Within six months after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, nineteen states passed laws prohibiting abortion within the first trimester. The most restrictive laws banned abortion entirely, except to save the life of the person giving birth. The Court’s eager abdication of its role in protecting individual liberty under the 14th amendment marks a grim chapter in the life cycle of American democracy. The Dobbs decision, along with the political environment that demanded the repeal of Roe v. Wade, promises to severely limit the role of women in public life. The specter of forced pregnancy threatens women’s full citizenship and the sustained stability of American democracy.

This article argues that the threat to women’s bodily autonomy is not simply a feminist problem, but rather a democracy problem. The speed and consistency with which state legislatures have moved to restrict the rights and lives of women have placed America on the cusp of a democratic crisis. We need to be willing to name this crisis and adopt a clear-eyed, united response founded in a framework of democratic self-defense. The second half of the 20th century offered our country a profound “glimpse of freedom” that the Founders could not have envisioned. However, this freedom is the result of the liberatory democratic structure they designed. History teaches us that robbing women of their autonomy will move us further away from a fully functioning and effective democracy. History also guarantees us that it will not be the last step.

This article proceeds in three parts. Part I outlines the characteristics of fascistic regimes and the social and political environments that contribute to their growth. Part II situates the Dobbs decision within a broader historical understanding of the use of patriarchy and gender subordination by fascistic regimes, with a special emphasis on the current American socio-political reality. Part III concludes that the present democratic crisis demands a robust democratic self-defense, specifically the deployment of an integrated model that is rooted in decreasing social, political, and economic inequality while fostering education and engagement.