Just before midnight on Wednesday, the Supreme Court finally issued its decision on SB 8, the Texas law that makes abortion illegal after six weeks of pregnancy and deputizes anyone in the state to prosecute anyone else who helps a woman get an abortion after six weeks, to the tune of $10,000.
Earlier in the day, I had traded drafts with Dahlia Lithwick, who has been covering the Supreme Court for longer than I have been a journalist. We were both in various states of disbelief about what, exactly, was happening—perhaps because we had been kept in the dark by the highest court in the land, the court that is supposed to uphold the Constitution. It seemed both impossible that it would rule this way and impossible that it wouldn’t—a SCOTUS order allowing the law to continue would be so brazenly against what the majority of Americans think should happen, never mind that it would be against precedent. But as we know, this is what the conservative justices were put on the court to do. Dahlia started to realize this on Monday, when she and another colleague, Mark Joseph Stern, tried to sound an alarm about what was coming. “Will the conservative justices who control a 6–3 majority of the Supreme Court let Texas overturn Roe v. Wade before they have a chance to themselves?” they wrote. Last night, we learned the answer: yes.
As we sent our Word doc back and forth on Wednesday afternoon, I started to feel a particular, familiar kind of awful—one that I felt for four long years working as a journalist under the Trump administration. Don’t get me wrong—I am in this profession because I am an idealist, and I believe that reporting and even argumentation can make a difference for both policy and popular opinion. But as I worked through Dahlia’s draft, I was transported back to the same helplessness I felt so many times during the Trump years—awareness that we were simply screaming into a void. Dahlia’s response to the Texas law was heartfelt and wise, as her work always is, but she’s written a version of it one thousand times before. There are two main things that people can do in response to this law: reform voting, and reform the courts—two things that Dahlia has patiently attempted to explain for years now as I’ve tried to help her sharpen her prose into a weapon that might actually have an effect.
Even as I know that things aren’t really better now, there had been some relief from that specific kind of stress in recent months. And so maybe the worst part about sitting with the feeling—that “oh right, this is what it felt like under Trump”—was the realization that this was the entire plan all along. This exact moment is why enough people held their noses and voted for him, and it’s a reminder that the consequences are here to stay. So many of the worst things he did will keep unraveling for years, if not decades, to come. (This felt doubly true in New York on Wednesday night as a hurricane flooded the city while wildfires were devastating the West.) We are watching it unravel in slow motion, and we cannot do the things we need to do to take back control of our country and implement policies that help (and that are what most people want).
The most affecting journalism that I read on Wednesday, as we waited for a decision that we didn’t dare believe would disappoint us in the way this one has, was a piece by the 19th that followed the story of one Texas clinic struggling to perform as many abortions as it could on Tuesday before the clock struck midnight. The story is horrifying, yet it’s crafted in a way that both illustrates the urgency and fêtes medical staff who scrambled to help as many women as possible under the wire.
There are many stories to be told about the women who need abortions and why—stories that will break your heart, stories that people will share at great personal expense over the coming days and weeks, even though it is too late to think that, once again, patiently explaining why this form of health care matters will change minds. But I will tell mine anyway: When I was a freshman in high school, I had sex with a boy who liked me a lot, whom I liked a lot, and whom I really didn’t want to be having sex with. I wasn’t even entirely sure of the logistics of the situation, just that it hurt. In the weeks that followed, I stopped eating, and I stopped getting my period too. I spent the months of that fall slightly catatonic, not really believing that this thing might have happened to me. I remember him telling me we would “take care of it” and that someone had told him that maybe the easiest way would be to take ecstasy, because that was supposed to make you miscarry, and finally I remember him saying that it would be OK because there was a Planned Parenthood a town away. In the meantime, I had started cutting myself, and my mother, who I am incredibly lucky to have, noticed what was happening, talked to me, and got me a pregnancy test (negative) and a therapist.
I don’t think about this story very much anymore. I tried to forget it as soon as it was over. And at this particular moment, it barely even feels relevant, because I wasn’t pregnant, and I didn’t need an abortion. But when I do think of it, I recall that even with all of the trapped, awful ways I felt in those months, there was a solution. That solution—the mere existence of it, and the fact that I could talk about it with people who cared about me—was a door that kept me a little bit saner. The Texas law will stop many, many women from having access to such a door. But the particular cruelty of this law is that it also criminalizes the mere discussion of such a thing. It cuts women off and isolates them in the moments when they need support and understanding and help the very most. There are women and girls in Texas who will need that, and now, thanks to this law—a law that breaks 50 years of precedent—they won’t be able to get it anymore.