Comrades, friends: At the risk of gender-essentializing and woman-splaining, I feel obliged in this difficult moment to offer a few gentle words of advice. These may save you from episodes of verbal fumbling and failed politesse. They may even preserve you from physical harm. Perhaps most important, they will save those of us who felt, in the first moments after the Politico story broke about Justice Alito’s draft majority opinion in the crucial abortion case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, like we might literally be sucked from our homes into a vast whooshing vortex of howling chaos and rage, from the burden of treating you with solicitous kindness at a time when that is simply more than we can manage.
So here goes:
1. Don’t be surprised. Don’t you dare be surprised.
2. Don’t say, “Well, why do you care so much?” And don’t then add your choice of corollary: “You’re a lesbian/you’re too old to get pregnant/you want children/you’re responsible and would never need an abortion …”
3. Don’t be snarky, or jocose. Don’t get the better part of the argument. It’s too soon. It may be too soon for many years yet. Besides, what good does it do? Whose abortion does it pay for?
4. Don’t be optimistic. I for one will simply start shrieking if I hear any version of “Woo-hoo! They just handed the Dems the presidency in 2024!” Or “Well, that ends the filibuster debate—at last!” First of all, there’s no reason to believe that any of that is definitive. Second, it’s better to treat this one for the time being like a forbidding sodden cloud with no silver lining. Please.
5. Do respect our grief. You don’t have to understand it but you really do need to respect it. Stand aside and let us have it, as you would if one of our parents had died, or if the Supreme Court had just picked up the inadequate charter of our rights and crumpled it into a little ball. Like that.
6. Do tread lightly. “How are you?” might be a nice start. And, for that matter, a nice end. Treat your friends who think of themselves as women, your friends who work in the reproductive rights and justice movements, your friends who are not straight white men and are staring into the con-law abyss, the way you would, say, someone dear to you who was experiencing a sudden-onset, crippling, nauseating, head-pounding insufferable migraine. (That reminds me, I think I’m getting a crippling, nauseating, head-pounding insufferable migraine.)
7. Listen, don’t talk. Even those of us who totally, 100 percent saw this coming, who said from podiums and in Zoom talks that this Court would indeed, yes, almost certainly, overturn Roe, still have a lot to process intellectually and emotionally. Our words might be a little incoherent, or repetitive, as we work it through. This is big. Keep listening.
8. Give it time. The Politico leak has shaken an awful lot of people out of their denial. But there are four more Kübler-Ross stages of grief yet to go. Eventually, I guess we’ll get to “acceptance,” although I sure hope that isn’t the same thing as getting comfortable with defeat.
We will learn more. We will make plans. Something will shift. But not right away. Right away, it’s just going to hurt.
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