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Tom Baxter

The end of Roe won’t bring quiet in the culture war

By Tom Baxter

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey might seem an unlikely target in the conservative culture war. The 77-year-old Republican, referred to by some as Gov. MeeMaw, recently signed what has been described as the most stringent anti-abortion legislation in the country.

She’s portrayed very differently in an ad for primary opponent Lindy Blanchard. A prominent anti-abortion activist charges that Ivey “shut the churches down but kept the abortion clinics open,” during the pandemic shutdown, an allusion to the state’s compliance with guidelines from the CDC. Both Blanchard and another of Ivey’s opponents in the May 24 primary, Tim James, have attacked Ivey for not withholding support for a so-called “transgender school,” a Birmingham charter school that is welcoming to LGBTQ students.

It doesn’t look like Ivey is going to have much trouble in her primary, although she has gone to some trouble to get right with former President Donald Trump. But the fact that she is not immune to these kinds of attacks — might in fact be a prime target for them — tells us something about politics, post-Roe v. Wade.

The two parties differ over issues like abortion and gay rights, but most of the ammunition fired in the culture war has been within the Republican Party, with conservatives shooting at each other over who is truly committed. If Roe is overturned, the turmoil over social issues within the GOP is only likely to intensify. Some of the big questions Republicans have grown accustomed to wrestling over at county meetings and state conventions may be primed to explode into a shower of fresh reasons to shoot at each other.

Over a half-century, opposition to the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide has become the center post for an enormous network of activists and organizations. Where to take this movement after the fall of Roe was already under consideration before the leak of the draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

One direction has been signaled by Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who has denounced a Supreme Court ruling which has been precedent for longer than Roe v. Wade: the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision which struck down that state’s law banning contraceptives and articulated the concept that the Bill of Rights gave Americans a right to privacy.

With the midterm elections coming and polls showing strong support for keeping Roe intact, putting the legality of contraceptives on the table is the last thing Republican campaign strategists are interested in right now. But the privacy principle established in Griswold was key not only to Roe v. Wade but later to Obergefell v. Hodges, the same-sex marriage decision. To the victors of the long battle to topple Roe, a new crusade to overturn Griswold could prove irresistible.

If attempting to restrict contraceptives seems like a stretch politically, consider a bill currently in the Missouri legislature which would allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps a Missouri resident have an abortion, no matter what state the abortion takes place in. That could get into a big constitutional briar patch particularly when other states start enacting their own cross-border laws.

In the wave of state-level legislation placing new restrictions on legislation this year, there has seemed almost a competitive spirit. Proposals like these are sure to provoke a backlash, but we’re likely to see a lot more of them popping up in legislatures around the country. Neither side in this 50-year war is behaving as if anything has really been settled yet.

The Democrats are headed toward a Senate vote to codify Roe v. Wade into law, which won’t succeed. Sen. Mitch McConnell has said that Congress could enact a nationwide ban on abortion, although that may just have been the Senate minority leader’s dry way of goosing the Democrats. He knows that he doesn’t have the votes, either. So until the court’s decision is officially made public in June, sides will have little to do about this but fulminate.

Let’s not forget, either, that however the draft of Justice Samuel Alito’s decision came to be public, it is not yet the court’s official decision. The real storm is yet to come.


Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.


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