This week’s swearing-in of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch has raised concerns among pro-choice activists. Any of the many state-level abortion restrictions could make their way to the Supreme Court. This, in turn, could spell the end of Roe vs. Wade. Gorsuch replaced a conservative justice. This means the technical balance of the Court hasn’t shifted. But with one more Supreme Court nominee, the Court should shift further right than it has been in four decades.
With all the focus on abortion rights, it’s easy to lose sight of something most people take completely for granted: premarital and casual sex. Abortion rights helped birth the sexual revolution. The transformation this produced took premarital sex from scandalous to standard. A Supreme Court that reverses choice rights, or even one that just eats away at choice, could affect the sex life of anyone who’s ever deigned to have sex outside of marriage–and that’s almost everyone.
How the Supreme Court Sets Sexual Norms
Two generations ago, publicly admitting to sex outside of marriage was scandalous. An unwanted pregnancy almost always triggered a shotgun wedding, and with good reason. With no ready access to abortion, women needed help to raise the children who resulted from sex outside of marriage. Thanks to the pill and abortion, women have more options–and no one feels forced to marry anyone.
It’s easy to take for granted that sex was once a risky undertaking. With so much more to worry about than men, it’s no wonder that many women decided to avoid the whole thing until they were married, or at least financially stable. That’s why sex isn’t just a personal decision. Sexual choices are deeply rooted in cultural norms. And legal obstacles help set cultural norms. After all, if the cost of having sex far outweighs any perceived benefit, there’s little reason to do it.
And that is how Neil Gorsuch and the Supreme Court on which he sits could affect what happens in the bedroom of every unmarried or financially strapped person in the country. Sex will no longer be a personal choice, but one that must be perennially mindful of a Court that’s moving away from individual freedom and bodily integrity.
What Will Happen if Roe is Overturned?
If abortion becomes illegal, it’s not just women who will be affected. Abortion supports healthier families, greater sexual experimentation, and even economic development. In nations that have removed choice rights, suicide rates increase, domestic violence becomes more prevalent, and men are stuck raising or paying child support for unwanted children. Abortion rights aren’t just for women, and framing them this way is a mistake. Access to abortion affects virtually every choice young men make–whether to stick with a boring job or take a risk; whether to marry for love or convenience; whether to experiment in a consensual and safe way. The effects of choice on men are invisible because choice works so well. Remove it and watch both men and women suffer.