Saturday, May 14, 2022

How We Got Here

With the Supreme Court poised to eviscerate Roe v. Wade in the coming weeks, this week's Graphical History Tour dredges up a few of my cartoons on the topic over the years.

Just a teenager in 1973, I didn't draw any cartoons about the 7-2 Supreme Court ruling at the time. I don't recall it being a topic of conversation in my home, school, or church back then.

Nor do I have any examples of cartoons the professional editorial cartoonists drew about the ruling. I can't rule out the possibility that some of them drew their reactions to it, particularly conservatives such as Tom Curtis, Don Hesse, or Charles Brooks. The ruling was big news, and was the lead story in afternoon papers; but for most inkslingers, it was quickly overshadowed by the Paris Peace Accord ending U.S. participation in the War in Vietnam, and the death of former President Lyndon Johnson, both of which happened that same week (in LBJ's case, the same day — see yesterday's post).

I have a number of editorial cartooning books published in the mid 1970's, and Jerry Robinson's The 1970s: Best Political Cartoons of the Decade, and none of their editors included any cartoons about Roe v. Wade from 1973. Perhaps Charles Brooks approved one or two submitted for his Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year volume for 1973, but that book isn't in my collection.

in UWM Post, Milwaukee Wis., April, 1989

One reason that the Court's ruling failed to settle the matter is that the two sides address the issue in mutually exclusive terms. If you believe that a zygote is a living human being, then abortion is murder. If you believe that a woman should have control of her own body, then the DNA of those cells is moot.

At first, the principal actors in the national debate were the women's rights movement (and this may or may not have been my earliest cartoon on the topic of abortion rights)...

in Manitou Messenger, Northfield Minn., April 30, 1981

...and on the other side, fundamentalist Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church.

in UW Parkside Ranger, Somers Wis., Nov. 24, 1982

As far as we cartoonists have been concerned, the pro-Roe side has relied on images of wire coat hangers, pregnant women considerably further along than the typical abortion patient, and the back-alley abortionists from back before the Court decriminalized the procedure.

in UWM Post, Milwaukee Wis., Sept. 19, 1991

A favorite theme among anti-abortion cartoonists has been the swarm of toddler-sized angels in heaven to represent the zillions of innocents who somehow evaded that pesky baptism requirement to get in. I haven't drawn any such cartoon, but I have considered what a heaven teeming with the unborn might actually be like.

Q Syndicate, June, 2019

But seriously, folks. 

Over the years, the abortion divide has cleaved along party lines. Anti-abortion Democrats stuck with the party just long enough to thwart Bill Clinton's health care reform. Meanwhile, pro-choice Republicans quickly found themselves reduced to being, well, Susan Collins.

in Journal Times, Racine Wis., May, 1990

The "pro-life" movement had become a significant force in the Republican party by 1990, but Republican politicians, such as Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, could still find it advantageous to maintain some slight distance from the movement's more absolutist positions. The captain of the ship in my cartoon is Randall Terry, the most prominent anti-abortion spokesman of the day, who opposes not only abortion in cases of rape or incest, or to save the life of the mother, but also all forms of birth control.

Now, those absolutist positions are in the mainstream of anti-abortion movement. From the Washington Post today:

“What we are calling for is a total ban, no exceptions,” Matt Sande, legislative director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, said in an interview. “We don’t think abortion is ever necessary to save the life of the mother.”

in UWM Post, Milwaukee Wis., Sept. 19, 1991

The grand plan for the anti-abortion movement has always been to take over the Supreme Court; but while the Republican Party platform has consistently called for stocking the courts with anti-abortion judges, their appointees have repeatedly taken the position that they must not address the reason they were nominated. Clarence Thomas told the Senate Judiciary Committee during the hearings on his nomination to the Court that he couldn't possibly express his opinions on a woman's right to choose because “I think it would undermine my ability to sit in an impartial way on an important case like that."

Oct., 2005

She's a footnote to history now, but it's instructive to remember George W. Bush's nomination of White House Counsel and longtime friend Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court following the retirement of Sandra Day O'Connor and death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. With GOP Senators in the majority, she was forced to withdraw herself from consideration, not so much because of the appearance of cronyism or her lack of judicial experience, but because Republicans couldn't be sure whether her evasive answers on abortion rights were meant to hide anti-abortion intent or that she genuinely hadn't prejudged the issue.

So she was replaced by Samuel Alito, whose belief in overturning Roe v. Wade was well-known. He nevertheless dismissed his earlier writings, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee: “Today if the issue were to come before me, if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed and the issue were to come before me, the first question would be the question that we’ve been discussing, and that’s the issue of stare decisis. And if the analysis were to get beyond that point, then I would approach the question with an open mind, and I would listen to the arguments that were made."

Each of Donald Joffrey Trump's nominees to the Court also expressed deference to stare decisis that promptly vanished when an opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade landed on their docket.

Neil Gorsuch: “I would tell you that Roe v. Wade, decided in 1973, is a precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court. It has been reaffirmed. The reliance interest considerations are important there, and all of the other factors that go into analyzing precedent have to be considered. It is a precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court. It was reaffirmed in Casey in 1992 and in several other cases. So a good judge will consider it as precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court worthy as treatment of precedent like any other.”

Brett Kavanaugh: “As a judge, it is an important precedent of the Supreme Court. By ‘it,’ I mean Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. They have been reaffirmed many times. Casey is precedent on precedent, which itself is an important factor to remember."

Q Syndicate, Sept. 2018
Amy Coney Barrett, as her nomination was rushed through the Senate, more closely followed Clarence Thomas's lead: “Senator, what I will commit is that I will obey all the rules of stare decisis."

If Justice Alito's draft opinion is to be believed, the Court's ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has no bearing on other starry decided cases involving personal liberties. "Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion," Alito wrote.

Ahem. If the clerk would please read the record...

Q Syndicate, Nov. 2020
Nothing in this opinion, perhaps. But just wait till you see the next one.

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