The women of Texas are now subject to a reproductive surveillance state not imposed upon their male fellow citizens. In deputizing anti-abortion activists across the state to harass and report upon female Texans who seek to exercise their right to procure an abortion, Texas has become an authoritarian state. And the face of political extremism, yet again. Many pro-choice observers are predicting, or hoping for, a swift backlash.
The problem for liberal activists is that we have seen this dynamic play out many times in the Tea Party-MAGA era. To take one example that’s largely faded from memory, journalists predicted that Republicans might suffer in the 2014 midterms because they had shut down the government. That same year, North Carolina Democrats hoped dearly that an extreme Republican legislative session would allow them to break the GOP’s veto-proof majorities in at least one legislative chamber. In neither case did the hoped-for backlash take effect. Instead, 2014 was a strong Republican year, seeing GOP gains across the board in the U.S. Senate–including North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis–and an actual increase in Phil Berger’s N.C. Senate majority, the reverse of what had seemed likely a year before.
Republicans, in other words, have been able to get away with extreme policies and political tactics stretching back well before the rise of Trump. Trump himself was the face of this impunity. Weeks before the 2016 election, he bragged about “grabbing [women] by the p—–,” scandalizing the country and seemingly positioning himself to lose women by a historic margin. Instead he won the votes of white women–and became president. The voters do not seem inclined to punish the GOP for its undeniable extremism, no matter how many times this radicalism rears its head.
There are reasons, however, for a bit of hope in the case of Texas. While Americans seem to tolerate extreme conservative ideology on many issues, they have always balked at restrictions on their personal liberties. Throughout the colonial era, slave rebellions were a constant feature of life in the bondage states. Centuries later, when the spiritual heirs of the slaver oligarchy began imposing Voter ID laws, Black voters responded by turning out at higher rates to protest the assault on their rights. It’s one thing to gut the public sector and deliver tax cuts to the wealthiest. It’s quite another to interfere with Americans’ most beloved patrimony–freedom.
And few laws in recent memory have more flagrantly violated the autonomy of citizens than the Texas abortion law. Texas has attempted to nationalize the female body. The state has created a climate of fear and male domination in a state–and a country–where individuals are fiercely protective of their rights. As the Texas law inevitably spreads to other red states (including North Carolina), women may rebel against right-wing patriarchy, asserting yet again that in America freedom will not be taken for granted.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.