There has been a shift in the mood of people across the country who might one day find themselves in the position of needing or wanting an abortion. There is a somberness – a heavy cloud – that hangs low over conversations of bodily autonomy. There is panic catching in the voices of those who find themselves running late on their period or missing a birth control pill. This fear is tangible, it is bitter, and it is a result of this country losing its grasp on the separation of church and state.
Abortion was not always a partisan issue. It was not always a battle between the religious right and the separatist left. In fact, before the 1970’s, evangelical Christians intentionally kept themselves out of the political sphere. In 1971, as the conversation about the ethics of abortion became more and more heated, Christianity Today and the Christian Medical Society held a conference to discuss the concept of abortion in the context of evangelical Christianity. After this conference ended, W. A. Criswell – preacher, author, and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention – made a statement announcing their conclusion. In his statement, he made their stance clear: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person.”
Roe vs. Wade, the historic Supreme Court decision which declared abortion a civil right and protected that right at a federal level, was announced in 1973, two years after Criswell made his statement about the ethics of abortion from a Christian perspective. For the next six years, evangelical Christians would stay relatively quiet about the issue, maintaining their apolitical position. Then came the election of the evangelical 39th President, Jimmy Carter in 1979. Originally, the idea of a President who shared their religious orientation was exciting for the greater evangelical population. However, it became clear that religious affiliation was where their similarities stopped.
At the time of President Carter’s election, many state and local governments across the South were fighting long and arduous battles with segregationist educational activists – many of whom were evangelical Christians. In the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision which enforced integration in public schools, several all-white private schools started popping up all over the South, which attracted almost all of the white students and families in some areas, leaving public schools for Black kids and private schools for white kids: – a segregationist loophole.
In Mississippi, the problem became so clear that the local governments decided to revoke tax exemptions from any private schools that were intentionally denying enrollment to Black students on the basis of race. This was an incredible threat to the white religious society that had become of paramount importance to evangelical Christians in the South. This removal of tax-exempt status for all-white private schools was supported by several presidents, including President Carter.
Outrage sparked quickly amongst evangelical activists – especially Paul Weyrich. Weyrich was an extremely influential political activist and commentator, and largely responsible for evangelical involvement in politics as a whole. He hatched a plan to throw Christian support behind Presidential candidate Ronald Regan in the late 1970s, but knew that it would be too on-the-nose to throw Christian political zeal to a candidate solely because he was a segregationist, and was likely to allow Southern school systems to continue creating all-white private schools. Not only would it be difficult to sell to smaller Christian organizations, but also potentially unpalatable to the average Christian voter. So he switched gears.
Weyrich saw a growing uneasiness about the spike in abortion statistics since Roe vs. Wade amongst Christian leaders, and capitalized on it. He began preaching and speaking incessantly about the immorality of abortion, and how it was inherently un-Christian – a directly antithetical talking point as it relates to previous public statements about abortion from Christian leaders. He convinced these smaller Christian organizations to focus their political efforts on getting Ronald Reagan elected as the 40th United States President because of his outspoken support for limiting abortion access. His segregationist policies were simply a bonus. Reagan won and was elected the 40th President of the United States, and thus, evangelical political involvement had been proven effective.
Limiting abortion access is a direct product of white supremacy. It was born out of desire for educational segregation and has evolved to be just as much about racism as it is about government sponsored misogyny. When the Supreme Court overturns a precedent that protected the bodily autonomy of people with vaginas, they are also reminding Black people that, at its core, this country always has and always will prioritize white supremacy. The concept of separation of church and state has always been conditional – there is no justification for white supremacy that can ever be truly separated from the state. A country built on the backs of enslaved Black people that had to endure a war to be convinced that Black people should be recognized as human beings is functioning exactly as it was meant to, denying autonomy to those who need it in order to keep Black people living under the boot of institutionalized racism.
The decision to overturn Roe vs Wade has changed political conversation among people who may want or need an abortion permanently. It has created widespread detachment from politics for people with vaginas or people in need of gynecological health care. Indifference toward political action is growing more and more present amongst this country’s oppressed groups as government officials make it clear that they are ready and willing to sacrifice the rights of misogyny affected people in order to uphold white supremacy.
The overturning of Roe vs. Wade is not just racist at its core – but at its application too. According to Pew Research Center, 38% of people who recieve abortions in this country are young Black people. Most of them poor and in their late teens. This information is not hidden or difficult to access. Those in power – those responsible for stripping misogyny-affected people of their civil rights – are fully aware of the impact this decision will have on Black people. It is a thinly veiled reminder that freedom and liberation cannot exist – for any group of people – if it interferes with white supremacy.
Amongst Ithaca College students, when asked about their faith in the US judicial system since the 2022 decision to overturn Roe vs Wade, there is clear and present fear, disillusionment and dejection. Freshman Aleks Burk, a nonbinary student and NY state local, says “You know I had some hope beforehand, but since then I think the system is corrupt and needs to be replaced.”
Ricky Blanco, another freshman at IC, said that “When Roe V Wade was overturned, I knew that the system was no longer in my favor – which it never was – but I learned that it’s time to speak up and finally do something.”
A student who wishes to remain anonymous said “If I’m being honest, I had little faith in the judicial system to begin with.” They say that “the concept of someone being appointed to a lifetime position before I was born is extremely flawed.” Even before the overturning of Roe vs Wade, many people who could become pregnant had witnessed the inherent inadequacy of the US Judicial system. About this, this student says “In my eyes, the US judicial system represents the President, not the public. It is not impartial, it is not unprejudiced, but then again what is, I guess.”
When asked about her opinion of the Supreme Court and federal judicial system as a whole, freshman Madilyn Connor said “It is alarming to know that the Supreme Court has the power to take away my rights as well as the rights of millions of people across the United States,” she goes on to say “I no longer feel protected by the judicial system and it is terrifying to think of the other rights that could be next on the chopping block.”
There is pain amongst women and trans individuals – not just on this campus, but across the country. There is fear – which of our civil rights is next to be taken from us? Speculation that the rights of queer and trans people in this country may be next to go insights panic and a sense of impending doom in many. Protecting abortion, and attempting to reject this country’s institutionalized racism and misogyny, was a fluke. This is how this country is built to function. For many, including myself, the light at the end of the tunnel is dimming – the hope we may have had for civil liberty protection in this country and by this court, is fading fast. I don’t know what is next for us. Part of me is scared to find out.
Quincey Fireside is a first-year Politics major who is never afraid to say what is on the mind. They can be reached at [email protected].
Art by Julia Young.