Will there be a big backlash when Roe is thrown out?

The short answer: I don’t know . . . But. I have a test for deciding; I’ll get to that presently.

This reflection was provoked in early December 2021, after two very smart women pundits whose work I take seriously, made opposite predictions about this.

First, Jennifer Rubin, a Washington Post columnist.

For years she was reliably right wing. Trump changed all that. Rubin’s not exactly a born-again liberal now, but is vociferously pro-Roe v. Wade. And she thinks its overthrow would  be a huge political boon to Democrats, writing:

[I]f Democrats needed reason to fire up the troops before the 2022 midterm elections, this might do it. The obviously partisan court will thrust the nation into a period of turmoil, chaos and outrage over new restrictions on women’s life choices, which Republicans will seek to cement in state laws. Every Republican on the ballot for state legislator, governor, the House or the Senate will have to defend new intrusions on women’s autonomy, including in cases of rape and incest. Given the wide and deep support for abortion rights, Republicans may come to regret appointing religious ideologues to the court.”

Turmoil, chaos & outrage” eh?

Well, it sounds plausible. Roe has been law for almost 49 years. Will Americans simply accede to having it ripped away?

Perhaps. A pandemic-exhausted citizenry, even women, might just put up with Roe’s public evisceration. Doubtless there would be a round of rallies, with angry speeches & shaking of fists — but then after a few weeks, the ire could dissipate, and the public’s fickle attention drift to the next media shock or Covid spike. Hasn’t that already happened repeatedly, almost weekly, in the past few years?

That’s what Megan McCardle is expecting. McCardle is a conservative writer, but of a thoughtful anti-Trump, business-oriented, Bloomberg stripe; she also does columns for the Washington Post.

And considering Roe’s demise, she told readers her study of polls & other measures of public sentiment suggests the response to it will likely be no more than a resigned shrug. McCardle wrote:

[It] seems reasonable to assume, as many people do, that a Supreme Court ruling in the Mississippi case to overturn Roe v. Wade would result in a fierce electoral backlash from women belatedly awakened to the dangers of GOP rule. In fact, there’s no real data to back up those assumptions. It’s true that women are more likely than men to identify as pro-choice and to say that abortion is an important factor in their voting decisions. But while the gender gap on abortion is real, it’s remarkably small — and arguably non-existent — when you drill down to the specifics beneath the “pro-choice” and “pro-life” labels.”

That is, McCardle contends that American women are not a sleeping tiger of pro-abortion backlash, but more a jumble, a herd of cats, nearly as divided about it as thinking males.

Post-Roe, she argues, controversy and political agitation will continue. But a pro-abortion tidal wave? Naaah.

Whose crystal ball is right? Take your pick. Both are knowledgeable and serious.

In the meantime, though, I’ve been refining my own test. I doubt pollsters will take it up, but let me describe it anyway. It may sound peculiar at first, because it’s about neither sex nor women.

Instead it’s about men. American men, in a particular age cohort, now ages 75 to 83, born between 1940 and 1953. That cohort includes me. (But hear me out.)

These men differ widely in racial, ethnic, regional and religious backgrounds, political views, education and family income. Yet almost all of us have one thing in common.

That common element is a story.

The story is about facing the military draft: how they (we) responded to a government demand for men to submit to conscription into the military to join a war. Not just any war, but the unpopular Vietnam War, in which 58000 of them were killed and millions more wounded physically, mentally or both, on the way to a humiliating, bloody defeat.

This choice was forced on us by federal law, backed up with felony charges and jail terms.

For the largest number, the ensuing  stories were straightforward: they submitted. Many donned the uniform proudly, put in their time, and (if they survived) returned to civilian life and coped with the aftermath.

Many others, mostly white or affluent, found ways to avoid induction. They stayed in college, became ministers, failed physical exams (for real or trumped-up reasons, like imaginary bone spurs). Others flat-out refused, faced jail, or qualified as conscientious objectors. Many thousands emigrated, mainly to Canada, which then was welcoming.

So some of our draft stories were dramatic. Many were unpleasant but unremarkable; thousands were tragic, and not a few, ignominious. For too many, they ended with a folded flag, a white slab in a long cemetery row, and a name on the stunning Vietnam memorial.

But whichever, they all — we all— have our draft stories.  For glory or shame, the draft hung over us like the Sword of Damocles until it ended in the early 1970s.

Is it coincidence that those were also the years of continued waves of increasingly disruptive antiwar rallies? Or that these protests faded as the draft was phased out?

Coincidence? I think not.

Not all, or even most of us were antiwar activists; many retirees of hawkish views jeered at peace marchers —but took care to dodge the draft for the war they otherwise ardently “supported.” So they too composed, and typically hid, their draft stories.

Decades later, this trajectory of peril forms the “data” for my own ruminating about the impact of Roe’s impending overthrow:

The specter of Vietnam conscription kept most of us on edge. It put a macabre question mark after our attempts at normality. More, it made us a huge reserve of unease that fostered the activists, became fodder and fuel for the periodic eruptions.

Now back to the Post-Roe future, beginning, say, next June. For a critical number of American women, my question probes beyond seeing clinics closed, some doctors  jailed, morning after pills proscribed: will the dark cloud of Post-Roe government-enforced pregnancy come to haunt these women, their sisters and their daughters? Will it lay on them a similar burden of background anxiety, a feeling of personal threat, as the Vietnam draft did on so many?

Poster, circa 1970

Post-Roe won’t exactly be “war,” but will it feel like it?

(And by the way, the draft’s hazards fell not only on men: for all those male names on the Vietnam memorial, there were mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives, kinfolk, colleagues.) If Roe’s end does come across feeling like  conscription for the Supreme Court Trump Trio’s (culture) war, then I expect the odds of Jennifer Rubin’s backlash forecast will increase.

But I’m not predicting it. Most women could instead find Post-Roe only a tolerable inconvenience, manageable by a trip to the nearest blue state clinic, or a packet of Plan B or Plan C pills. Then the change could be met more with McCardle’s uneasy shrug, punctuated by noisy but diminishing “Choice” rallies.

lt sure sounds like the Supreme Court’s Trump Trio are putting their money on McCardle. And my parallel with the draft hasn’t yet yielded a clear reading. But like pornography in the old days, I think I’ll know it when I see and feel it.

Baritone & soprano? Two-thirds of the Trump Trio.

After all, I have one advantage over those whipper-snappers on the bench, Barrett, Kavanaugh & Gorsuch: I actually lived through that earlier upheaval, before they were even born, or out of their cribs. (For that matter, Rubin and McCardle were no more than tweens when it all blew over.)

These five are all smart and accomplished. But for them, this is mostly paperwork & documentaries.

I know about it in the gut. And while I don’t know the future, the gut feelings are strong about two things:

One, turmoil, chaos & outrage really happened, and could happen again.

And two, the Trump Trio is playing with fire.

Meantime, my gut is churning, and I’m listening, and feeling.

5 thoughts on “Will there be a big backlash when Roe is thrown out?”

  1. How suburban women, the ones who in 2020 flipped Pennsylvania, are likely the key to the 2022 election. The SCOTUS hard-right wing could make that happen, while destroying the credibility of SCOTUS.

  2. I will be flip and simply say “Don’t Look Up” from now on. I hope you know what I mean, if not watch the movie. Love Ben

  3. During Vietnam, mothers, wives and girlfriends supported war resisters in a variety of ways. I am hopeful that fathers, husbands and friends of women will also step forward as allies to support prochoice women. This is not solely a woman’s issue.

  4. Indeed not! We in this land are all involved in the whiplash tides of these politics and their promulgators. No clear directions for us lovers of living and democracy! But isn’t it a great time for courageous and articulate writers to proclaim our dedication to freedom for men and women alike? Possible wide-based social trends here at such an inflection point?

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