The two weeks since Politico published the leaked draft majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturning Roe v. Wade have been consumed by conservatives, and some of their boosters, performing two seemingly contradictory moves: They are both doubling down on the promise to make abortion illegal nationwide and then persistently lying about the fact that they intend to make abortion illegal nationwide. Sen. Ted Cruz tells us to calm our pretty little heads because abortion is simply returning to the states, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says a federal ban is possible if Republicans win full control of Congress. Meanwhile, states are racing to enact new laws that would brutally punish women who seek to terminate pregnancies, pressing 15-week bans, bans on telemedicine, six-week bans (as in Oklahoma), and bills to allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps a resident have an abortion (as in Missouri). One (at least momentarily) failed bill in Louisiana would have reclassified abortion as homicide. These new bills have no exceptions for rape or incest. Yet conservatives tell us soothingly that this will mark the end of politicization and rancor. We are told that it’s all just fine because poor women who need reproductive health care can just travel to blue states or get themselves some better charity, even as every lick of data shows that these are not meaningful solutions for unimaginable suffering that will not fall on the kind of people who write soothing op-eds telling women what to do.
The damage will of course not be limited to abortion rights, but we are told comfortingly that this would never be the case. We are already hearing that abortion education will end in red states, Mississippi is workshopping a contraception ban, and options for obtaining birth control are already dwindling in states like Texas. We are living through an age in which pregnancy, miscarriage, in vitro fertilization, and contraception are all increasingly subject to monitoring and criminalization, which will be left at the discretion of overzealous state prosecutors and, yes, citizen vigilantes. New versions of the already Supreme Court–approved S.B. 8, the Texas “bounty” law, not only encourage private citizens to act under color of law, backed by the actual force of law, but they also make it impossible to ask for help for anyone who is young, pregnant, and terrified. Every conversation with a counselor, pastor, teacher, or driver is deliberately chilled. The most vulnerable pregnant persons will be left alone, terrified, and without even the possibility of openly discussing their situation with anyone. That is the plan: to chill pregnant people from seeking help unless they opt to carry to term. Don’t let the people putting the plan into effect say that it isn’t the plan.
So when men—because it’s pretty much always men—lecture you about what red-state legislatures—which are pretty much always controlled by men—are not going to do when Dobbs comes down, it’s most likely because they believe you to be either stupid or fundamentally powerless or possibly both.
This is all called gaslighting, and it’s a tactic of bullies, thugs, and authoritarians everywhere. The same Wall Street Journal opinion page that promised on July 2, 2018, that the court wouldn’t overturn Roe is now actively trying to cudgel the court into overturning Roe. Spectacularly stupid men gloat about the end of women’s freedom and then turn around and deride women as hysterical for worrying publicly about their freedom. Gaslighting is very much the point. When people in power tell you the precise thing you are witnessing isn’t happening before your eyes, it is done with a purpose. They are confident that if you let yourself be mollified by all the soothing talk about how, sure, you may feel (incorrectly, they will add) like they misled you at their confirmation hearings, but they are emphatically not misleading you now, then they can amass more power and more credibility to do more freedom-restrictive things with impunity in the future.
Whenever you’re being told by powerful people who don’t know anything—and don’t much care—about health, poverty, inequality, or how reproduction happens, that the thing that is currently happening isn’t actually happening, the important thing to do is not to argue with them. You are irrelevant to them, and traveling back to the Middle Ages with them in order to debate them on whether you are in fact a witch serves no useful purpose. Nor should you allow yourself to be distracted by fatuous comparisons between a Supreme Court leak and the events of Jan. 6, 2021. The latter was a coup attempt. The former was a systems failure of an institution that largely operates without systems. When actual Supreme Court justices tell you that they cannot plausibly discern the economic implications of an abortion ban because it’s never been empirically studied, that is also gaslighting. It’s been studied.
These sorts of distractions are another weapon of bullies who want to keep you from doing your work. Don’t be distracted. If the constituencies that have organized to end legal abortion for largely religious reasons for 50 years are telling you this has nothing to do with religion or abortion, you are being gaslit. When you are being told that women aren’t going to be harmed and that no other liberty interests are implicated and that fetal personhood is not connected to any of this, and that all these claims are somehow a certainty because polling, or because voting power, well, gaslit. But please understand that if you are being drawn into unknowable speculation about who the leaker is, or what precedents still survive post-Dobbs, or whether the Republican Party would in fact push for a federal ban, you are being distracted from Dobbs and its immediate and certain harms, which is not a luxury for which you have time.
Gaslighters thrive on calling you hysterical and emotional. They’ve been calling women hysterical and emotional for centuries. Sometimes with lethal consequences. (See witches, above.) Don’t bother performing sober fact-based disputation with a gaslighter. He thought you were hysterical when you told him in 2018 that Brett Kavanaugh would do what Brett Kavanaugh actually is now planning to do in 2022. He told you that you were hysterical when the Supreme Court allowed S.B. 8 to go into effect in September and he said so again when Dobbs was argued in December. He says you are hysterical now, and when morning-after pills, IUDs, and IVF are regulated and monitored and imperiled, he will tell you again that you’re still hysterical. That—and the reaction he hopes it will generate—is all he has. It’s your choice about whether or not to give it to him.
Instead, do your work. Organize. Vote. Don’t waste time on those who would keep you from it, in idle debates about whether the Supreme Court will overturn this case or that when the time comes. The Supreme Court will do whatever it wants when the time comes; of that we have abundant proof.