Published Oct. 8, 2021
By EMMA BROWN
On Sept. 5, Texas lawmakers passed legislation greatly limiting access to abortion, denying people the right to terminate a pregnancy after a fetus displays a heartbeat, which typically occurs six weeks after conception, causing outrage from members of the public and describing the new laws as a limitation of bodily autonomy. As the nation reflects on the condition of access to abortion and the debates that surround the issue, those in favor of women’s rights to terminate a pregnancy must re-examine their current political participation.
Former President Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory marked the acceleration of anti-abortion legislation, as traditionally conservative viewpoints surrounding reproductive rights were made into law. In January 2017, the Trump administration reinstated the Mexico City Policy, effectively banning nonprofit organizations receiving federal funding for performing or promoting abortion as an option for family planning. In 2018, 15 states implemented 23 restrictions on access to medical abortions. In 2019, the Trump administration furthered their efforts to limit abortion, this time effectively defunding Title X programs that provided family planning to low-income women.
Despite limiting abortion legislation passed during Trump’s time in power, the most serious attacks posed by his administration were his Supreme Court appointmentst. While in office, the president appointed three justices to the court, leaving the court lopsided with 6 Republican appointees and 3 Democratic appointees.. While President Joe Biden can undo many legislative moves, the changes made to the Supreme Court comprehensively limit any progressive abortion legislation from passing through the court for years to come.
The Court’s composition played an especially critical role in the latest abortion legislation in Texas, as five of the nine justices refused to block the law from going into effect. Those who decided against the ban explained that their ruling was not based upon constitutionality, but rather because applicants against the law did not meet their burden when faced with novel and complex questions about procedures.
Though half of the population’s access to healthcare was affected by legislation introduced during the Trump administration, only 67% of Americans eligible to vote submitted ballots in the 2016 presidential election, according to the United States Election Project.
Political participation is crucial if Americans are to preserve their liberty. Choosing to not cast a vote in an election may not have immediate repercussions for the individual, but as can be seen with the most recent Texas legislature, the political butterfly effect is very real. The third of American voters who chose not to participate in the democratic process during the 2016 election could have turned the tide, ensuring the maintenance of political balance on the Supreme Court. The new abortion ban did not recieve propor scruitiny from the Court, a direct result of the quality of the justices.
Our legal system is now lopsided, and a prime example of the fact that even votes not cast count.
Those who are in favor of protecting abortion rights for women in America need to vote. Those who are ambivalent on the issue still need to vote. Every vote not cast strips away the reproductive authority and autonomy that women inherently should have over their own bodies. So as opportunities to join the democratic experience present themselves, vote as if someone’s rights depend on it, because they do.