May 16, 2022
P U C K
The Real Tragedy of Samuel Alito’s Logic
by, BARATUNDE THURSTON
“Yet this leaked Supreme Court ruling would steal that decision away from pregnant women and instead encourage a policy of forced birth in a society that does not value the lives of those being birthed—or those doing the birthing. This decision empowers those invested only in the creation of life, not the quality of life. If we cared about quality of life for the living, we would offer up more than “’houghts and prayers’ in response to our record levels of life-ending gun violence. We would move heaven and earth to reverse the life-ending effects of the climate crisis. But we aren’t regulating gun manufacturers or carbon-spewing industries. Instead, we’re choosing to use our finite resources to regulate women…”
“We need to acknowledge that this issue is not simple and that morality and legality are different things. From my reading of the Pew Research, even those strongly opposed to abortion on a moral basis don’t believe it should be illegal in most cases. I know women who’ve had abortions, and I can attest to the seriousness with which they’ve made that decision. It’s not fun. It’s emotional and difficult and painful, but it’s also something they deemed necessary. Most people don’t want to be in a position to have to choose an abortion.
For some women in, abortion is the only way to save their lives, and the new wave of incoming restrictions will bring new stresses and new threats. As a friend of mine and mother of three recently told me, ‘Suddenly planning for my children’s future is not about saving for college—it’s finding ways to protect them from being thrown in jail for having a miscarriage.’ We should not criminalize women or further isolate them. We need to trust women and close that gap between the practice and promise of this country on our path to liberty and justice for all. I think we can. I believe we must. I know it will be hard.”
I INVENTED GILEAD. THE SUPREME COURT IS MAKING IT REAL.
Although I eventually completed this novel and called it The Handmaid’s Tale, I stopped writing it several times, because I considered it too far-fetched. Silly me. Theocratic dictatorships do not lie only in the distant past: There are a number of them on the planet today. What is to prevent the United States from becoming one of them?
Let’s look at the First Amendment. It reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The writers of the Constitution, being well aware of the murderous religious wars that had torn Europe apart ever since the rise of Protestantism, wished to avoid that particular death trap. There was to be no state religion. Nor was anyone to be prevented by the state from practicing his or her chosen religion.
I thought I was writing fiction in The Handmaid’s Tale.
T H I S:
It ought to be simple: If you believe in “ensoulment” at conception, you should not get an abortion, because to do so is a sin within your religion. If you do not so believe, you should not—under the Constitution—be bound by the religious beliefs of others. But should the Alito opinion become the newly settled law, the United States looks to be well on the way to establishing a state religion. Massachusetts had an official religion in the 17th century. In adherence to it, the Puritans hanged Quakers.
The Alito opinion purports to be based on America’s Constitution. But it relies on English jurisprudence from the 17th century, a time when a belief in witchcraft caused the death of many innocent people. The Salem witchcraft trials were trials—they had judges and juries—but they accepted “spectral evidence,” in the belief that a witch could send her double, or specter, out into the world to do mischief. Thus, if you were sound asleep in bed, with many witnesses, but someone reported you supposedly doing sinister things to a cow several miles away, you were guilty of witchcraft. You had no way of proving otherwise.
Similarly, it will be very difficult to disprove a false accusation of abortion. The mere fact of a miscarriage, or a claim by a disgruntled former partner, will easily brand you a murderer. Revenge and spite charges will proliferate, as did arraignments for witchcraft 500 years ago.
If Justice Alito wants you to be governed by the laws of the 17th century, you should take a close look at that century. Is that when you want to live?