Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Supreme Court’s Abortion Ruling Shows What Happens When Democracy Is Thwarted

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Supreme Court’s Abortion Ruling Shows What Happens When Democracy Is Thwarted

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, et al.

June 24, 2022

Brennan Center for Justice

There is a straight line from Amer­ica’s broken systems of demo­cracy to the Supreme Court’s cata­strophic major­ity ruling in Dobbs v. Jack­son Women’s Health. That’s because both abor­tion access and systems of civic parti­cip­a­tion and repres­ent­a­tion are essen­tial for autonomy and equal­ity.

Abor­tion enables people to exer­cise self-determ­in­a­tion over their bodies and their family lives so that they are not rendered second-class citizens by the unique burdens of preg­nancy and child­bear­ing. A func­tion­ing demo­cracy protects these very same values: polit­ical self-determ­in­a­tion requires voters to be able to effect­ively choose who governs, and the ballot lets voters defend them­selves against policies that threaten their rights. 

Below, Bren­nan Center experts exam­ine these fail­ings and what lies ahead.

Fair Elections and Reproductive Freedom Go Hand in Hand

By Ian Vandewalker

The move­ments to elim­in­ate abor­tion and restrict the vote are both under­girded by many of the same power­ful forces. Before it over­turned Roe v. Wade, the conser­vat­ive major­ity on the Supreme Court spent the past decade slash­ing campaign finance laws, hobbling the Voting Rights Act, and allow­ing partisan gerry­man­der­ing.

Today, many states that have enacted restrict­ive voting laws, like Arizona, Geor­gia, and Texas, have also pushed constraints on abor­tion access. And major corpor­a­tions like AT&T and Coca-Cola have made dona­tions to state lawmakers who advance both voter suppres­sion and abor­tion restric­tions.

Anti-abor­tion rhet­oric is even show­ing up in campaigns for secret­ary of state, a posi­tion that has no role in the regu­la­tion of health care. In Arizona and Michigan, elec­tion denial candid­ates running on lies about the 2020 race being “stolen” from Trump have also weighed in on the abor­tion debate.

In our post-Roe, post-Dobbs future, protect­ing and expand­ing access to abor­tion neces­sar­ily entails parti­cip­at­ing in the fight for fair elec­tions. Every­one who values autonomy and equal­ity must redouble their commit­ment to both.

In Many States, Gerrymandering Blocks the Abortion Policy the Public Wants

By Sonali Seth and Michael Li

The major­ity opin­ion in Dobbs asserts that women need not worry about the impact of the decision on repro­duct­ive autonomy because they can turn to the polit­ical process and vote out lawmakers who pass abor­tion restric­tions and bans. But the real­ity is that by fail­ing to rein in partisan gerry­man­der­ing and consist­ently gutting voting rights protec­tions, the Supreme Court has rendered that impossible.  

Consider Texas, home to one of the nation’s most restrict­ive and contro­ver­sial abor­tion laws. Partis­ans there aggress­ively redrew legis­lat­ive maps during last year’s redis­trict­ing to trans­form a once compet­it­ive state legis­lature into a safely Repub­lican one. Before, Demo­crats only needed to win a little more than half the vote to be favored to win control of the Texas House. After brazen redraw­ing of the maps, they now need to win more than 56.2 percent of the vote to be favored to win even a bare major­ity. Mean­while, Repub­lic­ans only need 43.9 percent for a major­ity.  

Such game rigging to create unac­count­able endur­ing partisan major­it­ies — green­lit by the Supreme Court in 2019 in Rucho v. Common Cause — stands in stark contrast with maps drawn by more neut­ral bodies.

For instance, in Michigan, the inde­pend­ent commis­sion created by voters conver­ted maps that had been biased in favor of Repub­lic­ans into ones where both major parties have a reas­on­able chance to win control. Like­wise, in North Caro­lina, state courts rely­ing on the state consti­tu­tion threw out maps designed to guar­an­tee Repub­lic­ans a super­ma­jor­ity and put in place a balanced altern­at­ive, making it much less likely that Repub­lic­ans will be able to over­ride a gubernat­orial veto.  

Unfor­tu­nately, the Supreme Court has abdic­ated respons­ib­il­ity for making sure that the checks and balances in our demo­cratic system work. It is now up to voters to fight for reforms — at both the state and federal level — to ensure voters can, in fact, make their voices heard when politi­cians get it wrong.

The Supreme Court Has Undermined the Tools It Says Can Be Used to Protect Abortion Rights

By Madiba Dennie

The Supreme Court has dealt a crit­ical blow to both bodily and polit­ical autonomy. Recog­niz­ing the over­whelm­ing popular­ity of abor­tion rights and public support for the preced­ent of Roe v. Wade, the Court’s major­ity offers the fran­chise as a rotten olive branch of sorts: the opin­ion para­dox­ic­ally suggests citizens in each state can vote about the legal­ity of abor­tion while simul­tan­eously ignor­ing the Court’s own role in dismant­ling crucial voting protec­tions and making people’s full citizen­ship condi­tional on their repro­duct­ive status. 

Among a host of damaging decisions, two stand out. In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court hollowed out Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, dramat­ic­ally weak­en­ing the federal govern­ment’s abil­ity to prevent discrim­in­at­ory laws from going into effect. Then in Brnovich v. DNC, the Court gutted Section 2, hinder­ing voters from chal­len­ging these laws in court after enact­ment. 

The Supreme Court’s open hostil­ity toward voting rights and abor­tion rights has enabled a surge of laws under­min­ing both. Last year, for instance, 18 states passed 34 laws making it harder to vote, account­ing for over one-third of all restrict­ive voting laws passed in more than a decade. These state laws are curtail­ing the polit­ical parti­cip­a­tion of people of color. And at least 16 states have passed laws banning abor­tion before viab­il­ity, inten­tion­ally defy­ing the consti­tu­tional stand­ard espoused in Roe.

Perversely, communit­ies of color are dispro­por­tion­ately harmed by both forms of restric­tions. And the consequences are troub­lingly connec­ted. As the Supreme Court once recog­nized — and as data has since borne out — abor­tion is essen­tial to “the abil­ity of women to parti­cip­ate equally in the economic and social life of the nation.” Voting, too, is crit­ical for people’s abil­ity to parti­cip­ate in their soci­opol­it­ical community and exer­cise some say over the governance of their lives. Voter suppres­sion and state repro­duct­ive control are, there­fore, mutu­ally rein­for­cing, work­ing in tandem to curb civic and polit­ical parti­cip­a­tion, espe­cially for women of color.


  • Ensure Every American Can Vote iconEnsure Every American Can Vote
  • Gerrymandering & Fair Representation iconGerrymandering & Fair Representation
  • Reform Money in Politics iconReform Money in Politics
  • Jennifer Weiss-Wolf
  • Madiba Dennie
  • Sonali Seth
  • Michael Li
  • Ian Vandewalker

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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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