Roe v. Wade. Everyone is saying it everywhere these days. Some people are happy, and a lot of people are angry. Really, really angry. By simply reading the latest headlines, one can easily form an opinion and dive into heated discussions with friends and family about such controversial and nuances topics. Many of us, this writer included, are guilty of doing so. Hopefully, though, these last few years living in a pandemic has taught us that we need to be more discerning about information that’s out there and that angry voices can easily fall on deaf ears.
Now more than ever, each one of us has a responsibility to properly educate themselves about the issues and to check one’s emotion at the door before entering the arena. Not only have we seen our country become more polarized about politics and social issues, but even at the individual level, families have been broken up and friends have stopped speaking. Each of us has certainly felt the added strain of the social and political atmosphere. It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t experienced more anxiety and/or depression due to the events of the last few years. Oftentimes, it feels like we are reaching a breaking point and that society will crumble to chaos and despair. While we can’t control how others choose to exercise their freedom, we can use that energy to care for and develop ourselves. So let’s switch off the TV, put the phones down, and take a deep breath. It will be okay.
First thing that we should do is to educate ourselves. On June 24th, the US Supreme Court ruled that abortion is no longer a protected right under the US Constitution, aka that Roe v. Wade has been overturned. What does this exactly mean? This definitely does not mean that all abortion has been banned in the US, but that each state was responsible for determining their own abortion laws.
Prior to the latest ruling, abortion was considered a constitutional right protected under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution The 14th Amendment indicated that governments was not allowed to restrict one’s rights to “life, liberty, and property without due process of law”; simply put, government cannot take away a person’s rights without going through a fair and equally balanced legal process.
One of these rights included the “right to privacy” in which one has the right to keep personal issues private and without government scrutiny. Because of the right to privacy, federal and state governments cannot dictate a woman’s decision to abort a pregnancy (other than when the mother’s life was in danger–it is also governments’ interests to protect the health and well-being of its people). In Roe v. Wade, the Texas state government argued that the state had the responsibility to not only protect the life of the mother but also the fetus. It was believed that life began at conception, and termination of a fetus was considered a criminal act. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that Texas’s abortion laws were unconstitutional.
However, as Justice Samuel Alito vehemently argued in the latest ruling, the Constitution does not explicitly state a right to privacy. According to Justice Alito, insisting that the Constitution implies a right to privacy was an “abuse of judicial authority”, an opinion that was shared by the majority of the Supreme Court Justices. This was their ruling in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in which the Jackson Women’s Health Organization challenged the constitutionality of Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, which bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. To rule in favor of Mississippi’s abortion laws, the Supreme Court said that, despite past rulings, the right to privacy is not in the Constitution and therefore abortion is no longer protected under federal law.
The implications of giving full responsibility back to the states to define their own abortion laws have been formidable and numerous. Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, commented that states were allowed to determine their own segregation laws which resulted in further oppression of minority groups. It can do more harm than good. Before Roe v. Wade was overturned, states balanced their constitutional and statutory laws with federal laws and the US Constitution through a series of lawsuits and legislation. Some states outlawed the use of certain abortion techniques, whereas others prohibited abortion after a certain length of time. Now, states were allowed to completely prohibit abortions even in cases that involved rape or incest. Not only is the thought of carrying a baby that was a result of rape cruel, but many fear that women would have to resort to dangerous methods to terminate a pregnancy (think coat hanger) which would result in death or serious injury. Furthermore, these consequences would affect poor and marginalized people the most.
In the next few years, the abortion debate will continue to play out in the circuit courts around the country and it will not likely be the last time the US Supreme Court will need to rule on abortion rights. In the meantime, we the people are left to deal with the emotional wreckage. There are a few things to bear in mind as the abortion issue (along with all the other controversial issues) rages on. The first is to identify and acknowledge any of your own feelings that may come up, and how these feelings dictate your behaviors. Intense feelings that come up have the potential to affect other areas of our life which may have no connection to the present issue. Many of us will likely feel more angry or anxious than usual in the next few days or even weeks, and we may take our feelings out on those around us. If you find yourself losing patience more easily these days, know that it has been a difficult time in our nation’s history. It is your responsibility to find an outlet—what doesn’t come out or fully contemplated will be repressed.
Also, while it may be difficult to do, it is important to be respectful of others who may have a difference in opinion. A natural response would be to try and change their mind and/or to prove them wrong. When they do not yield, we may find ourselves getting angry, our voices getting louder, and our muscles start to clench. Anger and aggression exist for us to be able to control others. If we do not like what another person does, we use anger to change their behavior. Similarly, if someone intrudes on our personal boundaries, we get angry and may want to push them away. As we know, however, we cannot control others at the end of the day, and it may be important in those heated moments to ask ourselves what we hope to accomplish by raising our voice or cutting someone off when they are speaking. Sometimes the best thing to do in these situations would be to walk away. If someone is vocalizing their approval about the Supreme Court’s decision, you have the right to also vocalize your opinion but know that it would not change there’s.
Lastly, take the anger and use it for good. Continue to educate those around you. Write your legislators. Join a protest. Support people or causes who are directly affected by their state laws and may be attempting to go to a different state in order to get a procedure done. And most importantly, be patient. Our laws were not written in one day and, if we truly stand for democracy, hopefully the tides will turn to benefit we the people.
Jazzmin Villanueva, Psy.D.