Members Only | May 19, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

How anti-abortion laws suppress the vote

Women and trans people face obstacles few consider.

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Earlier this month, a draft leaked of the likely majority opinion for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health overturning Roe v. Wade and declaring that abortion is no longer a constitutionally protected right. 

The moment many of us have feared is here. In a last ditch effort to express public opinion, thousands took to the streets to march for abortion rights in protests across the country. Many of those marching and raising their voices are women, trans men and non-binary people but their voices can’t be fully heard at the ballot box until voting laws that suppress women’s votes are addressed.

We know abortion is popular in this country with about 70 percent of Americans supporting abortion rights in some capacity. We also know that women can be a driving force behind political change and that white women might finally be moving away from the Republican party. 

As abortion criminalization laws spread across the country, felony convictions will increase among women and trans people, which means abortion criminalization is also a voter suppression issue.

Despite this, many pundits continue to ignore women as an important political demographic and dismiss abortion as a political issue driving voters. They are missing a crucial element – voter suppression. 

Of course, Republicans in Texas aren’t being hurt as a result of the horrible vigilante abortion law there. Texas has some of the worst voter suppression laws in the country! Unfortunately, voting, like abortion, has become a partisan issue. So many of the states passing abortion bans have made it difficult to vote. It’s clear how voter suppression laws target people based on race, but women also face increased obstacles to voting as a result of gender norms.

Voter ID laws are one of the most common methods of voter suppression. They often suppress the votes of marginalized people, who don’t drive or have access to documents to get an accurate ID. 

Surprisingly, voter ID laws can also make voting difficult for women across incomes and race because around 80 percent of women change their names when they get married. 

Many states require original documentation of every name change to get an ID, so women must provide evidence of marriages and divorces. 

This can be costly and logistically impossible depending on the state and the number of name changes. According to a Brennan Center for Justice survey, 33 percent of women could lack the documentation. 

Additionally, ​​women are also overrepresented in the group of people making less than $25,000 per year, who are more than twice as likely to lack access to documentation proving their citizenship.

Domestic violence can also increase obstacles to voting and 85 percent of domestic violence victims are women. An abuser might hide their partner’s documentation or an abuse victim might be forced to flee without managing to take their documentation with them. 

Any voting type that doesn’t guarantee privacy also makes it difficult for abuse victims to vote differently from their abusers. Caucuses require everyone to vote in public and vote by mail can be monitored. 

​​Even when victims escape, they often need to worry about keeping their address private for years after. Some states have “address confidentiality programs” to allow domestic violence survivors to keep their locations private. However, those programs don’t always seamlessly extend to voter registration. They’re not widely publicized. Many are insufficient in protecting abuse survivors’ information. 

There are eight states with no program to protect domestic violence survivors’ privacy. Additionally, these procedures only help survivors who have restraining orders or some official record of their abuse.

Felon disenfranchisement is another common method of voter suppression. Women are the fastest growing prison population. They are more likely to be incarcerated awaiting trial than men. 

People detained awaiting trial are legally allowed to vote but often aren’t given access to the ballot. Since women are disproportionately detained while awaiting trial, since they lack the financial resources for bail, incarcerated voting obstacles in pretrial detention are suppressing the votes of low income, Black and brown women. 

As abortion criminalization laws spread across the country, felony convictions will increase among women and trans people, which means abortion criminalization is also a voter suppression issue.

Closing polling places, limiting voting hours and lessening early voting options increases long lines at polling places, which of course serves to suppress the vote. ​​

Women make up 69 percent of the workers in the lowest paid hourly occupations. Across race, immigration status and education level, women are more likely to work in the lowest paid jobs than men. 

These jobs make it harder for women to take off work or to get to the polling place during normal work hours. Women also remain the primary caregiver for most children. Without childcare options it can be difficult to wait in long lines to be able to vote.

Every type of voter suppression mentioned in this article disproportionately affects Black and brown women, and trans people. 

Trans people face steep obstacles in getting documentation that matches their correct gender, which can make it difficult to vote in states that require identification. Black and brown women are more likely to be criminalized and to work in low wage hourly jobs. 

Disabled women also face increased voter suppression as there are obstacles for disabled voters from voter registration to voting in person with the majority of polling places not being ADA compliant.

To truly analyze the impact of abortion on voting patterns, we must take voter suppression into consideration. 

Women and trans people are facing obstacles to voting that many don’t even consider. Women are facing increased criminalization and policing as states pass abortion bans or eventually birth control bans. 

Domestic violence, societal norms about name changes and now abortion bans are all tools of patriarchal control that disenfranchise women at home and at the ballot box.

Mia Brett, PhD, is the Editorial Board's legal historian. She lives with her gorgeous dog, Tchotchke. You can find her @queenmab87.

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