I went to law school to be a reproductive rights lawyer. I knew access to abortion was under attack, and as a legal assistant at the Center for Reproductive Rights, I was under no illusions. A coordinated effort to overturn Roe was underway, as was a coordinated effort to pack the courts with far-right originalist religious zealots.
I left the Center for Harvard Law School, with a plan to acquire the skills and requisite accolades that would allow me to return to work for a national organization challenging bullshit laws that limited women’s access to abortions under the pretext of protecting their health, and paternalistic laws that required doctors to give false importation to patients seeking abortion access. I knew that the right to access to abortion was being chipped away, but I never thought that a mere eight years later, Roe would be overturned, and that I would see abortion illegal in any state, let alone half of them.
But when I entered law school in 2014, we were only in the middle of the second term of Barack Obama, and though half the country’s contempt for a Black president was palpable, I couldn’t imagine that Donald “You’re Fired” Trump would be our next president. I couldn’t imagine that the little shred of relief I felt when Scalia died would soon be replaced with shock and horror as Mitch McConnell and his minions blocked Obama’s ability to appoint Merrick Garland. And even then, when we knew the Court’s gerontocracy was at risk and wished RBG would retire, who among us truly could have foreseen Donald Fucking Trump getting to appoint three judges to the Supreme Court, and appointees being lauded by the Republican leadership at super-spreader events in the White House Rose Garden? It was simply beyond comprehension.
When Trump was elected, I lay on the floor and cried and drank whiskey until I blacked out, and marched in the streets and screamed and feared the worst, but I kept going. Graduating from law school felt like I was arming myself with a tool that could defend democracy. I made lentil soup for classmates and we sat on my living room floor and sent postcards and brainstormed actions. Those were the days of the “RESIST” slogan, and “HATE HAS NO HOME HERE” law signs. It seemed like every house in Berkeley, where I was living by then, had one. It made us feel like we were part of something bigger, something bigger than us and something bigger than Trump. The arc of the universe bends towards justice, etc.
I kept going. I listened to The Daily every morning, forcing myself to keep my eyes open to the parade of horribles that were increasingly intermingled with iMessage and Instagram alerts on my phone’s lock screen. Though the election had called into question what I wanted to do with my life, I stayed on track, moving to Los Angeles to work at a big law firm where I represented production companies and investment consultants and, alongside the ACLU, the only independent abortion clinic in Kentucky. I worked a lot those first two years, and attended a lot of sound baths. I excused myself from the office to get gelato at the Westfield Century City mall during the Kavanaugh hearings. I clung to the fact that my work helped keep access to second-trimester abortion available to women in Kentucky.
I switched jobs and I kept going, until suddenly there was a global pandemic and Trump was the president and it seemed like the End Times had officially arrived. I developed hives and migraines and psychosomatic respiratory symptoms, but I brought my computer home from the office and kept going.
I kept going through the death of George Floyd and the protests I was scared to attend because of the aforementioned pandemic. I kept going through the death of RBG and the theft of the majority of the Supreme Court. I started waking up in the middle of the night, fearing my heartbeat was irregular and I would die if I fell back asleep. I started taking Lexapro. I kept going through January 6th, logging on to work the next day and participating in the collective performance of normalcy, the prioritization of work during a literal attempted coup. I started taking naps on the couch with the dog in the middle of the day.
I kept on going and started Turtleneck Season, which I initially intended to be a place to discuss things like nostalgia and identity and books and senses of place and to escape the flames of the American Hellscape.
I’ve kept on going. I’ve made dinners and written briefs and planned a wedding and trained a dog and done all of the things that you do when you pretend life continues as usual even when it does not. I’m isolating in my house in the weeks before my wedding so I don’t catch the disease that has killed over a million people in my country. We are desperately hoping that plague and fire will not impact our celebration. I listened to recaps of the January 6th Congressional hearings while I try on newly-arrived Ilia make-up. My naps on the couch with my dog are getting longer and longer, as are the gaps between my Substack posts.
Each day, the wedding feels more and more like a radical and insane act of hope. It is a commitment to a future with a partner at a time when it is hard to imagine much goodness down the road. It is a promise of a family at a moment when my uterus is shriveling, when I cannot imagine letting my children walk into our neighborhood’s cheerful elementary school, dwarfed by their backpacks and my secret terror.
It is all catching up. For some it became too much with the murder of George Floyd, or when a gunman murdered 10 Black people in a grocery store in Buffalo and injured 3 more. Others were immobilized by the murder of 19 elementary school children and their teachers in Uvalde. And today, I am paralyzed by the erasure of the right that I went to law school to protect. I am supposed to be writing my wedding vows and now all I can think about is how I don’t know if I can be a lawyer anymore or how to stomach becoming a parent.
On the one hand, you might say that nothing has changed for me. On the other, California may only be insulated for so long. Yesterday, the Supreme Court’s opinion in Bruen will limit California’s ability to regulate guns. We are literally less safe. And in the next two years, it is not impossible that Republicans could control all branches of government and enact a nationwide abortion ban. That is their plan. I can’t imagine choosing to become pregnant without the freedom to terminate a nonviable pregnancy or an abnormal fetus or a fucking ectopic pregnancy or the guarantee that a doctor would be able to perform an abortion to save my life.
Yes, we just have to get out the vote, but as of today, the doors of EMW Women’s Surgical Center, my former client in Louisville, are locked. The clinic is closed. As of today (and as of last September, in Texas), pregnant people are not able to get abortions they need. People will carry unplanned pregnancies to term, the alternative being too difficult or costly to figure out. Pregnant people will die. People, largely women, will die because six unelected old folks decided that there is no constitutionally-protected right to determine your own destiny, or to be the best parent you can be to your existing children, or to finish your education, or to not have to bear the child of your rapist. People will be incarcerated after taking matters into their own hands. Women will DIE, families will suffer, and children will be borne into families that may love them, but that may or may not be able to care for them as they would like to.
I am just so angry and so scared. When I got the news on Friday morning, I was on the couch reading, under a blanket and the dog. My ears started ringing, the way they do before I faint. My eyes had been fully open, and yet my body was not prepared for its demotion to second-class citizenry. Perhaps what landed with a thud was the arrival of the exact future that I had so dreaded on November 9, 2016 — an America in which abortion can be illegal and regulating guns is unconstitutional and religious schools are entitled to public funding and environmental regulations are treated as legal overreach. I feel professionally lost, now that the system of reason and precedent and analogy that I have been trained in has confirmed what I feared all along, that our legal system is a sham that is only as real as we all pretend it is.
I feel hopeless, and perhaps felt particularly depleted going into this week, since I had been slogging through Alexander Stille’s history of Italian Jews under fascism for the last couple of weeks, titled Benevolence and Betrayal. It is difficult to bounce back after spending the summer solstice reading about the last months at Buchenwald. But what I have taken away from the stories of the five families featured by Stille is the remarkable ability of people to keep going in the face of unimaginable horror. The ability to sleep through the night, to fall in love and have a family, to resist the extinguishing of one’s own breath and soul even after one’s entire family has been annihilated.
Nothing compares to the Holocaust, and yet the relegation to second-class citizenry and the sudden erasure of formerly enshrined rights by Dobbs, by what is supposedly the highest court in the land, carries eerie echoes of the 1930s and 1940s with its looming what’s nextness. I’ve always been fascinated by the ways in which regimes use the law to administrate and legalize atrocity. Perhaps that is why I feel so paralyzed, as if showing up to work on Monday to write a memo or a brief will render me complicit in a system that has lost its moral and legal legitimacy.
But nothing is a more powerful reminder of the need to keep going than my wedding, which is now in less than three weeks. In committing to a future with Ben, I am committing to the future, a future that will contain joy and love as well as sorrow and despair. It is a future in which I will commit to helping pregnant people get what they need to be a parent or not be a parent—and that the most profound decision of one’s life remains a decision.
Today I am not yet sure what that means for me professionally, but after 48 hours of drowning myself in carbs and ice cream, I have decided to spend today writing and moving and eating more vegetables—all little acts of hope.
~~~If you are so moved, I always encourage the channeling of pro-choice anger to donations to a local abortion fund or the National Network of Abortion Funds, but today, I would ask you to consider donating to one of my former clients, the Red River Women’s Clinic, which is raising funds to move across the river from North Dakota to Minnesota. I also support the Repro Legal Defense Fund, which covers bail and funds strong defenses for people who are investigated, arrested, or prosecuted for self-managed abortion.~~
This resonated with me so so much ❤️