Rolling back women’s reproductive rights: The newest form of voter suppression

By U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon

The following is excerpted from a letter from Congressperson Scanlon.

As an attorney, you never forget your first client – that’s when the power and impact of our justice system become real, in ways a textbook or lecture cannot convey.  Ashley* was my first client.

I had just started representing children in the abuse and neglect system when I met Ashley. She was only 10 years old and had been abused by her parent. Her grip on my hand grew tighter with every step as we walked into the courtroom…

Ashley and I remained close over the years; she knew I was always a phone call away. And she did call to let me know how she was doing in school, when she made honor roll and got her first job. But, when the phone rang nearly a decade later, I heard the fear of that 10-year-old girl. Ashley had been raped by an abusive boyfriend and learned that she was pregnant.

She gripped my hand as we walked into the clinic, sat in the waiting room, and waited for the doctor.   Ashley chose to terminate that pregnancy, a choice that was hers alone to make.

Over the years, I have represented women denied that choice by the states where they live, and the tight grip that others have exerted over their reproductive rights.  That grip is getting tighter as state legislatures and the Trump administration have renewed efforts to criminalize reproductive healthcare and strip women of autonomy over their own bodies.

This renewed assault on the rights of women to make difficult decisions reflecting their own medical needs and religious beliefs has reminded me not only of Ashley, but of the inextricable relationship between reproductive rights and voting rights — and the direct consequences that elections have for the most vulnerable members of our society.  And, it is no accident.

From real ID laws to closing polling places and purging voter rolls, it is no surprise that the states actively working to strip women of reproductive rights are the ones who have turned back the clock on voting rights. 

Voter suppression tactics disproportionately suppress the voices of women and minority voters, discouraging participation in our democracy at the voting booth and on the ballot.   When women and people of color feel excluded from this most basic form of participation, there is no incentive to put their name on the ballot.

When our elected officials do not reflect the people, the issues most important to women and our communities most at risk are less likely to be discussed, let alone addressed. This is how state legislatures, occupied predominantly by majority Republican white men, clear the pathway for turning back the clock on reproductive health care. 

This war on reproductive rights is not new and neither are the tactics. But, the greatest threat to reproductive healthcare may not be renewed challenges to Roe v. Wade; but rather the systematic effort to suppress the votes of those most impacted by such laws.

When I decided to run for office, Ashley was one of the first to volunteer for the campaign.

So many of us take the right to vote for granted. When we ignore this responsibility or deny this right to our most vulnerable communities, it is impossible for our government to reflect the people.

And, at this critical time in our history, we must vote to elect representatives who will fight to protect the sanctity of our elections and the will of the people.

Our reproductive rights—and voting rights—depend on it.

*Editor’s Note: The name of the woman, Ashley, mentioned above is a pseudonym.

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