That sound you hear is anti-choice activists howling with joy. With the imminent departure of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who on Wednesday announced his intention to resign at the end of July, the Supreme Court of the United States is set to lean majority conservative—quite possibly dooming legal abortion in the United States.
With his final bow, Kennedy, who to his chagrin is often known as the "swing vote" among the nine justices, has screwed over American women more than he ever would have as an existing justice.
Until now, Kennedy has served as the "swing vote" on decisions that swing mildly to the left—the middle-ground justice on a court that often leans four left and four right. A lifelong conservative icon, Kennedy nonetheless passionately argued for gay marriage to become law—yet his decisions have betrayed an antiquated view towards women's rights (as fellow justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once pointed out).
Kennedy's decision particularly stings for its timing. We are more than two years out from the president of this country being anyone other than Donald Trump, who has pledged to nominate only conservative judges during his tenure. Trump's first and only nomination so far has been now-Justice Neil Gorsuch, who leans sharply to the right—and as liberal-leaning activists feared. In some ways, liberal groups argued, Neil Gorsuch was the best they could have hoped for.
In other words, all was not lost. Gorsuch had replaced Justice Antonin Scalia, after all, and the two served the same role on the court: Staid, reliably right-wing justices. So although Gorsuch was, in many liberals' eyes, the inferior choice to Obama nominee Merrick Garland, Gorsuch's arrival did not change the ideological makeup of the court in any significant way.
The same can't be said for Kennedy's departure.
When President Trump nominates a conservative justice, as he will, and when the Republican-leaning Congress approves that person, as it will, the highest court in the country will lose its swing member and become a conservative-leaning body. From there, it's only a matter of time until a challenge to existing abortion rights—as in, a challenge to women's right to have an abortion—mounts through the lower courts to reach the Supreme Court, and the group votes along party lines.
This is the point at which abortion becomes illegal. This is the point at which, much like when President Trump was elected, we wonder who is going to save us—and we realize that nobody will. That we live in a country where women are the lesser gender, where acquiring a termination could soon be a criminal act, and where minorities are treated as second-class citizens. And if the new justice is, like Neil Gorsuch, relatively young, then this could go on for decades.
There was nothing Anthony Kennedy could have done to screw over women more than what he has done.