The cognitive dissonance of watching the end of Roe unfold online


Throughout the day, Wedd­ington and her staff “pumped reporters for information,” she later wrote in her 2013 book A Question of Choice. She found a lawyer friend who could go to the Supreme Court to pick up a copy of the opinion and read her “the significant portions,” but Weddington had to give interviews before she could read it herself. They worked the phones to get the news to those who had been part of the effort; they could not reach the woman known as Jane Roe to tell her personally. The next morning, Weddington woke up early to get all the major newspapers and read about her own case. She received a telegram from the Supreme Court. “Judgment Roe against Wade today affirmed in part and reversed in part,” it read. “Opinions airmailed.” Paper copies arrived a few days later.

On June 24, 2022, there were no telegrams announcing the decision in Dobbs—they barely exist anymore. The Center for Reproductive Rights tweeted out the opinion at 10:11 a.m. The phone might still be how you learned of the decision made by six justices, but now the phone could also give an instant voice to millions whose rights were rolled back with their ruling. Accounts on Twitter like @AbortionStories, run by the group We Testify, aggregated personal narratives by people who have had abortions. Overall, according to one report from a Tufts University research initiative, there were 1.8 million negative Twitter mentions of the decision. Those whose rights were stripped did not wait for the news media, with its professional legal commentators opining on what they called “a very dark day in America,” to put a face on their future. 

The weeks after Dobbs have only made it more plain that the war on abortion is also a war on information.

The phone where we received the news was the same device that could let us help someone we have never met before travel to a state where abortion is still legal. On the day of the ruling, the National Network of Abortion Funds reported $3 million in new donations across its 97 member funds, from 33,000 new donors, even though its website briefly crashed that morning. The phone was how we learned where we can still get an abortion, through services like INeedAnA.com, and through Plan C, which shares information on self-managed abortions with pills—one mifepristone and four misoprostol—that can still beordered online. 

If anything, though, the weeks after Dobbs have only made it more plain that the war on abortion is also a war on information. Because the phone, groups like Digital Defense Fund have advised, brings with it security threats: exposing our browser histories, our private messages, our location data, to platforms and law enforcement alike. This is what could make abortion riskier after Roe. The otherwise safe procedure itself is no more dangerous. But without Roe, the tools people use to quickly share information and resources—the ways we keep each other safe—have themselves been made dangerous. 

Melissa Gira Grant is a journalist, author, and filmmaker.





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