The painstaking, state-by-state fight to protect abortion access
Today the Senate is set to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court in a move that is as significant as it was expeditious. This is about much more than one Supreme Court appointment. Trump’s three nominations have radically altered the balance of our nation’s highest court, setting it on a collision course with the needs and the will of the vast majority of this country.
If Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) win the election — as I desperately hope they will — then they will surely need to address the federal judiciary’s lurch to the right. Federal solutions are necessary and can help restore access to those who have been targeted by attacks on abortion — low-income women, young women, women of color and those living in rural communities.
But federal solutions alone aren’t enough.
The place where abortion access is ultimately decided is in state government — which is also a place where voters have powerful and direct influence. Roe v. Wade made abortion legal across the country, a decision that voters consistently support and want to see upheld Yet, since then, state legislatures have enacted more than 1200 laws that dictate the parameters for access to abortion —onerous and medically unjustified laws that delay abortion care, make it more expensive, close clinics, and generally push abortion care out of reach.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, we faced a federal judiciary hostile to reproductive rights and a Supreme Court we thought was poised to overturn Roe. What did we do then? Advocates and elected officials worked to pass laws protecting abortion rights in a half dozen states, and voters threw out a President beholden to the anti-abortion movement.
I would argue that we are on that same path again. During the 2018 mid-term elections, voters elected a slew of candidates who ran loudly and proudly on their support for abortion access. The result? 2019 was a watershed year, with a record number of states passing proactive abortion policies. Starting with the passage of the Reproductive Health Act in New York followed by Illinois, Rhode Island, Vermont, Nevada and Maine.
In Virginia’s 2019 election, voters secured a Democratic trifecta government committed to acting on this issue Within months, those lawmakers repealed a host of medically unjustified restrictions passed over the preceding decade. And bills now pending in Massachusetts and New Jersey could safeguard these rights and remove unfair and discriminatory barriers to care for some of the most vulnerable among us.
It’s time for states — and voters — to step up again, to safeguard rights and secure access to reproductive health care.
This state-by-state fight may be long and painstaking, but it is also absolutely necessary. It will not only establish the laws and policies we need, it will create the public investment and political accountability to sustain them.
Historic numbers of people are going to great lengths to vote in this election — in spite of attempts to suppress and minimize those votes. That is part of the momentum for accountability and change — and a repudiation of Trump’s dangerous, backward-looking agenda, epitomized by his appointments to the Supreme Court.
If you haven’t cast your ballot yet, you have a week left to be a part of this reckoning. Remember that your governors and state legislators need your vote as much as we need Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and a flipped U.S. Senate. And then, come January, let’s get to work securing our rights at every level of government.
Andrea Miller is the president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health (NIRH) and its Action Fund, which fights to protect and advance access to reproductive health care and build political power for reproductive freedom. Miller has served for more than two decades in the leadership of and as a consultant to a host of non-profit, advocacy, and philanthropic organizations.