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The 2022 midterm elections, just under three weeks away, will be the first national elections since the Supreme Court annulled Roe vs. Wade in June. five states (California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, and Vermont) literally have abortion on their November ballot, and abortion has been positioned as the defining theme for the Democratic candidates, in the hope that it will galvanize voters, particularly women, to vote en masse and hand this close election over to the Democrats.
“Women are so excited to vote, I’ve never seen anything like it.”, reads the headline of an opinion article in the New York Times. In fact, women registered in vote en masse after Roe it was toppled in June, especially in red states like Kansas and Idaho, and in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Among those women who registered to vote after Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health55% chose to register with the Democratic Party.
That theory makes sense. Legal abortion is actually quite popular in the US, according to a recent Pew survey, more than 60% of Americans think abortion should be legal in most cases. The August results in Kansas, in which an anti-abortion ballot measure that would have allowed the state to ban abortion, was defeated by almost the same percentage. Americans largely believe that abortion should be legal, and since the Republican Party has firmly established itself as the party of abortion bans, logically, abortion should draw crowds of voters to the Democrats, now more than ever.
But that theory is interrupted by a persistent and stubborn reality: Women don’t really vote en bloc. There has been a persistent gender gap in presidential elections, women have chosen the Democratic nominee in every election since Reagan. However, if we break down that vote by race, a troubling reality emerges: White women, as a bloc, are not going Democrat.
In 2016, Donald Trump led white women over Hillary Clinton, the first female presidential candidate nominated by a national party, by 16 points. Although it was by a much smaller margin, four points, Trump once again won white women in 2020. Four years of a Trump administration, including the appointment of three deeply hostile anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court, were not enough to convince women Whites to abandon Trump. Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Court just a week before the election was clearly sealed Roe vs. Wade‘s fate, and white women ran for the Republican Party anyway.
But if we simply argue that abortion is a fundamental issue of women’s rights, then women who support Trump will embrace it too! It is a refrain that I hear from not a few women, and I understand it. It would be a lot easier to get out of this mess if it were so simple, just explain it to white women who vote for anti-abortion candidates. If only we could make them see what voting for these candidates does to other women!
Except white women have seen. We keep watching. Access to abortion was a dystopian nightmare for marginalized women long before Roe was shot down. The Hyde Amendment has prohibited federal funding for abortion care since 1976, routinely denying low-income people access to abortion. the more than 1,300 restrictions on abortion that have been enacted since 1973 have people of color disproportionately affected. Maternal mortality rates for black women have been at a crisis level for years, until four times taller than white women. Immigrant women detained by ICE were forcibly sterilizedand imprisoned women have reportedly been forcibly sterilized within the last decade.
Despite all this, white women, as a bloc, continue to vote for conservative, racist, and anti-abortion candidates. White women as a voting bloc have shown, time and time again, to prioritize racial privilege over gender solidarity. The abortion issue is not just about abortion: it is about control, about power, about who gets to reproduce the nation and what that nation will be like. As a voting bloc, white women cannot be trusted to vote in solidarity with black and brown women, with indigenous women, with other marginalized women, because most white women don’t vote like women, they vote like white people . It is impossible to disentangle abortion from the larger issue of white supremacy, because restricting and banning abortion is part of a larger white supremacist worldview. The sky-high black maternal mortality rates, the onerous barriers that must be overcome, the continued surveillance and criminalization of pregnancy for black and brown women, are not accidents, but the very point.
If we want white women as a voting bloc to finally abandon the Republican Party and embrace safe abortion access as a fundamental right for all people with uteruses, rather than white women of means, it will take a much harder job to explain. that abortion prohibitions harm women. It will mean challenging and ultimately undoing white supremacy and convincing white women to abandon that racial privilege in favor of justice and liberation.
And that will take much longer than the midterm elections will allow.
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