Abortion is a Voter Suppression Issue

In the past few weeks new abortion bans have been passed in Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, with Louisiana poised to pass one soon. These laws not only outlaw abortion before most people know they’re pregnant, but also go further in criminalizing abortion than any current law on the books. Based on the language in these laws it’s possible for a woman (or nonbinary person or trans man) to be charged with murder, not only for getting an abortion but for having a miscarriage if doctors claim she caused it herself.

As Jennifer Wright wrote in Harper’s Bazaar, many women have already faced criminal charges for miscarrying if the state deemed it was her fault. This is unfortunately not an outlandish outcome of extreme abortion bans.

The Georgia law is particularly extreme in that its language doesn’t exempt women who seek illegal abortions from prosecution, while earlier laws have mostly only applied criminal charges to doctors performing illegal abortions. According to Marc Joseph Stern, the language could even bring conspiracy charges against people, and those who help them, who seek legal abortions in other states.

The harm done by outlawing abortion and bringing criminal penalties against women who have miscarriages under suspicious circumstances is already bad enough, but these laws could also lead to disenfranchising any person who gets charged under them. Georgia not only disenfranchises people serving their felony sentences, including probation and parole, but they also lead the country in purging felons from voter rolls.

Marginalized women already face barriers to voting due to obtaining IDs after a name change and concerns over public information on voter rolls for domestic violence. Trans people also face difficulty voting if their gender presentation doesn’t match their ID or they have trouble obtaining an ID with their correct name. This new abortion law could add an increase in criminalization of women to the barriers to voting. Marginalized women will likely face particular targeting for being charged after a suspicious miscarriage. Doctors and prosecutors are already more likely to be suspicious of poor women of color. This law could easily be used to target disenfranchising people of color who have miscarriages.

Additionally, women are more likely to be held in jail without bail while awaiting trial. While one is supposed to still be allowed to vote in such circumstances, their access to ballots are dependent on the prison staff and many are unable to vote. How many women could be targeted to be charged under this law simply for miscarrying before the 2020 election? Even if there isn’t enough time of evidence to convict many could de facto lose their right to vote if they are forced to await trial in jail.

Laws criminalizing abortion and miscarriages have far reaching consequences for the health, economics, and personhood rights of people with the ability to get pregnant. They might also be a back door to disenfranchising anyone with a uterus.

PhD in American legal history, freelance writer, political activist, follow me on twitter @QueenMab87

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