The South has traditionally been a battleground for the some of the biggest conflicts that shape today’s democracy. Current abortion bans in states like Georgia and Alabama are no exception.
These laws deny people basic freedom to make decisions over their own bodies, and they are part of a centuries-long assault on civil rights that began at our nation’s founding. Attacks on reproductive rights are deeply intertwined with years of attacks on voter rights, particularly for people of color. Restrictions on the fundamental right to decide if, when and how to have children are part of a larger effort to distort democracy, in the service of a small number of extremists, by suppressing freedom and rights for the majority.
It’s not an accident that recent attacks on abortion and voting rights coincide with a rising tide of corporate influence in politics and a wave of political extremism that have made racist tweets from lawmakers, shootings at elementary schools and images of immigrant children in cages common features of American life. These attacks are often even set into motion by the same people.
Georgia is a prime example of these abuses of power. As then-secretary of state, now-Governor Brian Kemp changed the state’s election rules, purged 1.4 million people from the voting rolls, put voter registrations on hold for over 53,000 Georgians—at least 70 percent of them people of color—and closed over 200 polling places, ensuring long lines that would discourage voters on Election Day, particularly in majority African American districts.
After essentially rigging the election to become governor, Kemp signed one of the most extreme abortion bans in the country, prohibiting abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, before many people even know they are pregnant. Even though a majority of Georgians oppose the measure, Kemp, who was elected by a slim majority at 50.2 percent, charged ahead with the law—forcing pregnancy on women, subjecting women who miscarry to an investigation and demanding police records from women seeking abortion care after rape or incest.
Denying people the right to vote has dangerous consequences for democracy. Denying women access to abortion has devastating consequences for their health and the economic security of their families, including children.
Nearly two-thirds of women who have abortions already have at least one child. Research shows that women who are forced to carry a pregnancy to term because they are denied abortion are more likely to face complications or death in pregnancy and birth, three times more likely to be unemployed and four times more likely to live below the federal poverty level after the birth.
Both abortion bans and attacks on voting rights have the heaviest targeted impact on the same demographic: women of color. In Georgia, the consequences of abortion bans for those women can be deadly. Georgia ranks worst in the nation in maternal death, with 12.7 deaths per 100,000 births for white women and 43.5 deaths per 100,000 births for black women. And getting prenatal care is almost impossible, because half of Georgia’s counties have no OB/GYN physician.
This is not an accident, nor is it unique to Georgia. A 2016 analysis by Rewire News found that 22 states had passed new restrictions on both voting and abortion rights since the 2010 election. Both restrictions largely impact voters who support expansion of voting rights and abortion access— including women, people of color and younger voters. These are the same communities that increasingly make up a larger share of the electorate in many of the states passing restrictions, including Georgia, where people of color make up more than 40 percent of voters.
The New Georgia Project has registered more than 350,000 of these voters over the past five years as part of a deliberate strategy to democratize elections. They are working to increase the participation of disenfranchised voters who are disproportionately likely to lack healthcare and access to birth control and abortion, and to be in low-wage jobs where they struggle to make ends meet.
Democracy should ensure that everyone—no matter where they live, what they look like or how much money they have—has an equal say in electing their leaders, advocating for policies that improve their lives and shaping decisions that impact their own long-term physical and economic security.
Denying anyone their voting rights or abortion rights is a degradation to democracy. Every person should have control over their own destiny, whether that’s a matter of ballots or bodies.