Here’s What the Reversal of Roe v. Wade Really Means

You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.

Whether it’s their close friends or the ideological company with which they cavort.

Or those whom they favorably quote.

Consider Justice Samuel Alito, who, in his recently leaked draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, made it clear whose authority he believes we should rely upon for assessing the legitimacy of abortion.

That authority?

Sir Matthew Hale, a 17th-century English Judge.

In his decision — in which he says the Court misinterpreted history when they legalized abortion in 1973 — Alito references Hale, who insisted that abortion was a “great crime.”

Even though Hale wasn’t an American judge whose meanderings might be seen as a matter of national importance, Alito insists his views are relevant.

Why? Because they speak to the common law tradition to which we should be largely bound and from which he believes Roe grievously deviated.

And he says this even though no state outlawed abortion for the first century of the nation’s existence, despite that common law history.

In other words, the founders didn’t give a damn about Judge Hale.

But according to Alito, Hale is the authority to whom we should look for guidance here.

This tells us a lot about Samuel Alito and the thinking of the anti-abortion right-wing.

Because Sir Matthew Hale wasn’t merely a jurist who viewed abortion as a horrible offense.

He was also one who imposed death sentences on women for witchcraft and devised the theory that a husband couldn’t be guilty of raping his wife because:

…the husband cannot be guilty of rape… upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given herself up to this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract

Lovely.

This is the individual to whom we should listen.

A man who murdered women under cover of law and justified their rape under the same.

He, and not our own notions of right and wrong, should guide us.

He, and not women themselves, should be the arbiter of how their pregnancies progress, or if they do.

This is what the right has always believed: that the thinking of long-dead men (especially white men and Christians) should take priority over modern notions of justice and equality.

Especially when those modern notions might have been influenced by those who would have been previously forced into silence.

This was never about “state’s rights” or even abortion, per se

Anyone who believes the fight to overturn Roe has been about abortion alone hasn’t been paying attention.

It was never that simple.

Nor was it about returning these matters to the states.

Oh sure, some conservatives would insist that was their only purpose.

They would say things like, “Nine judges in DC shouldn’t tell people in Alabama or Nebraska how to think about the sanctity of human life.”

In other words, states should be free to live by their own moral convictions on such matters.

If Mississippi wants to outlaw abortion, it should be allowed. If California wishes to keep it legal, so be it.

But they never meant any of that.

Now that Roe is to be overturned, those who fought to make that happen have revealed their true selves.

They now admit their desire to obtain a nationwide ban on abortion if Republicans reclaim control of both houses of Congress.

Which shouldn’t be surprising.

After all, if you believe abortion is murder and that embryonic and fetal life is morally equal to the woman carrying it, it stands to reason you wouldn’t be satisfied with banning abortion in 26 states.

Once one decides a woman has no right to bodily autonomy and that she can be forced to sacrifice that body to another being against her will, federalism becomes a trifle.

But not only that.

Far more than abortion is at risk.

By ruling that the legal basis for Roe was faulty — that an implicit right to privacy exists in the Constitution — the Court has thrown down the gauntlet against the last half-century of jurisprudence regarding sex and gender.

Privacy was the basis for the Griswold v. Connecticut decision, which struck down state laws against contraception.

If there is no right to privacy, there is no right to control one’s reproduction even before becoming pregnant.

Though no state would outlaw all forms of contraception, it is certainly conceivable that several might seek to ban birth control pills, which some believe (falsely) to be abortifacients.

Beyond matters of reproduction, Lawrence v. Texas, the decision striking down so-called sodomy laws — really, the outlawing of homosexuality — relied upon the principle of privacy now put in the wood chipper by the highest Court.

And since Alito’s opinion insists rights aren’t real if they haven’t stood the test of time over many generations, it seems almost certain that he and his reactionary colleagues would find overturning Lawrence and once again outlawing LGBTQ folks acceptable.

As well as marriage equality.

Although Obergefell v. Hodges rested upon more than implied privacy rights — it also turned on notions of equal protection — there is little doubt that Alito would apply his anti-Roe logic to that decision.

Indeed, he already did in his dissent to Obergefell: an opinion for which he didn’t have a majority then — but likely would now.

The real goal is domination and control — the restoration of traditional hierarchy

It is time to face the facts.

First, those who still say “there’s no real difference between Democrats and Republicans” are unworthy of being listened to about anything beyond restaurant Yelp reviews at this point.

If you’re one of those who thought it would be no big deal if Trump won, or if some Republican Senator in your state did — so you sat out the elections or voted for some third party candidate so you could feel pure — seriously, fuck you very much.

Second, know this: the war on Roe was never about abortion so much as restoring traditional hierarchy and authority.

Outlawing abortion and limiting, if not banning, certain types of birth control strips women of sexual autonomy and restores hegemonic sexual power to men.

Which is precisely the point.

They aren’t principally concerned about fetuses and embryos, let alone “babies.”

As Margaret Renkl noted in her recent New York Times piece, if they were, they would support policies that would bring down abortion rates dramatically by reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies.

They would want expanded access to birth control and more comprehensive sex education, which actually works, unlike the abstinence version.

But they have supported neither of these.

Why? Because their desire to limit abortion and save fetal life was always less important to them than restricting sexual activity outside of marriage or sex for pleasure without the possibility of procreation.

Additionally, as Renkl notes, if they’d been concerned with reducing abortions, they would have supported expanded social safety nets for families and children — affordable child care, paid family leave, and more comprehensive health care coverage — rather than seeking to slash these.

But in each case, they took the position that would make it more difficult for parents to raise children, increasing the likelihood that a pregnancy would end in abortion.

Because this was never about saving babies.

It was about controlling women and maintaining traditional hierarchy, which, in the economic sense, would be challenged by larger safety nets.

If that doesn’t convince you, there is one final proof that the right cares only about controlling women and nothing about “saving babies.”

Namely, the way conservatives address in vitro fertilization.

Jessica Valenti has pointed out that if fertilized eggs are “persons” in the womb, they must also be persons when waiting to be implanted in a woman who has stored them for later usage.

But if so, why do abortion opponents not seek to prohibit the discarding of such “persons,” which occurs all the time, usually after successful implantation and once a couple (or single woman) decides they don’t want more kids?

Why don’t pro-lifers seek to prosecute couples who discard their “extra babies” or the labs who do?

When Alabama State Senator Clyde Chambliss was asked this a few years ago, he gave the revealing answer, noting that “the egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant.”

Right, because abortion restrictions are not about saving human life, they are about restricting the rights and autonomy of women.

The right-wing is solely about domination and subordination.

It is all they have ever been about.

The Republican Party and its ideological leaders are the enemies of women’s liberty.

They must be defeated, finally and forever.

Not compromised with.

Not understood or brought into some broader bipartisan coalition.

Crushed.

Anxiety Is in Your Body, Not Your Mind

As someone who deals with anxiety and panic attacks often, I compiled all of the information and wrote this blog

Everything happening in your body is good; you’re prepared to survive this tiger encounter. There’s just one small problem. It wasn’t a tiger. It was a tiny prehistoric weasel. Now your body is primed for fight-or-flight, your heart is racing, you’re totally jacked up on adrenaline… but there is no danger.

This is your body on anxiety. Replace the (nonexistent) tiger in the bushes with social media, traffic, politics, Covid-19, money, childcare, climate change, work stress, family drama, etc. and you can quickly see why anxiety is the most common mental illness in America, affecting nearly 20% of the population. Modern-day humans are basically a bunch of freaked-out Neanderthals in fight-or-flight mode 24/7.

“Anxiety is an impulse in our body that says, ‘I’m not safe right now,’” says Elizabeth Stanley, PhD, the author of Widen The Window: Training Your Body and Brain to Thrive During Stress and Recover from Trauma. “It’s automatic, really fast and unconscious.”

Your survival brain vs. your thinking brain

In her work, Stanley makes the distinction between the thinking brain, our neocortex, responsible for decision-making, reasoning, ethics, conscious memory, learning, and the survival brain — the limbic system, brain stem, and cerebellum — which handles our basic survival, emotions, implicit memory, and stress arousal.

One of the survival brain’s most important functions, according to Stanley, is neuroception, an unconscious process of rapidly scanning the internal and external environment for safety and danger. When danger is spotted, your survival brain sends an instantaneous stress arousal message to your body by turning on the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in the release of specific hormones that lead to certain physical sensations related to our heart, breathing, and digestion. “Whatever’s happening in the survival brain has these tremendous ripple effects through our body,” Stanley says.

As Stephen Porges, PhD, a psychologist and the creator of the Polyvagal Theory, explains in an interview with PsychAlive, “These responses are not voluntary. Our nervous system is picking up information in the environment, not on a cognitive level, but on a neurobiological level.”

Importantly, when we’re caught in a defensive response, the thinking brain is the last to be aware that something is wrong.“The thinking brain isn’t what decides whether we’re stressed, whether we’re feeling threatened or challenged, whether we’re going to turn stress on, whether we’re going to turn emotions on,” Stanley says. “Stress arousal and emotions belong to the survival brain.”

So if you want to track your anxiety, your body, not your thoughts, will be your most accurate map.

The talk therapy trap

Unlike our prehistoric ancestors (who might have dealt with anxiety by running, panting, or shaking like a dog and letting the cortisol work through their system, according to Stanley), modern anxiety sufferers turn to their trustworthy friend, their thinking brain. “Most people identify anxiety by their thoughts because most people identify with their thinking brain,” she explains.

The problem is that when it comes to regulating our nervous system after a stress response (read: anxiety), our thinking brain is the absolute worst tool for the job. That’s because, according to Porges, even after becoming aware of the physical response, we often don’t know what has triggered that response. For Stanley, a veteran who was diagnosed with PTSD, this realization was a huge turning point. “Recovery from stress and anxiety is a survival brain job.”

We are a cerebral culture, which makes us very equipped to deal with problems that require reason and logic — think moral dilemmas — and less equipped to deal with problems where cognitive reasoning can just make them worse. Having a “fight or flight” response to running late to brunch may seem like an overreaction, but sitting in traffic, you are physiologically experiencing it all the same. We use our thinking brain to try and decide if the issue is “worth” being anxious about, and then we try to force our nervous system to comply. “Our consciousness gets disconnected from our body in those moments,” says Stanley. Your thinking brain decides that you have nothing to feel anxious about, so you spend your days walking around telling yourself that everything is fine while still feeling the physical symptoms of anxiety throughout your body. Even worse, your thinking brain may start to criticize and shame you for still being anxious even after it’s told you that everything is fine.

If you, like me, have spent many years in talk therapy analyzing all the reasons you’re anxious, this is probably a hard pill to swallow. Not only did all that talking not do much to alleviate anxiety, but it could also even have made it more acute. “Our survival brain wants to keep us safe, but when we disregard our body and its signals because we’re so caught up in our thinking brain’s stories and thoughts, the survival brain actually perceives that as even more threatening,” says Stanley. “Like a toddler, it’s going to tantrum louder until its message gets through. And that’s why it becomes such a vicious cycle.”

Take, for example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, one of the most common forms of talk therapy. According to the Mayo Clinic, “CBT helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.” Sounds great, right? While this kind of analysis could be profoundly helpful when dealing with family issues or working out an ethical question, when it comes to anxiety, which doesn’t take place in your thinking brain, it places the focus on the thought (“I thought there was a tiger!”) and not the physical response which preceded, and even caused, the thought (“my heart is racing and I’m full of adrenaline and I need tools to calm down”).

“We don’t necessarily want to be aware of and feel the discomfort in our bodies because anxiety in our bodies is uncomfortable. Instead, we want to try and fixate it and give it this external object,” explains Stanley. But if the external object didn’t cause the anxiety, then fixing it won’t alleviate the anxious feeling.

A bottom-up solution for anxiety

While talk therapy and medication are still the mainstream solutions offered for chronic anxiety, other modalities exist that offer a body-first approach. And while these modalities are still considered “alternative,” an increased interest in “brain science” and neurobiology along with continued research on mindfulness and mind-body connections are shifting our psychological understanding from focusing only on the mind to seeing the brain and body as a cohesive unit.

Part of the challenge, according to Pat Ogden, PhD, the creator of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, is that you need to close the loop that was started when your body first went into a stress response. Ogden uses the example of a client who is Black and frequently stopped by the police without cause. When this happened, the man understandably felt himself getting angry and his body tightening up: a “fight” response. As part of their work together, Ogden helped him identify and act out the physical de-escalation his body needed in order to return to a regulated state, in this case getting to strike out and defend himself within the safety of a therapy session. “We want to complete that impulse in mindfulness so that his brain is integrated and it’s not held in his body anymore,” says Ogden

Ogden points out that part of the limitation of talk therapy is that anxiety is often related to a dysregulated response connected to an implicit memory, which then gets incorrectly pinned on a current experience or thought. “It doesn’t have anything to do with the current content,” says Ogden.

Stanley, who offers a mind fitness training course to help people build resilience, focuses on mindfulness techniques. And while at this point it’s a cliché to tell anybody with anxiety to take 10 deep breaths, her course has helped thousands of people, including active-duty military. “The military is very experienced in stressful situations, and they’ve trained themselves to turn on the survival brain but don’t always know how to turn it off,” says Stanley. Studies funded by the Department of Defense showed that Stanley’s method significantly helped improve cognitive performance during stress, lower perceived stress levels, increase regulation, and foster a faster return to baseline after stress arousal.

When your body is having a stress response, the first thing is to become aware of objects that help the survival brain feel safe, like what you can see and hear. “One of the best ways to help the survival brain feel grounded is to bring attention to where our body is in contact with our environment,” Stanley says. She suggests focusing on the contact between your feet with the floor, or your body in your chair. As soon as the survival brain perceives groundedness and safety, it automatically starts the recovery process.

Obviously, when you’re caught in a moment of severe anxiety, trying to breathe deeply or be mindful can feel almost impossible. In those situations, what you need is to get the adrenaline and cortisol out of your system. Stanley suggests jumping rope or running up and down stairs. After 10 minutes, try a mindfulness exercise again.

Is there any role for talk therapy, or trying to think logically about your anxiety? Absolutely. But only once your body is regulated, Stanley says: “After we have helped our survival brain feel safe and stable, then we can work on our thoughts. Otherwise, our cognitive response continues to be biased by our stress and emotions.”