The Opening for Democrats on Abortion

Senate Democrats should take their cues from the House.

Senator Chuck Schumer pointing in front of American flags
Senator Chuck Schumer answers questions from reporters in June. (Brandon Bell / Getty)

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House Democrats are rolling out a new strategy to protect civil rights post-Roe. Senate Democrats should get on board.

But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.

Enshrining Rights

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe, hard-won protections for interracial marriage, same-sex marriage, and contraception might be next to fall. In his concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that “in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents including Griswold [which protects contraception], Lawrence [which protects against criminalizing same-sex relations], and Obergefell [which protects marriage equality].” Thomas then described the legal principle that these cases rest on—substantive due process—as “demonstrably erroneous,” and said that the Court has an obligation to “correct the error.”

Some have scoffed at concerns that the end of Roe is just the beginning of a sweeping rollback of rights—and congressional Democrats have decided to call their bluff. On Tuesday, the House passed legislation, the Respect for Marriage Act, to protect same-sex marriage and interracial marriage at the federal level. In doing so, they split the Republican caucus. Roughly a quarter of Republicans voted in favor; the majority of the caucus opposed the legislation. After expressing some hesitation, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has indicated that he wants to bring the bill to the body for a vote.

Where are Senate Republicans on this? As New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait pointed out, conservatives spent years howling that marriage equality should be a legislative issue and denouncing “activist judges.” Now Republican Senators have alighted on a new argument: That the bill is a “waste of time,” because no one is coming after same-sex marriage or interracial marriage.

This argument is intellectually bankrupt. Republican Representative Peter Meijer, who says that he believes that same-sex marriage and interracial marriage are safe, still voted in favor of the bill because he agreed with it. That, in fact, is the job.

Republicans have accused Democrats of raising this issue for “political messaging” reasons. Senator Ben Sasse refused to answer any “questions that are about hypotheticals” and claimed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is “trying to divide America with culture wars.” I should hope there’s a benefit to voting to enshrine these protections—same-sex marriage and interracial marriage are popular with the American public. If Republicans want the political bump that comes from doing something popular, they are welcome to support the legislation.

In fact, Senate Democrats ought to extend this strategy to abortion rights. But instead of breaking down components of abortion protections into their constituent pieces and forcing votes on them, they have stuck with the (losing, so far) strategy of trying to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, for which they can’t even get unanimity from the Democratic caucus, let alone 10 Senate Republicans. Unless they are willing to hold Republican legislators’ feet to the fire of public opinion, Democrats are exceedingly unlikely to pass federal protections for abortion before the midterms.

As I wrote for The Atlantic in May, Americans are largely in support of allowing abortion in cases of rape and incest and when the life or health of the mother is at risk, and they are broadly in favor of it remaining legal during the first three months of pregnancy. By protecting access to these types of abortions nationwide, Democrats could create a national floor of abortion rights, leaving liberal states free to grant further protections.

As Senate Democrats have dragged their heels—Senator Dick Durbin lamented that they may not have “time” to get to it—House Democrats have passed bills ensuring the right to interstate travel for reproductive health care and, just today, codifying contraception rights (with only eight Republicans crossing the aisle to support it). Other measures might fail due to lack of Republican support. But if there are representatives who oppose restrictions that supermajorities of Americans agree with, that should be inscribed on the Congressional Record for voters to see come November.


Today’s News
  1. Today’s prime-time January 6 hearing will begin at 8 p.m. It is the last of the committee’s planned hearings for the summer, and will likely focus on what President Donald Trump was doing while rioters stormed the Capitol.
  2. Italy’s president dissolved Parliament after the prime minister resigned, which triggered a snap election that will take place within 70 days.
  3. The European Union announced increased sanctions against Russia. The new measures include a ban on Russian-gold imports.

Evening Read
Moviegoers in a theater wearing with 3-D glasses
(Lynn Goldsmith / Getty)

Not Being There

By Roger Ebert

(A 1980 story from the Atlantic archive)

Like most other people whose tastes began to form before television became the dominant entertainment medium, I have a simple idea of what it means to go to the movies. You buy your ticket and take a seat in a large dark room with hundreds of strangers. You slide down in your seat and make yourself comfortable. On the screen in front of you, the movie image appears—enormous and overwhelming. If the movie is a good one, you allow yourself to be absorbed in its fantasy, and its dreams become part of your memories.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

Culture Break
Katia Kraft wearing an aluminized suit standing near a lava burst at Krafla Voclano, Iceland
(Image’Est / National Geographic)

Read. The Rain God, an exquisite multigenerational novel.

Or try another pick from this list of books to guide you through the real American West.

Watch. Fire of Love, a documentary about volcanoes (rolling out in select theaters this month), is the most moving film of the year.

If that’s not playing near you yet, try another pick from our list of great indie movies out this year.

Play our daily crossword.


Today, I found out (c/o Tyler Cowen’s Marginal Revolution) that purportedly anonymous online reviews are perhaps not as anonymous as one might hope. A judge is forcing Glassdoor to release the names of people who left critical reviews of their workplace to the company that once employed them … so that their former employer can sue them for their reviews. I have no idea if this has any bearing on what might happen if a company in the U.S. demanded the same information—lawyers out there, let me know if you do—but when asked by a journalist whether Glassdoor has had to release user details before, the company’s response was only that they “typically prevail” in these types of cases. Not very reassuring …

— Jerusalem

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.