It’s likely the eve of the destruction of Roe v. Wade — an act likely to be met with cheers or outrage, depending on which side of the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court abortion case people land on.
And what comes next could very well be up to your state legislator.
How the court could change course so dramatically in less than 50 years is something scholars will debate for a long time. But it’s not exactly unprecedented. In fact, it’s not even uncommon.
The court has overturned its own decisions more than 230 times since 1810, according to the Library of Congress. That makes such actions an almost annual event, on average.
Many of those mind changes were for the better. Like the famous Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling in 1954, which upended the “separate but equal” policy established by Justice Melville Fuller’s court with Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896.
Miranda v. Arizona in 1966 created the “you have the right to remain silent” Miranda rights we see over and over on cop shows. But Miranda actually overturned two rulings from just a decade earlier, both involving criminal suspects who were denied access to lawyers during police interrogations.
And there have been decisions that just made things worse. Like Citizens United v. FEC, which has helped shape the “soft money” political landscape we have today.
In 2010, the court, let by Chief Justice John Roberts, ruled that giving money to political campaigns — no matter how much money — was an extension of free speech granted by the First Amendment.
That ruling wiped out two previous Supreme Court decisions, including one brought by Sen. Mitch McConnell against the McCain-Feingold Act, which limited such campaign expenditures.
Many of these legal “course corrections,” for lack of a better term, were met with controversy. And if the Supreme Court does indeed overturn Roe v. Wade in the coming weeks, its ruling will reverberate through a large number of elections and a wide range of legislation to come.
Yet what’s before the court isn’t a criminalization of abortion. Instead, it would likely return the country to what existed before Roe — individual states creating a mish-mash of laws ranging from full legalization of the procedure to its outright ban.
New York has a complicated history with abortion. While many believe the state would remain pro-choice, it wasn’t always that way here. In fact, abortion has been legal in New York only since 1970 — legislation signed into law just three years before Roe of a procedure that had been outlawed, for the most part, since 1830.
But abortion access will completely disappear in other states — the quickening of a process that has been under way for the past couple of decades.
The future of abortion in New York will almost assuredly lie with Albany. State lawmakers will be compelled to respond to the ruling, and could put in place laws codifying the original Roe ruling, dismantle legalization, or possibly finding some space in between.
No matter which direction legislators lean, what is certain is they need to hear from you. For abortion? Against abortion? With conditions? No conditions? This is the time to speak up and be a part of the legislative process.
We spend a lot of time reading — and hearing — about individual lawmakers’ positions. In the end, however, their job is to represent their constituents. That’s us. But they can’t represent us if they don’t know our positions on legislation before them, or the bills that could wind up on their desks thanks to the actions of the Supreme Court.
Call your Assembly member or state senator. Write them letters. Send them emails. Visit their district offices. Don’t wait for someone else to speak for you, because if everyone waits, then no one is speaking.
And with high court changing so dramatically in recent years, it’s more important than ever to establish those relationships with lawmakers, because what happens next truly depends on you.