In just a couple of months, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, a case that will test the constitutionality of Mississippi's latest abortion ban. It's the first key showdown on reproductive rights since conservatives gained a dominant, six-member majority on the high court.
It's also, of course, a case that puts the future of the Roe v. Wade precedent in great jeopardy.
As The Mississippi Free Press reported this week, Mississippi's Republican attorney general is already imagining the societal landscape in the event the justices scrap the nation's existing reproductive rights.
Ending most legalized abortions will "empower" more women to pursue careers while also raising children, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch told a Catholic television host late last week. She is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that guarantees women the right to abortion before fetal viability, when the state defends its 15-week abortion ban in December.
"Think about this: the lives that will be touched, the babies that will be saved, the mothers that will get the chance to really redirect their lives," Fitch said last week. "And they have all these opportunities that they didn't have 50 years ago. Fifty years ago, professional women, they really wanted you to make a choice. Now you don't have to. Now you have the opportunity to be whatever you want to be. You have the option in life to really achieve your dream and goals, and you can have those beautiful children as well."
The Mississippi attorney general added, "Just think about the uplifting, the changing of course for women that have for these new babies, these women. And everyone knows it's all right, it's acceptable. You can have these beautiful children and you can have your careers. And so this really gets into, how do we empower women? How do we prepare for that next step? And we have to look at it with this whole vision and strategy. And I just think God has given us this opportunity to be here."
In other words, women will have amazing choices just as soon as the government forces them to remain pregnant against their will. The key to "empowering" women, the argument goes, is to curtail their reproductive rights.
At the heart of Fitch's argument appears to be a degree of confidence in societal progress. In the recent past, women with unwanted pregnancies could expect years of terrible burdens and closed doors. As the Mississippi Republican sees it, those days are over — so if the Supreme Court allows states like hers to ban abortions, the affected women need not worry about their futures.
There's no shortage of problems with such an argument, starting with the obvious fact that the fight is not solely one over financial and societal benefits. The core question is whether the government should have the authority to dictate Americans' reproductive choices, not whether those Americans will maintain life choices in response to a government fiat.
But making matters worse is that Fitch's pitch overlooks the fact that millions of women in the United States continue to face dire financial circumstances, with limited access to affordable childcare, and no paid maternity leave. This isn't a relic of some regressive past; it's the status quo.
New York magazine's Ed Kilgore added, "As it happens, Mississippi is the only state that has no equal-pay law prohibiting gross discrimination against women — with or without children — in the workplace. It is probably the last place in America where it can be credibly argued that women have such an idyllic existence that there are no choices to be made and thus no need for a 'right to choose.' It has the highest poverty rate, the highest infant-mortality rate, and the lowest per capita income of any state."
Empowering women is a worthwhile goal. There's little to suggest Mississippi is pursuing that goal the right way.