters, offering them cash prizes for civilly prosecuting their neighbors’ medical procedures.” Random strangers can sue any “abettor” to an abortion anywhere in Texas and collect a minimum of $10,000, plus attorneys’ fees. The act’s language is incredibly broad, encompassing any friend, family member, clergy member, or counselor who facilitates the abortion in any way. Every employee of an abortion clinic, from front desk staff to doctors, is liable as well. And when an individual successfully sues an abortion provider, the court must permanently shut it down.

The right to an abortion in the U.S. has been hanging on by the most frayed of threads. Over the last few decades, states have imposed ever more onerous restrictions: state-directed counseling, waiting periods, parental consent for minors, spousal notification for married women, regulations targeting abortion providers, like hospitals, prohibitions on telemedicine, blocking of public funds to pay for abortion, and so on. Access to abortion has become increasingly limited in red and purple states. Many clinics have shut down, the target of either state action or right-wing terrorism. As a consequence, many women do not live within 200 miles of an abortion clinic, and some have had to travel to another state to visit the one closest to them. All the while, liberals have fought a rearguard action, donating money to abortion funds, litigating cases in front of an increasingly unreceptive judicial system, encouraging Democratic governors to veto draconian restrictions, and trying to flip state legislatures. But, at least to my knowledge, there have been almost no cases where state legislatures have reversed abortion restrictions. We have only succeeded at losing more slowly. Part of the reason is that state legislatures are gerrymandered even more thoroughly than our national House of Representatives, to the extent that states like Wisconsin, Texas, and others should hardly be considered democracies. But another significant part is that, unless you pay far too much attention to politics, like me, or unless you are personally impacted by these restrictions, you might not have noticed anything was happening at all.

Perhaps that is because there has always been a backup plan, provided you were desperate enough. After the Texas law was passed, many Texas women drove to Oklahoma to get an abortion after 6 weeks; others used the abortion pill at home to induce one. (I was surprised to learn that more than half of abortions in the U.S. are carried out via medication, and, as the New Yorker writes, “requests for the pills through an organization called Aid Access nearly tripled” after passage of the Texas law.) As the reality of a post-Roe world sinks in, Republicans are becoming more aggressive at stamping out these alternatives. States like South Dakota have passed legislation to ban the pill, or at least to make access almost impossible; states like Oklahoma, recipients of Texas’s abortion refugees, have imposed their own, even more draconian, restrictions.

It is not just in the battle for abortion rights where we are losing. A new panic (or, more accurately, a continuation of the old panic) threatens to reverse decades of progress in LGBTQ rights. Conservatives have successfully portrayed Democrats as “groomers”, supporters of child sexual abuse and other crimes. Discussion of LGBTQ identity in schools, these individuals suggest, is how LGBTQ teachers train (”groom”) children to become receptive to their sexual predations. Of course, this is all disgusting nonsense. The party of sexual abuse and generally weird sexual attitudes towards the underage has always been the Republican Party, from Dennis Hastert to Mark Foley to Matt Gaetz. (Things get fractally weirder in American politics the further down you go, and it should be no surprise that state legislatures are havens for Republican creeps.) Far from preventing child abuse, the effect of laws like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill will be to re-closet LGBTQ teachers, silencing them when discussing their boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, and wives in the same way that a cisgendered, heterosexual teacher would feel comfortable doing (and has always felt comfortable doing). It would also convey to kids the impression that being gay is somehow wrong or deviant — a topic not to be discussed at school.

Already, Republicans, like the Florida governor’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, have smeared the bill’s opponents, tweeting “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children.” Tucker Carlson called on fathers to “storm” their kids’ classrooms and “thrash the teacher” who is “pushing sex values on your third grader”. We all know how this will end: with some idiot with a semi-automatic weapon shooting up a classroom because he believes it to be the site of sexual deviancy and child abuse. It is only a matter of time.

The list goes on. Governor Greg Abbott of Texas signed into law a bill criminalizing gender-affirming care for trans kids. Simultaneously, Fox News spawned a news cycle about Lia Thomas, a transgendered woman competing in women’s collegiate swimming. They accused her of destroying women’s sports by using her innate advantages to outcompete cisgendered women (notwithstanding the fact that her personal best is well behind the women’s world record, and she regularly loses at national college competitions.) A year ago, there was a panic about “Critical Race Theory”, an obscure academic theory that conservative activist Christopher Rufo brought to public attention. He claimed that this theory, birthed in the dark halls of Marxist academia, has slowly infested America, leading to the rise of “anti-racism” business seminars led by figures like Ibram X Kendi and Robin DeAngelo; “race and gender theory [being taught] during math class” in schools; and financial regulators learning about “anti-capitalism”. Republicans realized the value of CRT as a cudgel to bash Democrats with, and, simultaneously, passed laws at the state level to ban discussions of CRT in schools. (Again, setting aside the fact that seemingly no one can define what it actually means.)

(As an aside, Rufo seems almost gleeful at finding the ideal epithet with which to tar the other side

“‘Political correctness’ is a dated term and, more importantly, doesn’t apply anymore. It’s not that elites are enforcing a set of manners and cultural limits, they’re seeking to reengineer the foundation of human psychology and social institutions through the new politics of race, It’s much more invasive than mere ‘correctness,’ which is a mechanism of social control, but not the heart of what’s happening. The other frames are wrong, too: ‘cancel culture’ is a vacuous term and doesn’t translate into a political program; ‘woke’ is a good epithet, but it’s too broad, too terminal, too easily brushed aside. ‘Critical race theory’ is the perfect villain.”


On the one hand, our news is being dominated by obvious bullshit concocted by Republican smear artists. On the other, state legislatures are slowly eroding hard-gained rights and making the lives of minorities more miserable. The two, of course, go hand-in-hand. Every panic—about babies being killed, children being preyed on, and white people being taught to feel bad—spawns legislation designed to target the “bad guys”: the baby killers, the groomers, the Marxist anti-racists.

Where is our side in all of this? And what is our plan?

Some people in my circle seem to subscribe to the theory that things must get worse before they get better. Once Roe v Wade is officially overturned — that is, once it’s obvious that abortion is truly under attack — people on our side will be roused from their slumber and protest with the urgency that is required. Because this issue has not yet pierced the national consciousness, no one has processed how grave the situation is. But when it does, things will be different, or something.

I hope you will forgive me for being quite pessimistic about this take. (To be fair, I am pessimistic about most things.) The first reason is that, if conservatives have chipped away at abortion rights in “secret” until now, why would they not continue to do so? It is possible (although I consider it unlikely) that Roe v Wade is functionally overturned without it being explicitly overruled. In which case, if the Texas law has not gotten people into the streets, what will?

The second is that, as the example of Christopher Rufo shows, issues don’t enter the national consciousness of their own accord. They are forced there. It requires concerted effort both to engender a news cycle and to keep it going. The individual activists who do the research, the grassroots organizers who go to town halls, the TV talking heads who disseminate the ideas to a national audience, the politicians who blather on Sunday talk shows, the columnists in major newspapers who reinforce these ideas, the donors who supply the financial juice to keep things going — all of these various groups must work in concert. If the Republicans have been successful at dominating our political culture, of which our actual politics is downstream, it is because they have mastered the art of creating news when it doesn’t exist.

And, therefore, what does it say about Democrats that they cannot create news even when it does exist? We have been witnessing the systematic assault on the rights of people integral to our political coalition. The Democratic leadership, consulting class, and big donors have not fought for them one whit. They are unwilling to fight for the right to an abortion. They are unwilling to fight for anti-racism. They are unwilling to fight for trans people. They are unwilling to fight for gay people. They don’t seem willing to fight for, or stand for, anything at all. And this is true even if these issues are popular! (One funny thing, as a Twitter pundit pointed out, is that the “popularism” crowd has very little to say about how effective Republicans have been at weaponizing issues that should be unpopular for them, like gay rights and abortion rights.)

Lest you think I’m exaggerating, this is a recent story about Nancy Pelosi. She is reported to have complained that progressives (read: AOC) almost cost the Democrats control of the House by “not be[ing] careful enough about the way they spoke about abortion among new Americans who were devout people of faith”. I mean, good lord. The Democrats have been tiptoeing around the issue of abortion as long as I can remember. Obamacare came with the explicit guarantee of no federal funding for abortions. Presidents Clinton and Obama alike claimed abortions should be as “rare” as possible. We have tried the Pelosi strategy. The only way to avoid alienating key electoral blocs is to say nothing of substance. The Democrats seem to be experts at this.

Republicans have tethered themselves to some hideously unpopular positions: overturning Roe, bans on abortion in cases of rape and incest, prosecuting women as murderers, and turning ordinary citizens into bounty-seeking narcs. And most Americans don’t even seem to realize it. We seem to be waiting for something to happen, for the Court to tell us its intentions straightforwardly and for the nation to realize what is taking place. But nothing will happen on its own; we must make it so.

If the Democratic Party cannot talk forthrightly about abortion without worrying about being chided by “devout people of faith”, if it cannot protect their own people from being jailed by The Handmaid’s Tale re-enactors, if it cannot make a national issue out of something real just as Republicans have made national issues out of something fake, then it deserves to be burned to the ground. I’m tired of voting for these self-enriching mealy-mouthed cowards and hearing them lecture me about how, after 20 years of things going backwards with no end in sight, they know more about politics than I do.


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