‘We Dissent’

Collective trauma and grief in the death of Roe v. Wade

By Beth S. Patterson

I knew it was coming, but when I saw the words “ROE VERSUS WADE OVERTURNED” splashed across my computer screen, I had no words – only tears. The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs has triggered me in many ways — and I know I’m not alone. Many women and others throughout this country are in the throes of profound collective trauma and grief.

My feelings after reading about the death of Roe were a mixture of shock, outrage and profound grief. I came of age during the invigorating and hopeful days of the Women’s Liberation Movement. My generation worked hard to gain those rights. The Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973 validated the gains made by women and the pride we felt: We had a voice, autonomy and respect that was long denied. Now our voices, autonomy and respect are being dismissed, and the rights we fought so hard far are now being stripped away.

I have worked hard through the years, as a therapist specializing in traumatic grief, in my own therapy and in my meditation practice, to let go of the myriad feelings of shame and trauma I’ve experienced as a woman. The court’s death knell to the federal recognition of a person with a uterus to have the right to make responsible choices about their body and life has brought those feelings back to the fore. It feels like we’re back to the days when it was believed that women’s voices and choices can’t be trusted, and shouldn’t even be heard. 

Justice Samuel Alito’s words justifying the removal of the Constitutional protections granted by Roe reek of misogyny. The Dobbs decision will lead many people like me to re-experience the shame and trauma we have felt in our personal or professional lives. A particular trigger for me is feeling invisible or left out. The Dobbs ruling feels like a stab in the back, bringing back those feelings. 

I now remember like it was yesterday my days as an executive in the male-dominated music business, where I often felt invalidated and ignored. It is retraumatizing now to recall how I would make a point only for it to be ignored. And then one of my male colleagues would say the exact same thing and it was heard. 

So, my grief and outrage are now mingled with fear. The five hard-liners on the Supreme Court rely on the original intent of the Founders to justify their position. The Constitution doesn’t even mention the word “women.” I am experiencing trauma and fear as I think of whose rights will be stolen next.

We are no longer the United States of America, but in a country fractured and divided seemingly beyond repair. I am grateful that I live in a progressive state that believes in and supports the right to choose. Nationally, rather than progressing and keeping up with the changing times, we have regressed all the way back to this country’s founding — with white men taking what was not theirs to take. 

The five hard-liners relied on the words and intentions of the white men who wrote the Constitution many centuries ago. Many of them were slaveholders, and all lived on lands stolen from their rightful owners. Using “original intent” as a justification to strip away a woman’s right to choose is egregious beyond words. As the dissenters poignantly wrote, “With sorrow — for this court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection — we dissent.”

And so do I.

Beth Patterson, MA, LPC, JD, is a clinical supervisor for crisis workers at CAHOOTS. She is a retired psychotherapist, having specialized in grief, trauma and Buddhist psychology.  Previously, Patterson was an entertainment lawyer in New York City.