This is about minority rule. And it always has been.
That’s what I found myself thinking as I watched my feeds fill with the breaking news of the Supreme Court leaked draft decision to overrule Roe v. Wade last week (and I’d love to hear how you’re processing the news—share your thoughts here).
I thought about the pregnancies that my loved ones, my friends, and I have ended, and about what it would have been like to be forced by the state to carry them to term. I thought about a future of state-enforced pregnancies for my children. I thought about the lives lost trying to end pregnancies with no legal protection. I reread the searing 2004 essay in which Mother Jones contributor Eleanor Cooney recalled her terrifying pre-Roe journey to doctor after doctor, each of whom told her she was “too far gone” for an illegal abortion. The article contains a photo of a woman who died in 1964, after her boyfriend tried to perform an abortion in a hotel room. It is grim. And necessary.
But most of all, I thought about how far gone a democracy is when 54 percent of the population support a constitutional right and 28 percent oppose it, yet the 28 percent position wins out.
My colleague Ari Berman wrote about this in 2019, after Georgia passed one of the first in the new crop of anti-abortion bills even though only 44 percent of Georgians favored it. As Ari explained, “Republicans invest so much energy into voter suppression…because it allows them to enact cruel, unpopular policies with no accountability at the ballot box. The GOP doesn’t need to have the support of a majority of the state’s voters if it skews who actually gets to vote.”
Same in Washington, DC. Five of the Supreme Court’s nine justices were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote. In the Senate, the 50 Republican senators represent 41 million fewer people than the 50 Democrats. The GOP controls state legislatures and congressional delegations through an absurd degree of gerrymandering: In Wisconsin, 75 percent of districts are heavily Republican, even though Joe Biden won the state in 2020. In Texas, just under 40 percent of the population is white, but white voters are the majority in 60 percent of state legislative seats. (It took me a minute to wrap my head around that math.) The Texas legislature that passed a “heartbeat” bill, which forces women to leave the state for abortion care, is 73 percent male and 61 percent white. It’s hard not to think of apartheid-era South Africa when you look at numbers like that.
Tough words? Maybe—but these are tough facts, and sugarcoating them doesn’t serve anyone. In fact, there’s an argument that sugarcoating the abortion debate is part of what got us here. As the journalist Farai Chideya, who hosts the podcast Our Body Politic, wrote on Twitter, “Too many times I’ve been in newsrooms where a post-Roe and post-Voting Rights Act future was dismissed summarily as a possibility. So we as a profession created a dangerous filter bubble, dismissing individuals and groups as fringe when they were the tip of the spear.”
I don’t need to tell you that at MoJo, these possibilities were not dismissed: They were investigated. Seven years ago, Molly Redden documented how, in many places, “the war on women is over, and women lost.” Three years ago, Becca Andrews showed how women in Mississippi were already living in a post-Roe world, and Nina Liss-Schultz outlined how abortion rights defenders were preparing for worse yet to come. Stephanie Mencimer laid out what Sam Alito is all about back in 2016. (“If you want to know his judicial philosophy,” one legal expert summarized, “just look at the Republican Party platform.”) Just a few weeks ago Arianna Coghill chronicled how states were tripping over each other to pass anti-abortion laws, and Lil Kalish showed how technology may help states that want to force people to stay pregnant.
These journalists in our newsroom, and many others, were not chronicling the battle over abortion as a he-said-she-said political fight. They were illuminating the visceral stakes for people’s lives. All of our lives. Something else I’ve been thinking about is how different my life has been from my great-grandmother’s Therese’s. She gave birth 17 times and had to bury six of her children. I’m grateful that my grandfather was one of the survivors. But what if Therese had been able to choose motherhood rather than endure it? We’re not far removed from these times.
The story of abortion is about whether people get to make profoundly personal decisions themselves. It’s about whether parents are allowed to love and support their children; whether people can get life-saving medical care without fear of imprisonment; whether sexual harassment and sexual assault are condoned or confronted; whether women should be more harshly punished for confronting an abuser than the abusers themselves. All of these issues are connected, and all are connected with the fundamental question of whether our democracy works for all, or is hijacked to serve a minority’s last-chance grasp for power.
And that story is at the heart of what Mother Jones does. “Two days out from the news and I’m still reeling,” my colleague Inae Oh, MoJo’s senior news and engagement editor, wrote in our newsletter. “But the initial shock has also given way to a kind of mobilization in the newsroom that, at least for me, echoes the emergency of election night in 2016, when it became clear that the unthinkable had actually happened.”
“I’ll never forget the all-hands-on-deck feeling,” Inae writes. “Despite the anger and despair, everyone wanted to pitch in, plan the fight. Something similar is happening now as abortion rights hang in the balance. The pages of Mother Jones are making sure to call it like it is.”
And calling it like it is can make a big difference. This week I found myself thinking way back to 2010, when Republicans took over Congress in a backlash to the first Black president. Many in the media were covering the tea party as if it were a brand new phenomenon, but it wasn’t hard to see that its agenda was very familiar. Within weeks the new majority was trying to redefine rape so as to deny abortions to women who needed federal funds. MoJo’s reporting on this change, buried deep in an amendment, spurred a backlash and “Dear John” letter-writing campaign to then–House Speaker John Boehner, and the legislation died.
That was when Republicans still thought of themselves as a potential majority party that needed to be careful about offending the majority of the country. Today’s GOP has fewer qualms, because it has bet on minority rule, and Trump has shown them that when you’re appealing to a minority of the population, cruelty can be a winner. Alito’s draft Supreme Court opinion recognizes no exception for the pregnant person’s life or health, or for rape or incest—even though overwhelming majorities, including four in five Republicans, support those exceptions. It takes aim at same-sex marriage, which a majority of Republicans support. And Texas Gov. Greg Abbott chose this moment to talk about challenging a Court decision affirming public education for all.
That’s the bigger picture of what happened this week, and that’s what MoJo has been covering—to the point where now, others are starting to recognize the patterns too. This week I saw the term “minority rule” in a lot of other media as they covered the decision. It took long enough.
So as we start the first full week of this new reality, I’m also reminding myself that by no means all is lost. So many people—including so many of you—are gearing up to protect your rights and those of others. Some are donating to abortion funds and signing up as clinic volunteers, some are clearing their calendars for canvassing, or running, in the elections this fall. Some are thinking of new ways to ensure access to reproductive care. Some are committing themselves to the long, hard, yet hopeful work of organizing the majority of Americans who want a democratic government that respects their private choices.
As we see over and over around the world, minority rule is both oppressive and, ultimately, fragile. Over the long haul, it is always on the defensive against the collective power of a determined majority.
And it’s always on the defensive against the power of facts. It’s telling that shortly after the decision was leaked, the National Republican Senatorial Committee pleaded with conservatives to position themselves as “compassionate consensus builders” and emphasizing that “Republicans DO NOT want to take away contraception” and “DO NOT want to throw doctors and women in jail.” In fact, Republicans cheerfully kept saying that they wanted to do exactly that.
Exposing lies and undermining talking points is what Mother Jones exists to do, and it showed last week. In just one day while I was writing this, here’s what my colleagues published: A story from Kiera Butler, who is based in Georgia, about how social media has become a breeding ground for anti–birth control disinformation covertly promoted by anti-abortion groups. A powerful dispatch from Florida, where Laura C. Morel investigated the increasingly aggressive tactics that protesters are using to harass. An analysis by Jackie Mogensen, who read through the entirety of Justice Alito’s 98-page opinion and tallied all of its footnotes to see how often Alito cited scholarship and judicial opinions from men vs women. (Do yourself a favor and watch her share the results in just one fact-packed minute!)
When the Supreme Court news hit last week, Mother Jones was in the middle of a spring fundraising drive that is critical to keeping these reporters and others on the beat. We put all of that on hold because, as Inae said, it was an all-hands-on-deck moment. But if you think that deeply reported, honest journalism that gives you context and perspective (and doesn’t sugarcoat) is important, please consider supporting our work.
And whether you can or not, we’d love to hear what you are thinking about at this moment. Are you fired up to get involved, or taking time to grapple with the new reality? What are the stories you would like to know more about as you process the news? Let us know.