The Real Tragedy of Samuel Alito’s Logic

Samuel Alito
Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

The promise of the United States has been our commitment to liberty and justice for all. The practice of the United States, of course, has been our commitment to liberty and justice for some. And yet that gap between practice and promise has been historically framed as our opportunity to expand liberty and justice. The narrative we’ve inherited about America, or at least told ourselves about our country, is largely one where the chasm is continually closing—where we become more inclusive, more accepting, more welcoming. Since the leaked Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade became public, I have found myself in a state of slowly escalating rage at this stark reminder that we are capable of regression as much as progress, and that rights given can also be taken away. The moral arc of the universe can bend toward injustice if we don’t continually work to direct it ourselves. 

Our collective understanding about abortion, largely filtered through the distortion of polarized media, often oversimplifies an obviously complex subject. Pew Research recently published the results of a comprehensive survey of Americans’ views of abortion, and it’s nuanced. Support for abortion depends on factors like the duration of a pregnancy before termination, personal health risks, and more. The full report is worth your time, but this line really stood out to me: Most people (72 percent) say that this statement—“the decision about whether to have an abortion should belong solely to the pregnant woman”—describes their views “at least somewhat well.” Unsurprisingly, a nation obsessed with individual freedom generally thinks that the decision about whether to go through with a pregnancy should be decided by the person who is pregnant. 

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 “thoughts 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 and force them to give birth in a nation where infant mortality rates are appallingly high compared to other industrialized and wealthy nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (O.E.C.D.).