The apparently pending Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade is an affront to women’s rights to biological self-determination and to all Americans’ rights to privacy. This is why wide majorities of the country oppose the coming reversal of Roe. But if that support is to remain strong and eventually translate into abortion-protection legislation, pro-choice forces must quit sabotaging themselves by engaging in threatening protests at justices’ homes — and the Biden administration must enforce federal law prohibiting such actions.
To be sure, the leaked draft of Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion, joined by four other conservatives on the court, is infuriating. In language berating and dismissive of a right that has been a cherished and transformative one to more than half the U.S. population for almost half a century, Alito effectively struck down the entire premise of a right to privacy implicit in the Constitution. Were he right (he’s not), other rights like access to conception, same-sex marriage and even interracial marriage could also be on the chopping block.
Activists lately have staged protests outside the homes of Alito and other conservative justices. In response, Govs. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia and Larry Hogan of Maryland sent a letter this week to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland demanding that he enforce a federal law making it a crime to “picket” judges’ residences “with the intent of influencing” their decisions.
The protesters argue that law doesn’t apply in this case because their intent is to express their fury, not to influence the upcoming decision. Even if that’s true, they miss a broader point. The potential loss of Roe is a huge issue that should be debated as an issue, not as a personal attack on individuals. What they’re doing is comparable to anti-choice demonstrators intimidating women as they enter abortion clinics.
The key to keeping some legislative or other form of abortion rights in place is to convince the broad middle. Polls indicate moderates strongly favor keeping some level of abortion rights in force. If pro-choice activists want to keep that tentative majority alliance in place, the last thing they should do is present themselves as radicals who shout slogans at judges’ families in their homes in response to rulings they don’t like.
Yes, as one protester told The Washington Post, there is something galling about the premise that “the Supreme Court wants to have domain over women’s uteruses and yet the sidewalk in front of their homes is somehow sacred ground.” It may not be sacred ground, but it is outside the legitimate parameters of debate and protest. For the sake of both political propriety and strategic effectiveness, those activists should keep to the Supreme Court steps.
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