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The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has unleashed “a momentum for people power” that will “change the dynamic” and increase voter turnout in favor of pro-choice candidates, says U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D.-IL.) in an exclusive RoundTable interview.
“I really do think that you’re going to see election turnouts boosted by the pro-choice majority in this country,” Schakowsky said. “And I feel that ordinary people are feeling more and more empowered to make a difference.”
The outrage and the anger she believes will rally people and bring them to the polls. It will spark a strong turnout, she said.
Schakowsky also said she has introduced a bill to expand the size of the Supreme Court. “I am a co-sponsor of a piece of legislation that would rebalance the court, and that could mean adding members to it,” she said. “It has happened before in the history of the United States, we don’t have to put up with this. The bill has a number of co-sponsors, we have a number of hearings, but we haven’t voted on it yet in the House.”
The RoundTable sat down with Schakowsky when she returned from the Capitol on Friday. The rally, she said, gave her optimism about the future of abortion rights, even in the new post-Roe world. “The thing that I think will be more and more reflected is that the majority of people who are mobilizing and gathering are people who want to protect their reproductive rights,” she said.
Schakowsky, who represents Evanston along with much of north suburban Cook County and Chicago’s North Side, compared the protection of reproductive rights to the recent bipartisan passage of federal gun control legislation. Sustained popular organizing “to change the dynamic, to change the politics of the issue” led to a major victory for gun safety which can be replicated by reproductive activists, she said.
People must do this work right now, Schakowsky said, pointing to the upcoming midterm elections as an opportunity to secure a filibuster-proof majority to codify Roe v. Wade.
“It could be within reach in just a few months at this election, so what people have to understand is their own power and the opportunity that we have,” Schakowsky said. “No whining right now, lemme put it that way. You know, we don’t like what the Supreme Court did, we are not shocked by it, because they told us they were going to do it.”
Schakowsky had much more to say on Friday, June 24. Here is the transcript of the interview, lightly edited for clarity.
Evanston RoundTable: This decision comes during midterm election season, and this is happening just before Illinois’ primaries. How do you think this will affect the vote? How do you think that Democrats elsewhere and in Cook County, where your constituency is, should move forward now that the decision has been made?
Schakowsky: Well, first of all, you’ve already seen the reaction. People are really mobilizing in opposition to this issue. But this is an issue that is on the ballot, it will be on the ballot in the November elections. I was leaving a meeting about Roe, and part of it was polling data. What it showed is that in even some of the more conservative states, when the issue of access to abortions was brought up and people were asked would you support someone who was for overturning Roe v. Wade? It flips the district from Republican to Democrat. In other words, this is a very persuasive issue. It is not usually partisan. And, you know, we see this as a tremendous opportunity.
The success of organizing and mobilizing, I think, was also really made evident on the gun issue. This was three decades that we have not had a single vote to do anything about gun violence. Why did it change? Because people worked and worked and worked to change the dynamic, to change the politics of the issue. And suddenly, the National Rifle Association simply doesn’t have the power that it had – 15 Republicans, many of them who helped to organize the compromise bill, voted for this package, which is gonna save lives. It may not be everything we wanted, but it is a really good package of bills.
I think that speaks also to the issue of abortion. Republicans, or people who say that they’re against abortion rights, that they’re anti-choice? Women are watching, women are paying attention, men and women are paying attention to this issue. And so I think there is a momentum for people power right now that results, in part, from the victory on the gun legislation.
ERT: Speaking of organizing, you went to a protest Friday. How was that, what was the atmosphere like? How encouraging was it for you?
Schakowsky: I’ll be honest with you, it was both sides. It was a celebration for those people who have been opposing abortion rights and are so happy that it happened, hooting and hollering at the pro-choice people. But the majority of people who are mobilizing and gathering are people who want to protect their reproductive rights. The idea of having politicians make this fundamental, personal, private decision. The original decision on Roe v. Wade was about privacy rights, that this is something people make the decision themselves. And so I really do think that you’re going to see election turnouts boosted by the pro-choice majority in this country. And I feel that ordinary people are feeling more and more empowered to make a difference.
ERT: I also want to ask you about Illinois, because Illinois is the only state in the Midwest that isn’t predicted to immediately, or in the near future, ban or heavily restrict abortion.
Schakowsky: So Planned Parenthood, the pro-choice groups, they have been helping to welcome people from around the area to come here and get abortions. But make no mistake, it will affect us too. Abortion is different from a lot of other issues; it is very time sensitive. And so you start getting a lot of people who are coming for abortions, and time is of the essence and it could really be a problem of too many people needing in a short time.
But that is not the answer. You know, women of means will always be able to get an abortion, they can go anywhere. But it is not a simple matter for all women to travel. Let’s say they’re in a domestic violence situation, impossible. Let’s say they can’t get childcare, let’s say they can’t get the money together to actually make that travel. Let’s say that they are working, and if they have to take off more than a day, they could lose their job or lose income. So it is lower-income women, it is women of color, that as usual, stand to lose here. And so, we can’t wait. No. Women are not going back. That is the message, and that is the message loud and strong, that we are going to fight to the finish, and as the president said, the decision today is not the last word.
Let me just give you an example. Let’s say we win the – and we have to – we win the House, we win the Senate, we have two more, at least, real Democrats in the United States Senate. Then we can actually do something about the filibuster. And then we can get enough votes so that not only the House but the Senate will essentially say abortion rights are rights. And then, that does override what the Supreme Court has said. It could be within reach in just a few months. What people have to understand is their own power and the opportunity we have. No whining right now, lemme put it that way. You know, it is up to us to make sure that we change the whole figuration of politics right now. We can do this, and that’s what people have to feel.
ERT: Roe v. Wade, as case law, has been settled for quite some time, but it was still less than 50 years ago. What would it mean to return to a pre-Roe world?
Schakowsky: I was around before Roe, and I remember some of the horror stories and the fear. And by the way, the deaths that were caused because of the inability to get an abortion? Women will die. That’s not a question. Women will die, because there are virtually no real exceptions for this in many states. So abortion for rape, incest, ectopic pregnancies, they may save the life of the mother, but you know what, the way it’s been interpreted in the past, you have to be near death. It’s not a matter of having the doctor say that you can’t afford physically to have another child. You have to be near death to qualify for that. So women will die. Roe v Wade wasn’t the beginning of women having abortions, it was the end of women dying from abortions. And that’s why this cannot stand in the year 2022 in the United States of America. It’s a fundamental right, we cannot go back, we will not go back.
Where were you when you learned of the decision, and what was your immediate reaction?
Schakowsky: I was actually in the car coming from a meeting about Roe v. Wade and the upcoming decision, and we were speculating, were they gonna wait until we went home, you know, the members of Congress would get out of town? Or were they going to do it today? And there it was. So we were expecting that. Didn’t know if it was going to be different, but it sounds as if it is pretty exactly like the leaked document that they did some time ago. It’s terrible, it is a complete undoing of Roe vs. Wade. And it is not shocking, but it’s completely unacceptable.
This is what I call a rogue Supreme Court. Yesterday, you know, they made this awful decision about guns in New York, and it seems that they care more about gun rights than the basic fundamental rights of women. And so, the thing that’s remarkable about it is it flies in the face of the American people, the vast majority of whom are opposed to overturning Roe vs. Wade. This included men as well as women, it included people who themselves are not for abortion, but they were not for taking away that right. So it’s just a terrible decision.
The president of the United States was wonderful, he said, “This is not the final word.” You know, the House of Representatives did pass what is essentially the codification of Roe v. Wade. The minute we had a Democratic, pro-choice majority in the House of Representatives, and this is the first session we’ve ever had that, we passed the Women’s Health Protection Act, which essentially, as I say, codified Roe v. Wade, the right to access to an abortion. The Senate, of course, hasn’t acted on it at all. We have 48 votes in the Senate, but of course with the filibuster, you need 60 votes. But the president said, “The Congress should act, but you can act.” He was then speaking to the people, and he encouraged people to vote.
ERT: What else Madam Congressperson?
Schakowsky: I did want to draw the parallel here that this – and I say rogue Supreme Court – because let’s face it, this court was stolen. Barack Obama, who had a nominee, and that nominee was almost a year until the end of his term. Mitch McConnell said, “Oh no, I’m sorry. The people have to decide. So we’re not going to allow for that.” And then it turns out, the last addition to the Supreme Court was made when the election was underway already. … If anything, Joe Biden should have had the opportunity, as well as Barack Obama, to appoint members to the Supreme Court. I am a co-sponsor of a piece of legislation that would rebalance the court, and that could mean adding members to the Supreme Court. It has happened before in the history of the United States, we don’t have to put up with this. The bill has a number of co-sponsors, we have a number of hearings, but we haven’t voted on it yet in the House.