If Roe v. Wade is overturned, what civil and human rights could be next?

·5-min read

One of the pieces of art in our dining area is "The First Step" by Shadra Strickland. It depicts 6-year-old Ruby Bridges, clad in a white dress and Mary Jane shoes, walking alone up the steps to William Frantz Elementary in New Orleans. Two federal marshals flank the entrance to the school, and behind little Ruby are white faces, some holding Confederate flags, angry that a Black child — one Black child — is integrating their previously, purposefully, segregated neighborhood school.

Clutching a book to her belly with her left hand and holding a book bag in her right, Ruby has a determined but nervous look as she is about to cross the threshold into the school, and into history.

I look at the painting every day. I think often of her parents' brave decision, of how scary it must have been for such a young child to hear shouts of "go home, n*****" from those angry white people as she was walked toward school, how terrifying it was to see the Black doll in a coffin one of the mob carried, how isolating it must have been to go through months of the school year with no classmates, no recess, just Ruby and her teacher.

I look at that painting every day, and it inspires me. It also reminds me of a not-so-distant past, one I've feared for quite some time is roaring back.

It reminds me of what has grudgingly been granted, and how quickly and easily it can be taken away.

On Tuesday morning, in the wake of the news that the Supreme Court intends to effectively repeal Roe v. Wade, which at its root gives women autonomy over their own bodies and lives, that last part — how quickly and easily things can be taken away — is resonating louder than usual.

As a woman, as a sister, as a mother of daughters, as an aunt to nieces, as a coach of a team of 40-plus girls, as an empathetic human being, it's enraging to know that soon we'll all be told that we cannot have the basic right of agency over ourselves.

And as a Black American who is relatively conscious, to borrow from the great James Baldwin, all I see is a strong pull on a delicate thread. And if this thread can be yanked, so can all of the others that have allowed my life to be what it is, and really, allowed my very existence and stand to threaten so many.

If the Supreme Court can undo Roe v. Wade so quickly and easily, what's going to come next? (Getty Images)
If the Supreme Court can undo Roe v. Wade so quickly and easily, what's going to come next? (Getty Images)

If Roe is a "states' rights" issue as Justice Samuel Alito's draft indicates, is Loving v. Virginia, which legalized interracial marriage? Sen. Mike Braun (R-Indiana) already seemed to say that quiet part out loud when he indicated twice during a call with media in March that the Supreme Court was wrong in the 1967 Loving decision, only to backtrack hours later.

Interracial marriage had long been legal in Massachusetts, where my parents married, but would not have been recognized in many other states before the Loving decision. Not that it being legal made things any easier for my parents to deal with those in their life who thought they knew best, and that "best" was keeping them apart.

If Roe is a "states' rights" issue, is Obergefell v. Hodges? It has long been comical to me that people howl about the "sanctity of marriage" and that it should only be between a man and a woman and not same-sex, yet this is a country where roughly half of all marriages end in divorce. Yes, yes, very sacred.

Obergefell, which guaranteed all people the right to marry, was decided less than seven years ago.

Alito's draft, which was reported on Monday night, argues that abortion is not "deeply rooted" in history. It seems like something Alito simply made up for the purposes of trying to justify his decision, but given that Roe was decided 49 years ago, that does, horrifyingly, seem to open the door for Obergefell to be struck down as well.

If a ruling in place nearly 50 years isn't "deeply rooted," the natural question comes: What does qualify?

The Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965 but since gutted by the Supreme Court, clearly doesn't, not in the eyes of three of the justices still on the Court whose majority opinions have severely weakened it.

Is Brown v. Board of Education "deeply rooted"? The ban on racial segregation in public schools was decided only in 1954, though one can argue there's little done to uphold it even now, 70 years later, when entire districts still have rules policing Black children's hair and banning them from receiving education in schools if they do not comply.

Is the Civil Rights Act of 1964 "deeply rooted"? The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act?

We're seeing attempts to ban books Ruby Bridges wrote about her experience, part of a new wave of book bans that unsurprisingly but nonetheless infuriatingly tilts toward banning books that center Black and queer people.

Voting maps are being redrawn to essentially negate Black voters, if they even vote in the first place after seeing a line that's intentionally hours long because precinct closures have inordinately targeted Black neighborhoods.

Legislatures are trying to write queer, especially trans people, out of existence.

Once again we're reminded what has the deepest roots: a country by white men for white men. Women can die or be impoverished or just be miserable rather than be allowed to make the best choice for their own health and well-being. Black people can never be allowed to be equal citizens. Queer people can be forced back into silence and shame.

All around us, we're seeing threads being tugged and frayed.

The upcoming Supreme Court decision on Roe is likely the first step in an unraveling that, in familiar and despairing fashion, will happen a lot faster than the work it took to establish it.