BY MIKE MAGEE
On November 8, 2022, five days after the 2022 Midterm elections, the AMA raised its voice in opposition to Republican efforts to promote second class citizenship for women by exerting public control over them and their doctors intensely private reproductive decisions. At the same time they sprinkled candidates on both sides of the aisle with AMA PAC money, raising questions whether their love of women includes active engagement or just passive advocacy.
Trump and his now MAGAGA (“Make America Great and Glorious Again”) movement has now returned to center stage. With the help of Senate Majority leader McConnell, Christian Conservatives had packed the Supreme Court with Justices committed to over-turning Roe v. Wade. And they did just that.
On June 24, 2022, a Supreme Court, dominated by five conservative Catholic-born Justices, in what experts declared “a historic and far-reaching decision,” Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, scuttled the half-century old right to abortion law, Roe v. Wade, writing that it had been “egregiously wrong,” “exceptionally weak” and “an abuse of judicial authority.”
Not content to allow the decision to stand alone, in a consenting opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas, a modern day version of Anthony Comstock, suggested that this was just the beginning. The decision, he said, was part of a the “legal rationale” that could allow new challenges to legalized gay marriage, consensual homosexual conduct, and access to contraception.
It only took a few days for these true believers to realize that they had lit a political flame under the Republican party that would be difficult to extinguish. The September, 2021 amicus briefs and Congressional testimony of the AMA were easy enough to ignore. But when Kansans defeated an anti-abortion proposition on August 3, 2022, leading the Kansas For Constitutional Freedom, to call the 59%/41% victory “huge and decisive”, the path toward crushing Republican’s self-declared coming “Red Wave” was clear. Similar state abortion propositions were already cued up in Michigan, Kentucky, and Vermont, and now the successful messaging had been fleshed out ready to be applied to 30 and 60 second Ads.
In the Kansas Ad, the voice over stated “Kansans don’t want another government mandate that puts our personal rights at risk.” In Michigan, a burly, working class, white male declares “Let’s keep the government away from our doctors.” The Kentucky campaign put it this way, “The rights of people to control their own personal, private medical decisions are under attack across the country — it’s no different in Kentucky. … Don’t let politicians restrict your freedom.”
And Vermont successfully went after its’ entire electorate with carefully constructed and poll tested messaging that emphasized preservation of enshrined Constitutional rights in a state with an historic commitment to personal freedoms.
But arguably the clearest messaging was constructed by successful Congressional candidate, Marie Gluesenhamp Perez (WA-3) who was running against incumbent Trump election denier, Joe Kent. Owner of a small auto-repair shop in rural Washington, she leaned into abortion when her opponent declared “I 100% support Roe v. Wade being overturned. I would move to have a national ban on abortion.”
Congresswomen Gluesenkamp Perez’s response, enshrined in a 60-second tour-de-force:
“This is an extremist. Yeah, you know until you’ve been pregnant, you’re just not going to understand how complex pregnancies are, and how much can go wrong. And even if you have been pregnant, you know your sample size is pretty small. I miscarried. And you know what I needed? You know what the treatment for miscarriage is? It’s abortion. You know without treatment I might have not been able to have my son.. We deserve respect and autonomy in making those decisions, and privacy. I mean this is not about the minutia of constitutional law. This is about respecting people’s choices.”
The U.S. Constitution may be a living document, but as we recently witnessed, its capacity for movement is bi-directional. The Dobbs v. Jackson decision shifted our nation into reverse. But in over-reaching, MAGA (now MAGAGA) Republicans triggered and activated the Body Politic – Democracy’s corrective super-power.
From Michigan to Kansas, from Kentucky to Washington and Vermont, outraged citizens found their voices and uncovered messages that worked.
In the process, it proved three important points:
- Rights should never be taken for granted. They must be protected at every turn.
- Health rights are central to human rights. Autonomy and self-determination are determinative of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
- We are mutually inter-dependent. As FDR said, “Necessitous men are not free men.” If we wish to reject the “tyranny of the minority,” and rebuild a culture of compassion, understanding and partnership, we must redress the current injustices and begin anew with an equitable, just, and effective national health plan.
The reality is that decisions related to women’s reproductive rights are highly individualized, and remarkably complex. This is why we entrusted them to women themselves and their physicians in secure and confidential settings. Intrusion into this space by government fundamentally compromises women’s overall rights and autonomy, and triggers a broad range of Constitutional health concerns for the general public.
If the goal of the Theocratic Conservative Justices and their political allies was to turn back the clock of time, probe the weaknesses of our checks and balances, and stimulate a deep dive into Constitutional law, Dobbs v. Jackson was an enormous success. On the other hand, if the intent was to ignite a “Red Wave” in the 2022 Midterm Election, it proved a giant negative that will be difficult to escape.
Citizens in every state in the union need to feel the heat of the AMA and its Federation in this ongoing battle. This is the moment to fully engage your power and reach, the time to send messages that are clear and definitive. If you leave your patients in the lurch now, they will neither forgive nor forget in the future.
Mike Magee MD is a Medical Historian and author of “CODE BLUE: Inside the Medical-Industrial Complex.”