This is a tough issue to write about. I am going to try to use my words very carefully because I want to be balanced in my assessment of Meghan’s interview on the striking down of Roe v. Wade in the United States. However, what I am not going to do, in this post or anything else that I create, is give any both-sides airtime to the issue of whether abortion should be legal. Because of course it should. It should be legal and free and accessible for every person who wants or needs one, and no one should have to explain why they want or need one. We all clear on that? Cool.
On the morning of June 24, I was sitting on a pleasure cruise of Ottawa, having just finished out an exhausting legislative session at my regular job. People started looking down at their phones. I looked down at mine. The alert had just come in: the United States Supreme Court had just repealed Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that enshrined a person’s right to an abortion into federal law. Roe v. Wade had been settled law for 49 years and with this one decision, it was gone.
Now, state governments are able to decide whether or not they will allow abortions. Thirteen states had “trigger laws” in place – laws that were designed to ban abortion immediately if Roe was ever repealed (which it obviously just was). Thirteen additional states are likely to ban abortion in the coming weeks/months. In other words, it’s a scary fucking time to have a uterus, especially if you live in a state that no longer provides abortions. It’s even worse if you 1) live in a state that no longer provides abortions and also 2) live in a state surrounded by other states that have also outlawed abortion, because the distance you would have to travel in order to get to a state that still provides abortions will be that much greater.
Some states that can still legally provide abortions have stopped providing abortions to people from out of that state already, based on the fact that the states that have banned abortion might try to sue them for aiding and abetting someone having an abortion outside their home state. TikToks are circulating with information about why you should delete your period tracking app, if you have one. (It’s because information from such an app could be subpoenaed if you live in a state in which abortion is illegal and it looks like you didn’t get your period and then weren’t pregnant later [aka if it looks like you could have been pregnant and then gotten an abortion]). The whole situation is a nightmare. It’s worse than a nightmare. I don’t have words to describe it. And I didn’t have words to describe it as I floated down the Ottawa River on a pleasure cruise on which I felt no pleasure at all.
So, if you haven’t put 2 and 2 together yet, things are bad. The overturning of Roe is very bad. It’s bad for women, it’s bad for marginalized folks, it’s bad for trans folks, it’s bad for people of colour, it’s bad for immigrants, it’s bad for people who don’t have wealth or have family members who are wealthy. Here is how it’s directly bad for these groups: Say you get pregnant. Doesn’t matter how. And this is a problem, because you’re about to start college, or you already have one kid and are just making ends meet, or your partner is abusive and you are trying to leave, or you know your mental health can’t deal with having a child, or you were raped, or you’re 15, or you just don’t want to have a kid, or 100 other reasons why. You make that decision. And now, because of Roe, you are not guaranteed access to a safe, legal abortion. Your choices become much more limited. Your choices now are basically either 1) don’t get an abortion, have the child, and have to drop out of school/stay with your partner/be responsible for paying for a child, which is SO expensive, therefore all but guaranteeing that you remain at your current socioeconomic level for years/decades to come; 2) get a safe, legal abortion but you have to travel to a safe state to get one, which costs time and money for the procedure and travel and hotels, plus needing to need to find someone to take care of you after the procedure; or 3) get an unsafe, illegal abortion in your state because that’s all your circumstances allow you to do, and then possibly get arrested or get sick/hurt and/or die.
So, how did we get here? We got here because of former President Donald Trump, who stacked the Supreme Court with Justices he knew would provide super conservative votes to Supreme Court cases, arguably the biggest one being any future review of Roe v. Wade. Out of nine Justices, three were appointed by Trump in the last five years (Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Coney Barrett). Trump and his Republican cronies got these three seats filled with their preferred candidates by contravening common rules and practices around the appointment of SC Justices.
Neil Gorsuch’s seat should have been filled by a person nominated by former President Barack Obama in the last year of his final term; however, Republicans in the Senate said that they would filibuster any nomination by Obama until he was out of office, which they did. They then filled the empty seat that should have been filled by Obama’s choice with Trump’s pick after he was sworn in as president.
The second nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, was approved to fill the next vacant seat by a Republican Senate, even after a credible accusation of sexual assault by Kavanaugh was made public. Donald Trump didn’t care about the sexual assault allegation.
The third Supreme Court vacancy to be filled in Trump’s presidency, was also filled in a really icky way by Trump. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had been sick with cancer and knew she may not live for much longer, but was hoping to hold on long enough for the next presidential election to take place, thus ensuring that Trump wouldn’t get to fill her spot on the Court. Bader Ginsburg died two months before the 2020 presidential election and, on her deathbed, dictated the following statement to be made public upon her death: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” Trump ignored this wish and installed super conservative Coney Barrett SEVEN DAYS BEFORE THE 2020 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.
Protocols and precedent would have stopped all three of these appointments, but Trump and his Republican colleagues in the Senate disregarded precedent and appointed these three people to the highest court in the land, for LIFE. Amy Coney Barrett is 50 years old. Brett Kavanaugh is 57 years old. Neil Gorsuch is 54 years old. In five-ish years, Trump and his cronies ensured that the highest court in the United States would be able to issue ultra-conservative majority legal decisions for at least a generation.
So, basically since November 3, 2016, people who followed American politics closely enough knew that Donald Trump would eventually try to dismantle Roe, along with a bunch of other human rights laws and precedents related to women, the LGBTQIA+ community, people of colour, and immigration. He did this in a variety of ways, including the issuing of Executive Orders. But the biggest and most lasting effects of the Trump presidency on human rights will likely be the ultra-conservative decisions that the US Supreme Court has issued and will issue well into the future.
With all of that information, let’s examine Vogue’s interview with Meghan Markle and Gloria Steinem on the repeal of Roe. Vogue Magazine published an article entitled, “Gloria Steinem, the Duchess of Sussex, and Jessica Yellin on Abortion Rights, the ERA, and Why They Won’t Give Up Hope.” The article is a Q&A format where former CNN Chief White House Correspondent and political reporter Jessica Yellin asks Meghan Markle and Gloria Steinem about their thoughts on the repeal of Roe.
Let’s start with the positive: that Meghan publicly talked about abortion rights at all. The issue of abortion access is extremely divisive if you’re a public figure trying to please everyone, and most people in the public eye choose to sidestep it entirely so as to not piss anyone off too much. Good for Meghan for being vocal about an issue that lots of people are afraid to even say out loud.
The second notable aspect of the article is obviously the choice of Markle and Steinem as interview subjects. Gloria Steinem is an obvious choice to talk about abortion access in the United States. Steinem has been a prominent abortion activist for decades, and has talked publicly about accessing an abortion in London in the late 1950s, when abortion was illegal in the United States. This woman has been on the front lines of the fight for free, accessible abortions in America for longer than a lot of us have been alive. Meghan, however…Meghan has no history of publicly fighting for abortion access that I know of. Yes, she has marketed herself as being in the fight for women’s rights at home and around the world. Yes, she has a demonstrated track record of working against issues like period poverty in India. Yes, she has made noise about the importance of paid family leave in the United States. However, I struggle to think of any abortion-specific cause Meghan has worked with, or even a time when Meghan has said the word “abortion” or “pro-choice” publicly.
I also flagged that Meghan mentioned that she immediately called Steinem when she heard that Roe had been repealed. I fear that this could be seen by some circles as Meghan trying to attach herself to someone more knowledgeable on the issue so she can seem like a heavy hitter on the issue herself, without ever having done any real homework on it. Meghan is quoted as saying, “And this is one of the reasons that I called Gloria immediately. Because in all of it, she reminds me that when you have anger, you have to channel that energy into something that makes a difference. That’s what activism is. It’s about how we show up.” I mean, that’s great, but is it Gloria Steinem’s job to personally motivate Meghan Markle to do something about abortion access? Is that the best use of Gloria Steinem’s time and energy? And, more to the point, it doesn’t sound like Meghan had any specific suggestions or courses of action to run by Steinem when she called – she seemingly just wanted a pep talk, to be able to say that she spoke to Steinem, and then to be told what to do by her. A person with an international charitable foundation shouldn’t be calling a prominent voice on abortion access to just chat. She should either be saying, “How can I be of the most use to you in this moment?” or “I have a plan to do X, Y, and Z and I wanted to run it by you beforehand.”
The next issue that I flagged when I read the Vogue article is the repeated references by Meghan and Steinem to women’s equality and a woman’s right to choose. While I think this language means well and would have been considered politically appropriate even ten years ago, in 2022 inclusive language around abortion access should be something like abortion for a person with a uterus or abortion for a childbearing person.
Although the term women fits the vast majority of people who seek abortions (and other healthcare related to childbearing/ability to carry a child), it ultimately excludes the trans and nonbinary communities. Some trans men have reproductive systems and are therefore capable of having children and also having abortions. Some people who have reproductive systems do not conform to the strict male/female gender binary and are therefore not covered in language like “a woman’s right to choose”.
In this clip of a Senate hearing on abortion, UC Berkley law professor Khiara Bridges demonstrates the difference between referring to women versus people with reproductive systems and why only saying women can be harmful, and she does it in a very succinct and clear way. And before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, such language is not exclusionary of women! This language includes women, who are the vast majority of people getting abortions! Sometimes it is said that abortion is a women-only issue. I would correct that by saying it is a women-mostly issue. It is just more inclusive to our trans and gender nonconforming friends. Isn’t it so much better to use language that doesn’t actively exclude anyone? Yes, it is. Therefore, Meghan and Gloria constantly talking about how abortion is a women’s issue is mostly correct, but not quite there.
By the way, a recently serialized excerpt from Tom Bower’s book Revenge: Meghan, Harry, and the War Between the Windsors says that Meghan vocally called out Harry’s friends’ sexist and transphobic jokes at a dinner party at the beginning of Meghan and Harry’s relationship. This leads me to believe that Meghan is probably a trans ally, which is great! Why, then, does her language around abortion not reflect inclusivity of trans and gender nonconforming people?
I know a lot of people will give Meghan the benefit of the doubt on this issue of exclusive versus inclusive language around abortion. However, MM is trying to make a name for herself in the Democratic Party in the United States. And since she is probably gearing up to launch herself into the political arena in the next 5-ish years, I would assume that she has advisors to tell her to use more inclusive language in order to solidify a potential vote when she appears on a state-level or federal election ticket. I’m a political advisor and strategist. This is something that immediately occurred to me. Does Meghan/Archewell not have a good strategy/advisory team? Or is that advice being put forward but she’s ignoring it? Or does she not have any advisors at all (extremely unlikely)? Or is she trying to appeal to Gen X and Boomer feminists who consider themselves Democratic voters but are trans-exclusionary (some of the people who are Steinem’s followers are in this group)? Is she trying to be more Nancy Pelosi than AOC? (Which is bonkers!!!!) I’m flummoxed. Flum. Moxed!
The last point I’ll make about Meghan’s comments in this post is that she refers to things starting right now a couple of times. She is quoted as saying that “[Abortion restriction] is having a very real impact on women’s bodies and lives starting now.” She then says, later in the piece, “We have to channel that fear into action. We can start this November in the midterms.” To both statements I will say: No. The repeal of Roe is, of course, having an impact on people’s lives now. But the Trump presidency and red states had been rolling back abortion rights for years before this. Roe being repealed in June 2022 didn’t happen in a vacuum and it wasn’t a surprise. You can’t act like this is something that just happened out of nowhere, with no context of largely Republican governments having rolled back abortion access in a big way for the last five-ish years. Here is an article from 2019 on how a surge of state abortion restrictions were rolling in. Here is an article about the restriction of abortion rights in Texas over the last 19 years, where you can see that there was a clear ramping up of more restrictions since Trump took office. Here is an article about how Republicans planned to increase restrictions to abortion access in 2020, largely egged on by Trump having appointed conservative, anti-choice judges who were returning anti-choice rulings. For once, for ONCE, I wish Meghan would do her homework. An issue doesn’t begin to be an issue just because you’ve decided you care about it. Do your research (or have someone you pay do your research for you! Get someone to write you a briefing note!) and then you won’t look so silly when you make these kinds of comments.
Similarly, saying that “We can start [the work of reinstating Roe] this November in the midterms” is bonkers. Yes, of course you have to vote this November. You have to vote every election. But the election that repealed Roe happened in 2016 and she sounds foolish for saying that anything close to a win in terms of abortion access will result from the 2022 midterms. Roe was dismantled piece by piece over years and decades by the conservative right in the United States on the federal, state, and municipal level. It’s going to take years (hopefully not decades, but maybe) to codify Roe back into law. The left in the United States is already SO FAR behind the eight ball that “Let’s start working in November” is laughable. [Also…this is me as a political strategist: the Republican party repealed Roe through years of circumventing rules and common practices both federally and at the state level. If Republicans are willing to push common practices to meet their ends, maybe the Democratic party should think about doing the same in order to level the playing field. *cough* have more than nine Supreme Court justices.]
I suppose the moral of this post is that Meghan’s comments about abortion and the repeal of Roe show that she does not have a nuanced grasp on the nitty-gritty of American politics, nor does she have an adequate advisory team. And this is ringing loud alarm bells for me, especially if she is planning on running at the state or federal level in the next five years (which I think she is).
That’s it for now. Let me know what you think.