The other reason I remember it is because it was the day I realized the theater of accountability meant nothing. By no means did I have whole faith in any system — when you’re a person of color in an Anglophone country, you learn quickly that objectivity doesn’t exist and that so-called neutrality is shaped by power’s protective bias. But I think I still believed in story, and truth, and persuasion. When Ford’s testimony was greeted with national derision, and Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court regardless, I felt physical pain. Ford was a white woman, a psychology professor, a sympathetic figure with a lot to lose and very little to gain from saying her piece, and very little changed as a result of the hearing. Her bravery and the magazine covers and think pieces celebrating her hadn’t done anything except, perhaps, to make some of us feel understood. It wasn’t enough, really. The scales fell from my eyes, and I felt my last fantasy about the world and its fairness dissolve.
We can draw a line from that day to the SCOTUS decision that felled Roe v. Wade, eliminating people’s federal right to abortion in the US. Kavanaugh was one of the six justices who upheld Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. The day before, the conservative-majority court limited a citizen’s ability to sue police officers and overturned a law that had restricted handguns in public.
Together, this suite of decisions vanished rights that have protected people from harm for decades. Survivors of gun violence, people who can become pregnant, and prison abolitionists have expected some of this for a long time and have long expressed grief and fear about the future. The people who will be most affected by these changes — poor people, people of color, people who can get pregnant — have already been mistreated by structural, generational inequity and a pandemic that cracked open existing fault lines. According to the Wall Street Journal, two-thirds of Americans support Roe. It does not matter to the courts. Some of the anti-abortion laws being proposed around the country are so broad as to criminalize miscarriage. It does not matter to the courts. More people than ever openly identify as LGBTQ. It does not matter to the legislators trying to suppress them. Disabled people do not have to wonder where the fall of Roe leaves them; the consequences are devastatingly clear. It does not seem to matter at all.
It almost feels like a joke that things have become so much more dire since 2018, in the sense that a joke overturns expectations to reveal a shocking but equally possible outcome. “All of the horribleness of our society that compelled tens of millions of people into the streets has not only not changed but has become worse,” Princeton professor of African American studies Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor tweeted about the fall of Roe v. Wade. “The SCOTUS has effectively created a new tier of citizenship and belonging to which it has consigned nearly half of the population. Without the right to control one’s reproduction, the social, economic and political status of women will change.”
It’s true that we cannot put our trust in courts, in government, in purported leaders. Some of us cannot even trust the people we love and who love us. Roe v. Wade is not just about abortion — it is about people with control doing everything they can to maintain it. As we saw with the Amber Heard trial, a frighteningly large number of people do not recognize how hatred of women manifests in events big and small, nor what continued, mindless, socially reinforced support of patriarchy begets.