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The Book Everyone, But Especially James Charles, Needs To Read

Last week we did whatever the opposite of celebrating is to mark the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, allowing states to enact abortion bans across the country that have since killed pregnant people. A few days later, we listened to one of the candidates for president call that a “great thing” and act as if it somehow curbed infanticide (which he falsely called “late term abortion”). And just to clarify, infanticide is 1) already illegal, and 2) therefore not a national health crisis currently requiring an emergent response from the government. 

As infuriating as those old inflammatory lies are, however, the Republican party has been able to trot them out every presidential and midterm election year since 2016 to influence the hearts and minds of voters regardless of any factual accuracy. They can do so, at least in part, because the story of reproductive freedoms in America has been inaccessible. Until 2022, the anti-abortion movement to overturn Roe existed largely in the shadows. The conversations that were happening everywhere from little-known state lawmakers’ offices to behind the scenes at Republican conventions were underreported, and abortion was treated as an issue that overreacting politically interested women (🙋‍♀️) might care about, but not one deserving the time and energy of any “real” (read: old, male) politicos. Not to mention that if you were an “overreacting politically interested” woman who wanted to learn more, you would likely find yourself reading medical and legal jargon, as well as the ins and outs of minute political processes, budgets, and appointments. The impact of this inaccessibility can still be seen today – just open TikTok and you can find James Charles picking up 3.6 million “likes” while loudly declaring that President Biden is responsible for overturning Roe because he was president at the time that it happened. Luckily Elizabeth Dias, The New York Times’ national religion correspondent, and Lisa Lerer, a national political reporter for The New York Times, are a bit more qualified than a problematic makeup influencer and are setting the record straight with their new book The Fall Of Roe: The Rise Of A New America.

While we cannot change the past, moving forward relies on it being documented. “We felt very strongly that we needed one set of just facts – what actually happened during this time – and to treat it with the seriousness of any other monumental, historical shift in America,” Dias told me. “Even for those of us who cover this often, it’s pretty confusing. There’s a whole language about abortion law and terminology and the politics of it, and it’s just way too much to keep track of, which functions to the anti-abortion side’s advantage.” Lerer added, “This is a major political issue that has not always been treated as such, so let’s give it that treatment. Let’s treat it how you would write a chronology of how we got into a war or gay marriage or one of these other issues that political punditry has taken in a more serious way.”

Throughout the book, Lerer and Dias do exactly that, by approaching the last 10 years of Roe through narratives of pregnant people seeking abortion care, or seeking help from anti-abortion “Crisis Pregnancy Centers,” as well as the leaders behind the movement that got us here. Along the way they uncover revelations like the fact that infamously homophobic former Vice President Mike Pence was married in a Catholic church by a gay priest, who weeks after the wedding left the priesthood and went on to lead Indiana Pride. But Dias told me that when it came down to the conversations they had with the people directly affected by the Supreme Court’s decision, regardless of what side they fell on or where they were turning to for help, “There was a common theme of women having needs that society wasn’t meeting.” She said, “If you listen to all of their accounts it raises some questions about what a woman in America’s rights are, what are the societal structures that could be in place – that are or are not in place – to keep women healthy and safe, and achieve their goals for their lives and their families.” Lerer continued, “These also were not women who were thinking about politics or voting or the courts, they were thinking “how do I get through my day?” “How am I going to deal with having a baby or not having a baby? Can I afford to have a baby?” Many of them had additional kids at home, which we know from statistics, a lot of women who get abortion are in that situation. When you’re in that situation and you’re trying to figure out the details of your life, you’re not thinking about what this judge in this state is going to say… It does show how disconnected the issue of abortion has been from the lived reality of women’s lives and what it means to not only be a woman in America, but to be a mother – or not be a mother – in America, and raise children in America, and what the economic or emotional costs of that are.”

At the end of the day, the anti-abortion movement was clearly successful in its mission to overturn Roe, but Dias told me, “The fall of Roe was never the end, it was the beginning. Ultimately anti-abortion activists want to end all abortion.” The Supreme Court just handed down two extremely consequential decisions that hint at where this movement goes next – medication abortion and emergency abortion. And while the Court delivered opinions letting access to both remain available for now, they by no means issued a strong rebuke of the challenges to their legality. It was more of a “we won’t take this away…yet.” And looking ahead at the bleak future for abortion after Roe, it’s hard not to think about what could have been different had the battle against reproductive freedoms been taken seriously earlier. Of course, we can’t go back in time and make aging Supreme Court Justices retire in the early 2010s, we can’t change the results of the 2016 election, and we can’t force old media to retroactively pay attention to the screams of women. But everyone is paying attention now, and “The Fall Of Roe” arms us with previously overlooked information that can hopefully reach the ears of James Charles and his 3.6 million fans before the future is once again set in stone.

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Bridget Schwartz
Bridget Schwartz
Bridget is Betches’ Senior Content Manager for News and Activism and strongly believes men are the reason for all of the world’s problems (with the solution being wine, obvi). Other fun facts about her: she’s Canadian, formerly a competitive Irish dancer, and can probably be found yelling into the void about reproductive justice.