Letter from an American – December 10, 2021


Fetal heartbeat bills by state, including time limit without exceptions marked:   
Heartbeat bill passed (to go into effect) (blue color)
  Law partially passed by state legislature (dark color)
  Law blocked by court order (grey color)

Today, in Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, the Supreme Court undermined the federal protection of civil rights that has shaped our world since the 1950s.

The case asked whether opponents of Texas’s S.B. 8, the so-called Heartbeat Bill, could bring a federal case to block the law, which gets around normal challenges by putting private individuals, rather than the state itself, in charge of enforcing it. By a vote of 5 to 4, the court said they could sue, but it limited that ability so severely that the law itself will remain largely intact.

The state law, which went into effect on September 1, prohibits abortion after six weeks of a pregnancy, before most women know they’re pregnant. And yet, the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision of the Supreme Court affirmed that women have the constitutional right to abortion without undue restrictions, primarily in the first trimester of a pregnancy.

This case is about far more than abortion. It is about the federal protection of civil rights in the face of discriminatory state laws. That federal protection has been the key factor in advancing equal rights in America since the 1950s.

When the Framers wrote the Constitution in 1787, shortly after the American Revolution against a king colonists had come to believe was a tyrant, many leading Americans were still worried about concentrating too much power in the hands of a chief executive and a central government. In order to convince people to ratify the Constitution, leaders called for explicit limits to what the new national government could do to citizens. In 1791 the nation added ten amendments to the Constitution to protect individual freedom and rights, including, for example, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection from unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to a speedy trial, and so on.

Heather Cox Richardson for more

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