Cartoon: SCOTUS-induced Tragic Prelude 2.0

William R. Staplin shares another cartoon and explains his artistic choices.

I was inspired to draw this cartoon because of the egregious decision by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) to overturn a 49 year-old precedent, Roe v. Wade. The majority abandoned pregnant Americans' right to choose safe health care outcomes, including abortion.

I fashioned this cartoon in the same style as a famous work from the American Regionalist Movement (or American Regionalism Movement). The master artist was John Steuart Curry and he painted the politically controversial mural, “Tragic Prelude, (1940).”

Curry was in the triumvirate of American artists born and raised on farms in the Midwest, who emphasized the agrarian way of life, work, common folk, communities, calamities, rituals and animals of the Midwest. The sty;e became a popular vernacular during the Great Depression period in the 1930s, then declined upon the advent of World War II.

John Steuart Curry painted the abolitionist Kansas native John Brown (who instigated the Harper’s Ferry Massacre prior to the Civil War, hence the title, “Tragic Prelude”). My version is that of an unhinged SCOTUS figure, who represents the five conservative justices who joined the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Mississippi Women’s Health Center. They overturned national reproductive rights and allowed so-called "trigger laws" criminalizing abortion to go into effect in more than a dozen states, predominantly in the Midwest and South.

The Roe precedent had stood for 49 years, but the majority rejected the court's doctrine of “stare decisis," under which the Supreme Court’s previous decision set the precedent for the current interpretation of the law.

Now that Roe is gone and stare decisis is no longer relevant, the SCOTUS majority may reverse other decisions that guaranteed civil liberties such as the right to privacy, LGTBQ+ marriage equality, interracial marriage, or contraception. Millions of Americans have taken those rights for granted, thanks to SCOTUS rulings written by more balanced, less politically motivated justices. States or the federal government may further encroach on citizens’ private lives, pitting citizens against fellow citizens at whatever offends the self-appointed citizenry.

The flowing SCOTUS figure’s robe made me think of snakes, hidden within. You can see a variety of conservative Constitutional Orginalist decisions recently being handed down: allowing religious prayer at public school sponsored events (Kennedy v. Bremerton), gun owners’ rights (N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen) and abortion (Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization).

The SCOTUS holds an upside-down Bible in the right hand while holding a pregnancy test in the left hand. Above the representative SCOTUS figure are progressive pro-choice and conservative anti-abortion protestors.

To the lower left of the SCOTUS figure are the “haves” of society. Those impregnated individuals have the means to transport themselves discretely across state lines, risking their life, because they are exercising their now illegal right to choose for themselves what is best for the situation and those aiding and abetting the woman.

In rancorous fashion, law enforcement from the woman’s intrusive conservative state of origin (in the Midwest, North and South Dakota, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Ohio, where abortion is restricted with a gestational limit) may be able to be notified of this once discrete, safe procedure and vilify the woman. The pregnant person may be fined, shamed, and penalized, along with the enablers of the procedure, i.e. a women’s health clinic and/or a completely unaware commercial transporter (e.g. Lyft,Uber).

Nevertheless, privileged individuals will have a clear advantage in accessing health care because they can afford to travel. In the Midwest, abortion rights are secure only in Minnesota and Illinois. Several other states currently allow abortions, but options in Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas may quickly change depending on the specific state’s conservatively controlled legislatures and courts.

To the right of the SCOTUS figure are the “have nots” in our highly striated society. These people have the fewest resources and therefore the most to lose from unplanned pregnancies. They have little ability to seek out options that are the best for themselves or their baby, lacking money for an expensive bus ticket or lodging in another state. People of color will be disproportionately affected.

The court's anti-abortion ruling will increase the number of Americans stuck in this vicious cycle, forced to continue a pregnancy and bear the financial costs of parenting. Bare minimum social services will be afforded to the “have nots” through state Medicaid laws. In Iowa, the state only pays for 60 days of postpartum care for a new mother and her child. Federal subsidized child payments have been cut, preventing the mother from receiving assistance in monthly day care expenses. Now the new parent is caught in a dilemma of trying to balance her monthly budget while trying to find employment that will offer health insurance and will pay enough to meet the added child care expense(s).

Below the SCOTUS figure is a table of the abortion laws for each of the fifty states which were organized into four categories: those states where abortion is firmly prohibited (red), those states where the abortion laws are soon to be illegal (orange red), states where abortion is currently legal but may potentially be overturned within the states’ courts or legislatures (aquamarine), and those states whose abortion laws are legalized and may even be strengthened (blue). Articles in the New York Times and Politico provide a clear, thorough representation of the existing abortion law in each state.

Our SCOTUS has brashly disregarded precedent, endangering this nation by irresponsibly denying the determination of a person’s right to their own choices and privacy. Instead, the majority gives preference to the state’s abortion laws where the person resides.

In Iowa, we need to support Democratic candidates and find new community leaders within the rural, suburban, and urban settings to challenge the Republican trifecta's persistent, punitive, shame inducing radical right leaning political platform. (The Iowa Supreme Court recently overturned its own precedent that had guaranteed abortion rights.) Iowans have too much to lose, especially communities of color and immigrant populations, if we don’t take action to protect privacy, reproductive rights, and access to legal and safe abortions.

William R. Staplin is a former scientist specializing in utilizing molecular biology techniques to investigate RNA plant and animal viruses, research and development of vaccines to protect against infectious viruses; husband to Ruth A. Staplin, a longtime SPPG employee and political wonk; father to two independently minded teenagers, one attending college and the other enrolled at Des Moines Public Independent School District; cancer and spinal cord disability survivor; and a supporter of women’s reproductive rights, LGTBQ+, and Black and Brown Lives Matter. He is also a full-time greyhound owner and greyhound cafeteria worker.

  • GmDem D.kolmer

    A brilliant ‘cartoon’ depicting all the nightmares the TrumpISIS party is effecting.. and it’s only going to worsen. DEMOCRATS must fight to beat this cult.

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