On August 26, we commemorate Women’s Equality Day and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment—which recognized women’s constitutional right to vote.
The 19th Amendment ushered in the largest infusion of new voters in American history and with it, a new political agenda promoting reproductive rights. But it would take multiple congressional acts across decades to expand and guarantee voting rights to Black, indigenous and people of color.
Today the fight continues for equitable access to the vote for people of color.
Reproductive freedom and voting are intrinsically linked. Equitable access to the vote and fair redistricting means better representation of our communities and responsiveness to our basic needs like comprehensive healthcare, including contraception, maternal care and abortion care.
Below, state legislators—allies and members of the Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council—speak to what voting rights and reproductive rights mean to them.
“Black women played a significant role in the passage of the 19th Amendment, and yet many Black women and men did not experience true suffrage until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“We must remember to honor and lift up Black women like Mary McLeod Bethune, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Adella Hunt Logan, Harriet Forten Purvis, Maria Stewart, Mary Church Terrell, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and countless women whose efforts have been unrecorded, who put themselves in economic and physical danger for the sake of accessing the vote.
“May the legacy of these women continue to inspire us to work together to ensure full equality and rights for ALL people.”—Representative Merika Coleman-Evans, assistant minority leader of Alabama House of Representative (Alabama, District 57)
“As a Chicana legislator, I know that access to the ballot has been hard-fought, and that for far too long, women and people of color were left on the margins.
“This election we see the latest attempt to disenfranchise voters by bad political actors intentionally spreading falsehoods and disinformation and by anti-abortion activists pushing for an abortion ban ballot initiative here in Colorado. The stakes could not be more clear: We must fight for our vote, because la lucha por la justicia—the struggle for justice—is never over.”—Senator Julie Gonzales (Colorado, District 34)
“As long as women’s reproductive freedom continues to be politicized, women must vote. On this 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, we recognize that this right was not equitable for all women, just as access to medically accurate reproductive healthcare and information is not equitable for all women. It is incumbent on all of us to fight for that right, and that fight starts with our vote.”—Representative Jillian Gilchrest (Connecticut, District 18)
“Voting rights and reproductive rights go hand in hand, as both fundamentally involve the autonomy and freedom to determine one’s destiny through exercising choice. As someone who believes in equality and fairness, I will always stand up for a woman’s right to choose, and I will always fight to protect the vote.”—Representative Fentrice Driskell (Florida, District 63)
“Reproductive rights depend on voting rights. As a health educator where maternal mortality is high, our lives are made better when we make our own decisions!”—Representative Park Cannon (Georgia, District 58)
“Since our country’s inception, the right to vote has been used as a tool to maintain and build power. While we rightly should celebrate the passage of the 19th Amendment, we must also acknowledge that the 19th Amendment did not include Black women, Asian Americans, Indigenous people, or other marginalized groups.
“Even after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we have continually witnessed the tactical stripping away of voting rights throughout our nation through poll closures, ID laws, and other prohibitive legislation. The right to vote has always been conditional for people of color, and we must honor the legacy of the 19th Amendment by ensuring that all Americans can utilize this powerful tool without intimidation and without modern day poll taxes.”—Representative Bee Nguyen (Georgia, District 89)
Here at Ms., our team is continuing to report through this global health crisis—doing what we can to keep you informed and up-to-date on some of the most underreported issues of this pandemic. We ask that you consider supporting our work to bring you substantive, unique reporting—we can’t do it without you. Support our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.
“May we take this pause during a pandemic in these months leading to the elections to recognize the 19th Amendment and hope that all women are accorded their right to vote this year. The 19th Amendment is a definite blessing when we acknowledge the concept that a step forward for some women, is a step forward for all women—although not quite in its full potential when I think of Idaho’s Black, Indigenous, and women of color toiling in the fields, in the meat packing plants, dairies, agriculture as well as essential workers at check out stands who might not be able to get to stand in long waiting lines to vote in person.
“May our fight be successful for removal of extraordinary barriers so women can fully express their desires from affordable and accessible healthcare including long wanted parity in reproductive healthcare to education for their children and the quality of life all people should enjoy.”—Representative Sue Chew (Idaho, District 17)
“Reproductive rights are very much reliant on voting rights. Women need full and easy access to the polls to protect their rights on all fronts.
“As we celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment, we must acknowledge that it took another 45 years for women of color to gain the right to vote, and voter suppression is still a major concern for Black and Brown communities today. Our work is not done. Let us continue the fight for equal voting rights.”—Senator Elgie R. Sims, Jr. (Illinois, District 17)
“If healthcare is a human right then that must include reproductive rights. Any restriction on reproductive rights is an attack on the freedom and liberation of Black women, trans men, non-binary people, or anyone whose health relies on the freedom to make their own decisions.”—Senator Robert Peters (Illinois, District 13)
“Reproductive rights guarantee all citizens the opportunity to control and make decisions that affect their own bodies. Those rights are personal and are constitutionally protected. The attacks on these rights by state legislators and governors need to be challenged in court. The courts are there to protect those rights and to assure our citizens that the rule of law matters in this country.”—Representative Mary Mascher (Iowa, District 86)
“My district is majority women and we have a slight majority of Black folks. I know that even as we celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment, the people I serve often feel their interests and needs are ignored by the government.
“Women of color have had their vote and their reproductive autonomy threatened or flat out denied to them in ways that white women would never understand. On this anniversary, let’s work together for a more equitable democracy, centering and uplifting diverse life experiences in places of political power.”—Representative Attica Scott (Kentucky, District 41)
“As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, we need to also remember it took a long time before every woman in the country actually had that right. Let’s keep working together because it’s important as women that we fight for the causes we believe in.
“For example, this year, as a freshman legislator, I was able to work with 38 co-authors to pass Act 138, which provides local municipalities the option to eliminate local sales tax on feminine products and diapers, often called the ‘pink tax.’ Let’s continue to work together to help women and children in Louisiana and across the United States.”—Representative Aimee Adatto Freeman (Louisiana, District 98)
“For me, turning 18 years old and being able to vote was my coming of age. It was a new acquired power to have my voice heard and make my own decisions—my choice, my vote is what all women want and deserve.”—Delegate Pamela E. Queen (Maryland, District 14)
“There is no freedom or equity or justice without the right to vote and the real ability for all people to self determine whether, when, and how to parent.
“Controlling women’s bodies has been a method of subjugation for centuries, as has been hindering and preventing people from voting, a central pillar of our democracy. Notably, we cannot truly get or keep one without the other. As a mom and a state senator, I’ll always champion reproductive justice and election access and reform.”—Senator Rebecca L. Rausch (Massachusetts, Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex Districts)
“As we look towards the centennial of the 19th Amendment, we must be cognizant that it’s neither a centennial for all women, nor is it a celebration of full equality for women.
“As an Afro-Latina legislator, I know it wasn’t until 1957 and 1965 that Latinas and Black Women respectively gained full suffrage. And with reproductive rights and voting rights continuously under assault during the 21st century combined with the unfulfilled promise of ratification of the ERA, we must work to ensure that all women have full equal rights under the law, have guaranteed reproductive rights and freedom, and access to the ballot box.”—Senator Erika Geiss (Michigan, District 6)
“I would not be standing here, a Black woman in leadership in the first state with a female majority in our legislature, if not for the courageous women who came before me to fight for our franchise. We’ve made progress but we aren’t done. As the beneficiaries of the work of our sisters 100 years ago, we have a moral obligation to continue the journey for equality, justice, and freedom for women and all Americans.”—Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, assistant majority floor leader of the Nevada state legislature (Nevada, District 1)
“Reproductive rights and voting rights are explicitly intertwined—and people of color are disproportionately harmed as they face the greatest barriers to both.
“We know that 71% of the public supports access to abortion. But too often their views are silenced by a government that does not reflect our communities bolstered by persistent voter suppression and gerrymandering. I look forward to carrying on both of these important fights to restore our democracy and ensure our government reflects the will of the people as we enter the second century of suffrage.”—Senator Alessandra Biaggi (New York, District 34)
“The right to vote is the most fundamental tool for any citizen in a democracy to make her voice heard and demand recognition of her rights.
“Although the 19th Amendment failed to make voting a reality for a large segment of American women, it was still a huge leap forward on the path to equality. Without the vote, women would never have gained the recognition that they, and only they, are fully capable of making deeply personal decisions about their own bodies. There is still much work to do, but it is also important to look back and see just how far we’ve come.”
—Senator Liz Kreuger (New York, District 28)
“The best way to honor the legacy of voting rights heroes of our past is to work TODAY, to stop all voter suppression, end implicit poll taxes like long lines and voter ID, enfranchise the incarcerated, and protect everyone’s voice at the polls.”—Senator Megan Hunt (Nebraska, District 8)
“It’s been one hundred years since the ratification of the 19th Amendment, but women, particularly women of color, are still struggling for full equality in access to healthcare and to the voting booth. We have made significant progress over the last century, but we cannot take our rights for granted.
“Even in 2020, we’re seeing new policies introduced that are designed to suppress the vote. We cannot achieve full equality for women when voter suppression is threatening the sanctity of our elections.
“On Women’s Equality Day, we must remember that we have more work left to do to and that the fight for equality continues to this very day.”—Representative Julie von Haefen (North Carolina, District 36)
“Voting rights and reproductive rights have a lot in common. They both provide women and families with choice and the freedom to choose what is best for them.”—Representative Chandra Dillard (South Carolina, District 23)
“I understood early on that who we vote into office has an impact on the decisions that impact our everyday lives. Black women are dying in hospitals because we’re not pushing laws that hold doctors and health care systems accountable to prioritize Black maternal health.
“As women, the ability to control our bodies is a decision made by men. They are the ones creating and passing abortion restrictions that harm women’s health. When more women, mothers, and people with a diversity of lived experience are in office, you’ll start to see legislation that reflects reproductive justice and freedom.”—Representative London Lamar (Tennessee, District 91)
“Today, as we celebrate Women’s Equality Day, I’m committed to continuing the fight for representation. Women’s rights and voting rights go hand in hand. We must continue the work to make sure women—and especially women of color—have an equal voice in the voting booth, in the legislative chambers, and in the executive offices across our nation.”—Senator Jennifer L. McClellan (Virginia, District 9)
The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-moving. During this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.