Just as schools let out for summer and tourist season returned to the East End, the bombshell U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and repealing abortion rights sent shockwaves nationwide, including the Twin Forks.
The June 24 ruling reversed the half-century-old Roe v. Wade precedent that guaranteed women the constitutional right to have an abortion, leaving the legality of the medical procedure up to each of the 50 states to decide. While New York State recently strengthened women’s reproductive rights, the ruling brought out strong opinions on the issue — among the most hotly contested debates in the nation — in the Hamptons and on the North Fork during a time of year when how to maximize beach-going merriment is typically at the top of local minds, not fundamental questions about whether life begins at conception or if the government should regulate pregnancies.
East Enders React to Roe Repeal
“The Supreme Court rolled back the rights of millions of Americans by overruling Roe v. Wade and destroying 50 years of progress in reproductive rights,” state Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) said. “Access to abortion is a fundamental human right, and I am prepared to continue working relentlessly to ensure it remains accessible, safe and legal to all New Yorkers.”
Justice Samuel Alito wrote the court’s 6-3 opinion on the abortion case for the conservative majority that makes up the court. The ruling puts the court at odds with a majority of Americans who favored preserving Roe, according to opinion polls.
“Roe and Casey must be overruled,” he wrote in referring to the court’s landmark abortion precedents from 1973 and 1992, “and the authority to regulate abortion must be returned to the people and their elected representatives.”
Alone among the court’s six conservatives, only Chief Justice Roberts said he would take a more “measured course,” simply upholding a Mississippi ban on abortions after 15 weeks. He said overturning Roe was an unnecessary and “serious jolt” to the legal system.
“Today is a victory for life, for family, for the constitution and for federalism,” he said. “When my daughters, Mikayla and Arianna, were born 14.5 weeks early, I had the opportunity to witness life in the second trimester and it was absolutely beautiful. In a state that has legalized late term partial birth abortion and non-doctors performing abortion, in a state that refuses to advance informed consent and parental consent, and where not enough is being done to promote adoption and support mothers, today is yet another reminder that New York clearly needs to do a much better job to promote, respect and defend life.”
Rallies in support of a woman’s right to choose had broken out across the region since Politico reported in May that a leaked draft of the ruling suggested the high court was about to hand down the controversial decision. The ruling also sparked fears that the Supreme Court would reverse other landmark decisions next.
Justices Clarence Thomas, who wrote the court’s similarly jolting opinion reversing a New York State law restricting the carrying of concealed firearms, has expressed his own desire to see the court take aim at the queer community as he called on fellow justices to “reconsider all of this court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence and Obergefell.” Griswold v. Connecticut struck down a state law banning contraceptives, Lawrence v. Texas established the right to have gay sex, and Obergefell v. Hodges brought same-sex marriage nationwide.
LGBTQ+ legal groups rushed to condemn the ruling almost immediately. The Human Rights Campaign, which has also played a role in legal battles for LGBTQ+ rights, said on June 24 that Thomas “had some alarming things to say about Obergefell v. Hodges and Lawrence v. Texas, but he only spoke for himself.”
“Our fight right now is centered on ensuring people still have access to the abortion and reproductive services they need, but make no mistake: We will not back down from defending the progress we have made and keeping the fight for full LGBTQ+ equality going,” HRC tweeted after the ruling.
Thiele said New York State lawmakers are prepared to hold the line.
“This Supreme Court decision requires bold action,” he said. “I am ready to stand up and fight back to ensure basic freedoms, including access to contraception, LGBTQ+ rights and interracial marriage, are never jeopardized in our state.”
Planned Parenthood, which has a location in Riverhead, is bracing for an influx of women from other states where abortion may soon be outlawed.
“This dangerous and chilling decision will have devastating consequences across the country, forcing people to travel hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles for care or remain pregnant,” said Vincent Russell, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic Action Fund, which serves Suffolk County and other parts of New York.
New York State committed $35 million last month to strengthen New York’s abortion rights and expand access to the healthcare procedure in response to the ruling.
“The right to reproductive healthcare is a fundamental human right,” Hochul said in a statement. “Our state will always be a safe harbor for those seeking access to abortion care.”
Advocates maintain they will continue to push to ensure access.
“The fact of the matter is that the policing of bodies in this country is not new, particularly for Black, Brown and Indigenous women who will be most impacted by the court’s dangerous decision,” said Nia Adams, of the Long Island Progressive Coalition. “And due to historic and systemic barriers, we continue to be marginalized. Body-autonomy is necessary for self-determination and liberation. Men in suits who hide in towers do not get to make decisions about our bodies. We demand and continue to fight for comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare for all.”
~ With Associated Press, Matt Tracy and Briana Bonfiglio