To preserve women’s reproductive rights, end gerrymandering
The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization shifted abortion regulation laws to the states and their legislatures, effectively ending abortion rights at the federal level procured by Roe v. Wade in 1973. This means that states with legislatures that support restrictions on abortions are free to make them illegal or more difficult to obtain, while states with legislatures that support women’s reproductive rights will continue to make abortion options legal and available to women.
Pew Research Center polls show that the majority of people in the nation support keeping abortions legal, something that Roe v. Wade enabled. In fact, just 8 percent of people polled indicated that abortions should be illegal in all cases, with no acceptable exceptions, while 61 percent polled supported abortions being legal with varying degrees of restrictions.
Given that abortion laws will now be set by state lawmakers, gerrymandering will have a direct impact on which party controls state legislatures and the direction for abortion laws in the future.
Gerrymandering is the process by which political districts are drawn to provide one party an advantage in gaining control of a legislative body. This effectively permits legislators to pick their voters, restricting the power of voters to elect their representation. Gerrymandering perverts the democratic process, suppressing the voice of some voters while amplifying the influence of others.
States will now be empowered to set laws that impact women’s reproductive choices, viewed by some as intruding on the patient-physician relationship. As such, those who support women’s reproductive rights in states that have been gerrymandered should be motivated to support efforts to stop such egregious remapping activities.
In the short term, nothing can be done to stop the effects of gerrymandering that occurred during the remapping processes over the past year. The only thing that people can do is vote in every election to counter the headwinds created by gerrymandered districts. This is particularly true in districts that are competitive, indicated by their Cook Partisan Voting Index (CPVI) rating being within five points. However, the number of competitive districts continues to be precariously small at the federal level and likely also so at the state level.
Candidates who support gerrymandering, no matter which party they represent, have no productive place in our democracy. Competitive elections force representatives at all levels of government to be more accountable to their constituents. Candidates in such districts tend to be more moderate, and voters have higher election turnouts, suggesting that they are more engaged in their political process.
Given that the Supreme Court ruling has made women’s reproductive choices a state legislative decision, accountable representation is critical.
In states where a significant majority of voters agree with the Dobbs Supreme Court ruling, limited effects can be accomplished at the ballot box. In states where a significant majority of voters are not in agreement with the Dobbs Supreme Court ruling, legislative representation should be sufficient to protect women’s reproductive choices, with an ample supply of physicians and providers available in those states to deliver the necessary medical services.
The gray area lies in states where egregious gerrymandering has created a conflict between the majority opinion of voters and the legislative majority. This is where the impact of the Dobbs Supreme Court ruling will be felt most strongly.
The vote in Kansas on Aug. 2 will be the first test to determine how voters can directly influence the availability of women’s reproductive services in a state.
Given that women’s reproductive services are a medical issue, physicians across the nation must act to communicate their positions on such matters. Relying on legislators with personal biases, who lack medical expertise to set medical laws and policies threatens the well-being of all Americans.
Supporting women’s reproductive choices does not mean that such people favor abortions. The adage “safe, legal and rare” rings true for many of them. What this does is allow such medical choices to be informed and the accompanying medical decisions to be safe for all.
There are numerous reasons why gerrymandering weakens our democracy and our nation. The Supreme Court added yet another reason to this list.
Sheldon H. Jacobson, Ph.D., is a founder professor of computer science and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is a data scientist who applies his expertise in data-driven risk-based decision-making to evaluate and inform public policy. He is also the director of the Institute for Computational Redistricting at the University of Illinois.