There’s a lot to celebrate from the past couple of days. In case you’ve been under a rock and missed the news: DOMA and Prop 8 were deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Additionally, the Texas SB5 was effectively filibustered (for more than 11 hours by one woman) so that it did not come to a vote which prevented the most stringent abortion regulations from going into effect..
I have seen the celebration in all aspects of my life. My phone has lit up with excited text messages from friends who had previously planned on getting married and now can enjoy the full benefits. I have received messages just of pure excitement from allies who recognize the true importance that the repeal of DOMA can have for so many current and future relationships. I have seen pictures and statuses of joy on Facebook and Twitter. I watched the strength and will power of Senator Wendy Davis as she stood without a single break for more than 11 hours. I witnessed tens of thousands of people overwhelm the TX State House with noise when the filibuster was ended so that the bill could not be called for a vote and then erupt into cheers when the clock passed midnight.
Indeed there has been a lot of joy, celebration, and recognition of rights over the past couple of days. And it is appropriate to recognize that. These victories are the outcome of the hard work, diligence, and unfaltering efforts of countless advocates and organizations. Each one of them deserves the credit for the change that was created.
However, there has also been great tragedy over the past few days as well as monumentally important legislation was deemed unconstitutional and struck down. Among them, important pieces of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Originally, VRA required any state with a history of racial discrimination at the polls to have any redistricting, new polling places, and any other new voting procedures to be approved by the DOJ. That all changed this week. According to Chief Justice Roberts, the country has changed and therefore these protections are no longer required in order to ensure proper representation and safety of racial minorities at the polls. Ginsburg had a poetic dissent where she equated tossing the VRA with tossing an umbrella when it is raining because you aren’t getting wet. Essentially her point is that there has been less gerrymandering because of the VRA and to get rid of it because it’s working is completely absurd.
If you watched The Daily Show or The Colbert Report this week, you will have seen segments about how quickly states are taking advantage of the gutting of the Voting Rights Act. Texas has moved to enact a voting ID law that requires proof of citizenship and residency and putting redistricting maps into place; both of these actions were previously struck down by the DOJ. South Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, and Mississippi all have announced plans to move forward with voter ID bills. All of these states were originally required to get preclearance from the DOJ before implementing new regulations but now all are free to carry forward without regulation.
At first thought, perhaps it is a bit confusing as to why voter ID laws are racist and problematic. Shouldn’t everyone have an ID anyways and wouldn’t this protect against voter fraud? There have been numerous studies about voter fraud and virtually no evidence has been found to support the claim that, without IDs, people are lying about their identities. For many people, acquiring an ID is not so easy. For many low-income individuals or recent immigrants, obtaining birth certificates (which can cost around $50) can be impossible. Others may not have cars or access to transportation in order to go to the necessary facilities to request the documents. Or perhaps they are not in job where they can take time off during the week without a significant loss of pay or being fired. There are many reasons why it can be difficult to obtain an ID but one thing is certain: these laws and requirements don’t affect everyone equally. The Brennan Center found that the majority of people without photo IDs were significantly higher among African Americans, people over age 65, and low-income Americans. Therefore by implementing strict photo ID laws, states are severely limiting the voices and representation of these citizens.
Having a social justice and oppression/privilege focus and lenses, makes one realize just how interconnected everything is. The repeal of DOMA and Prop 8 are recognizing the rights that married LGBTQ couples deserve to have and that these rights should not be limited by the federal government. However, the repeal of sections of the Voting Rights Act is diminishing the rights of people of color, specifically African Americans. So where do we celebrate and where do we call the injustices to light? For instance, what about LGBTQ people of color? Should they be celebrating because they are now allowed the full rights and benefits of marriage? Or should they be outraged because of how many will be discriminated against in the elections to come? Their identity as a person of color and LGBTQ are not separate but intertwined and deserve to be fully recognized, respected, and protected.
There’s no saying the extent of the impacts that the Voting Rights Act will have on the future both for individuals and for the laws of this nation. It has protected countless situations to ensure that people have equal access to voting and representation. In fact, ironically enough, it protected the districting maps that eventually led to Senator Wendy Davis to being elected. Senator Davis represents a district that is predominately made up of racial minorities and lower socio-economic neighborhoods. In 2011, the Texas GOP tried to create a redistricting map that would have divided the majority of people who voted for her into predominately white and Republican-voting districts. Senator Davis brought the issue to the DOJ under the VRA and the redistricting maps were not approved. The proposed redistricting would have most likely prevented Senator Davis from gaining reelection which would have made Tuesday’s filibuster completely impossible.
Without the filibuster, the Republicans would have easily pushed through the strictest legislation in the country pertaining to abortion. The state’s abortion facilities would have dropped from over 60 to 5. Only 5 facilities in a state of over 24 million people and almost 270,000 square miles. This would have forced millions of women* to drive for hours upon hours to reach a safe and legal abortion provider. In order to do this, women must have the ability to take time off work, proper expenses, child care, and reliable transportation. All of those difficulties would have been exponentially worse because of another statue of the bill that stipulated a woman must have two in-person visits with a doctor before obtaining an abortion. Texas also would have required that doctors read a script to the woman that is created by the state and cannot be altered regardless of the condition of the woman or the reason for terminating the pregnancy. The bill also would have outlawed abortion in Texas at or after 20 weeks post-fertilization. All of these stringent and completely pointless regulations would have gone into effect with no exception for rape or incest survivors.
Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in this country in the 1970s. However many states have gone to great lengths to limit, restrict, and regulate a person’s ability to access abortion care. Does it truly matter if something is legal if one cannot access the services?
Everyone, regardless of the reason why they are pregnant, deserves access to safe, affordable, and attainable medical care and abortion. This bill, without a doubt, would have made it virtually impossible for many women, rape and incest survivors included, to gain access to such an abortion. Prohibiting, limiting and restricting abortion does not actually reduce the number of abortions that are needed each year. Instead it increases the number the unsafe abortions that are done each year. These new regulations could have forced many to instead utilize previous ‘back alley’ methods that would likely harm or kill the woman.
Despite abhorrent, ridiculous, and downright incorrect recent testimony from Republican legislators, many survivors of rape and incest become pregnant as a result of their rape. In fact, it is estimated that it happens 32,000 times per year. Some survivors decide to keep the baby, others decide to complete the pregnancy and give the baby up for adoption, while others decide that they do not want to continue with the pregnancy. Regardless of what they ultimately choose to do, they should be able to have access to all three options. Without the proper options and services available, survivors may be forced to carry a fetus to term when they actually do not want to do so. Carrying the fetus, going through labor and delivery, and giving birth to the child could be very detrimental to their healing and recovery from the assault. Each day they are reminded of the assault, their attacker, and the revictimization from the state by not being allowed to carry through with an abortion that they wanted.
To close there is nothing more appropriate than a phrase written in a letter from the Birmingham Jail in 1963 by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” To this day those words hold true and we must continue to advocate for the rights, safety, and identities of everyone to be respected, recognized, and upheld.
*Update 7/3/2013: I want to apologize for the gendered language and terms in this blog piece. This legislation impacts more than cis-women. There are many trans* individuals who can become pregnant and will experience the same barriers and restrictions to seeking an abortion. Oftentimes, access to comprehensive and compassionate healthcare is limited which prevents many trans* indivduals from seeking regular medical care and can also add additional barriers to seeking abortion care.
WRITTEN BY: Stacey