It’s no coincidence that both abortion and voting rights are under unprecedented attack in statehouses across the country: In 2021, over 561 abortion restrictions were introduced across 47 U.S. states. During the same time period, 400 restrictive voting rights bills have been introduced across 49 states.
On Wednesday, September 15, a coalition of social justice organizations gathered outside the Supreme Court to draw this connection and call for action to protect the constitutional right to vote, to equality and to privacy.
Gathered on the steps, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Black Women’s Roundtable and National Council of Negro Women convened over 40 national civil rights, reproductive rights, women’s rights, labor and social justice organizations, including the Feminist Majority Foundation (publisher of Ms.), to partner for Black Women Leaders & Allies Call to Action in support of voting rights and reproductive Justice. In a unified voice, they collectively called for the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and for Congress to swiftly move to protect the reproductive rights under attack in Texas and across the country.
Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, demanded Congress take action to defend our access and right to abortion and the ballot because “a healthy, participatory democracy is our greatest shield against these assaults on our collective freedom.”
“Our very right to vote is inextricably linked to our reproductive freedom. Without equal access to the vote, we cannot protect reproductive freedom and abortion access,” said Jordan Brooks, executive director of United State of Women.
Advocates say the right to vote is key to preserving all other constitutional rights, and the restriction of one puts all others at risk. Jennifer Tucker, senior policy advisor at the ERA Coalition, said, “Our democracy is under siege because a radical minority is afraid that the nation’s changing demographic will end the entitlement that they’ve come to expect.” Her comment took on new meaning, given that the Capitol Police officers were on high alert—only three days later, a far-right rally was set to take place at the U.S. Capitol, a protest against the arrests and detention of insurrectionists accused of participating on Jan. 6.
“Keep your state-sanctioned power-consuming laws off our Black, Brown, Indigenous bodies,” said Ebonie Riley of the National Action Network.
As Ellie Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation said, “We need an expansive voting rights act so we do not limit the right to vote.”
Standing in the way of progress, Smeal said, is the Senate filibuster—”an emblem of antidemocratic dysfunction,” wrote Jennifer Weiss-Wolf in Ms., that makes it “nearly impossible for our elected leaders in Congress to advance the will of the people.” Advocates have called reform or abolition of the filibuster; in her speech, Smeal called for a filibuster exception at minimum when voting on issues related to women’s constitutional rights—including voting rights, abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment, which would prohibit discrimination based on sex.
Additionally, the coalition on Wednesday also called on the Supreme Court to take swift action and suspend the Texas abortion law, and for the Senate to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act and the For the People Act, both of which have passed in the House.
Although these bills have not advanced in the Senate, a compromise bill referred to as the Freedom to Vote Act has been introduced by a group of Democratic senators led by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.). The bill includes automatic voter registration, ballot access for people formerly in prison, 15 days of early voting, the establishment of Election Day as a national holiday, universal absentee voting, required disclosure of dark money and more. If passed, it would be “the most consequential voting rights and anti-corruption bill passed in more than half a century,” according to the Brennan Center.
Until then, advocates also look to the Senate to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA)—federal legislation that would codify Roe v. Wade. In a historic vote, WHPA passed the House last week and has garnered public support from the White House.
As Tucker said: “Equality comes when the principles of reproductive justice guide our policymaking.”