We must vote our pro-choice values in 2020 — and not just for president

by Emma Ruberg

Bill Clark — CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

Abortion has always been an important issue in campaigns and elections — it certainly is now. Particularly in the Republican party, a candidate’s positions on abortion and reproductive rights largely dictate the plausibility of their campaign. When it comes to the general election, many conservative voters will cast their ballots based solely on the candidates’ stances on abortion.

According to a Gallup poll from May of this year, 47% of polled U.S. adults say abortion is one of many important factors when deciding whom to support and 24% say a candidate must share their views on abortion. The percent of those who say a candidate must share their views has grown over the last decade; between 1996 to 2016, it was an average of 18%.

The aforementioned Gallup poll determined that, whereas 30% of anti-choice people say abortion is a threshold issue, only 19% of pro-choice adults say the same. Many of these anti-choice voters cast their ballot for the candidate who will appoint anti-choice justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. On election day in 2016, one in five voters told CNN that changing the composition of the Supreme Court was the “most important factor” in their decision. Of these people, 56% had voted for Donald Trump. This means those who voted for Trump are more likely to only value the appointment of more conservative justices when casting their ballot. According to the Washington Post, 26% of all Trump voters polled said their support is based on his future appointments to the Supreme Court.

These polls all show the same thing: many anti-choice voters will support candidates almost solely based on their views on abortion, the Supreme Court, and Roe v. Wade. Unfortunately, these single-issue voters are successful in winning elections and securing their positions, even though anti-choice voters are not the majority. According to a 2018 Pew poll, 58% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Republican politicians have long capitalized on and mobilized these single-issue voters to win elections. During his 1972 presidential campaign, Richard Nixon began using anti-abortion positions when appealing to Catholic voters. Eight years later, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan promised to appoint anti-choice judges.

Of course, this is not limited to national campaigns. Republican politicians have begun focusing on down-ballot races — most notably for state legislatures — to achieve their anti-choice agenda. We, as advocates for reproductive justice, must cast informed votes aligning with our pro-choice beliefs in these state races, as they can have major impacts on our reproductive rights.

State legislatures are increasingly passing anti-choice laws, many of which are being challenged in federal courts. There are currently close to 20 such cases working up through the court system, as anti-choice activists hope they can garner a victory in the Supreme Court to overturn rulings such as Roe v. Wade. They also propose line items in state budgets allocating funds to support anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers or eliminating resources for evidence-based sex education. State legislators are involved in re-districting and can help their party in the process and these legislatures serve as a platform for politicians to gain recognition before running for national office.

The election of state executive offices is similarly important. We must have pro-choice governors to appoint pro-choice state judges and state agency heads — not only in healthcare, but in education, public safety, and human services — who will not limit access to reproductive healthcare. We must have state attorneys general willing to stand up to the federal government when anti-choice regulations or directives are sought to interfere with state policy.

Even more local, there are numerous examples of elected officials on school boards, city councils, and county commissions impacting reproductive rights. In Michigan, state law would have “required school districts to punish any employee or official who assists a student in obtaining an abortion,” but the local school board voted not to enact a policy enforcing the law. In Los Angeles, county and school board officials decided to open reproductive health clinics at 50 local high schools. In Maryland, the Anne Arundel County Council voted down a resolution that would have recognized fetuses as people with legal rights and protections.

Some city councils, however, have taken it upon themselves to restrict reproductive rights by passing abortion bans, even if it is unclear how they would be legally enforced. Last year, Rewire.News published an article about these bans and gave this example:

“In June, the all-male city council in the east Texas town of Waskom unanimously passed an abortion ban, declaring Waskom a “sanctuary city for the unborn,” the article said. “Along with prohibiting abortion, the ordinance lists advocacy organizations and abortion providers as criminal organizations, including the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) and Planned Parenthood.”

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in June Medical Services v. Russo — which many say has raised the stakes for this election — evangelical and conservative voters will cast their vote for Trump in hopes of forwarding their anti-choice agenda in the courts.

Many Republican political operatives, though, are not content to rely on their base of evangelical and conservative voters to win this November. The New York Times reported they are launching a “voter-fraud” operation with 50,000 volunteers to monitor polling places and look for “voters deemed suspicious,” likely meaning people of color and students. Further, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues worsening in the United States, Republicans have tried to invalidate mail-in voting, claiming that if people mail in their ballots the election will not be valid. In June, Trump called the upcoming election “the greatest Rigged Election” in history.

As we approach the 2020 elections, we must take all of this information into account. We must cast our votes with our pro-choice values and goals in mind. Not only nationally, but in local, down-ballot races. The representatives we elect at national, state, and local levels will determine our reproductive freedom, whether we like it or not. Easily accessible contraception, workplace protections for pregnant individuals, reproductive rights for those who are currently incarcerated, and safe, accessible, affordable abortion care are all on the table and we must act accordingly.

The political leader of the pro-choice movement in Maryland.