Anti-Abortion Advocates Are Trying to Keep Black People From Voting

The only way for abortion opponents to win is to keep Republicans in office—and they know it.

[Photo: A Black mom wearing a mask holds her child as she submits her ballot at a voting booth. Next to her is a white woman wearing a mask and holding up a hand.]
Susan B. Anthony List is teaming up with Ken Cuccinelli to cater to conservative white voters' unfounded fears of disenfranchisement. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

One of the greatest tricks that Trump has pulled was convincing white conservatives that they were being disenfranchised by Black voters. It’s a neat trick, and actually rather clever, even though he did not mean it to be. (If there’s one word I would use to describe Trump, clever is not it.) 

Still, conservative white people, most of whom I would bet have never had to worry about their right to vote being stripped from them, are now suddenly very concerned about election integrity. And wouldn’t you know it, Ken Cuccinelli, who has been whining about nonexistent voter fraud since before he lost the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial race to Democrat Terry McAuliffe, is here to help. 

Cuccinelli has a new Election Transparency Initiative and, with the help of Susan B. Anthony List and American Principles Project, is mounting a challenge to kill HR 1, the greatest proposed legislative overhaul of voting rights in the United States since the Voting Rights Act in 1965. HR 1, dubbed the For the People Act, would require states to enact automatic voter registration so that, for example, when a person goes to the DMV to get a driver’s license they are automatically registered to vote. It would also require same-day registration, promote internet registration, put in place mechanisms to deal with voter intimidation, and increase transparency when it comes to campaign finance, among myriad other reforms. 

Make no mistake: White Republican voters’ fear of being disenfranchised are nonsense. There is no law targeting white voters qua white voters for disenfranchisement. A white voter may be poor or a student or a senior or live in a rural area, and so they may be affected by voter suppression—laws that require photo ID or laws that cancel your vote if you submit your ballot in the wrong precinct or laws that cancel your voter registration if you don’t exercise your right to vote for an election cycle or two. But a white voter will not be targeted for suppression efforts because they plan to vote for Republican candidates. You’re not going to find any case law asserting that white voters were “targeted with surgical precision.” (That’s what the Fourth Circuit ruled with respect to Black voters when it struck down North Carolina’s voter ID law in 2016.)

So why is the Susan B. Anthony List, one of the most powerful anti-abortion lobbying groups in the country, teaming up with Ken Cuccinelli, the boy who cried election fraud, and other socially conservative groups to kill the For the People Act? 

Because preventing HR 1 from becoming law is anti-abortion activists’ last stand. Their 47-year long crusade to criminalize abortion and their efforts to cobble together a political constituency based on policing pregnant people could grind to a halt if they were forced to play by the same electoral rules as everyone else. Harnessing conservatives’ baseless fear about election integrity is the best way forward when it comes to their forced birth agenda.

So of course anti-abortion advocates are now outing themselves as anti-democratic operatives as well.

For months leading up to the 2020 election, Trump planted the seed that he, and he alone, would win the election. Any other result was de facto invalid and evidence of widespread voter fraud, Trump claimed. And when he lost the election to Joe Biden, a large contingent of his supporters were already primed to believe that the fix was in—because they’d been told for months the fix would be in. The election was rigged! Time to storm the castle! (Which they went ahead and actually did.)  

Remarkably, Trump is still claiming he won the election in a landslide, even though he 100 percent did not; what’s even more annoying is that the media has been reporting on Republicans’ flagging trust in the integrity of U.S. elections as if Trump and his cronies didn’t purposefully cultivate that distrust beginning in 2017, when Trump’s bruised ego wouldn’t permit any belief that he lost the popular vote.   

Trump spent years lying about voter fraud—about dead people voting and “illegals” voting—so is it any surprise so many Republican voters think our election system is crap?

The funny thing is, they’re not wrong. The election system in this country is crap. The electoral college is crap. The fact that voting isn’t compulsory is crap. The fact that in California I can walk into my polling place and it only takes me  five minutes to vote while a Black woman in Georgia can expect to wait upwards of  eight hours is crap. But that’s not why red hats stormed the Capitol on January 6, leaving five people dead and a nation wondering what the fuck was going on.

Republicans have spent decades undermining the integrity of U.S. elections with false claims about voter fraud, and now they have millions of people who believe Biden stole the 2020 election. And to prevent something that never happened in the first place from ever happening again, Republicans in states across the country are passing even more strict voting laws designed to thwart the will of the people—if the will of the people doesn’t jibe with Republicans’ will. These laws will further disenfranchise already disenfranchised Black and brown voters.

None of the voting rights laws being proposed in any state will fix the voting fraud that Republicans keep complaining about. The real fraud is coming from Republicans themselves as they implement increasingly stringent restrictions that lead to thousands of Black, brown, and Indigenous voters being disenfranchised. But the new “election integrity” laws will make conservative white voters, who have been convinced that their right to vote has been stolen, feel better because these laws are intended to ensure that their candidates win. And for conservative white voters, that is the true measure of fairness in elections: It’s only fair if their candidates win. 

This sentiment was on full display when the likes of Madison Cawthorn—who looks like if Armie Hammer joined the Hitler Youth—and Marjorie Taylor Greene—who looks like a barely sentient doorknob grew hair and then started yammering incoherently about Jewish space lasers—complained that the very ballots that elected them to Congress were fraudulent only to the extent that the person who turned in that ballot voted for Joe Biden and not Donald Trump.

Yes, the electoral system is crap. And the only way to turn the crappy tide is to enact the For the People Act. The very future of democracy in this country rests on Democrats’ ability to pass HR 1 and reenfranchise the hundreds of thousands of Black and brown voters who have had their voting rights stripped from them in the wake of the Supreme Court’s demonstrably disastrous 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder.

In Shelby, the Court rolled back the 1965 Voting Rights Act’s protections and permitted states, including those with long histories of voter suppression, to implement new voting laws without any outside oversight. Before Shelby, if Jim Crow County in West Racist U.S.A. wanted to pass a voting rights law that would negatively impact Black and brown voters, the lawmakers in West Racist would have to go through the Department of Justice first. But after Shelby, states were permitted to enact laws that would not have been allowed if the DOJ had any say in the matter.

HR 1 would correct a lot of the voter shenanigans that Shelby engendered over the last 8 years—in North Carolina, North Dakota, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Texas, and elsewhere—and anti-abortion activists cannot allow that to happen. If HR 1 gets through the House and Senate and somehow slips past the 6-3 Federalist Society Supreme Court—and “somehow” is doing a lot of work here, given the apparent willingness of Clarence Thomas to permit the federal government to meddle in state elections—then it’s game over for anti-choicers. 

Anti-choicers daydream about enshrining personhood into law and tossing preggos into prison if they so much as think about getting an abortion. In their dream world, the lima bean-sized embryo in a pregnant person’s womb has the same rights as the pregnant person. (It also has thoughts about the series finale of Game of Thrones.)

 But to get to that promiseland, anti-choicers need to ensure that the very same Black and brown people whose “preborn lives” they routinely pretend to care about are stripped of their right to vote and, in so doing, of their right to determine their own destiny. 

For all of the success anti-choicers have had in winnowing down abortion access to practically nothing, their continued ability to do that depends on Republicans maintaining power at the state and federal level. And to maintain power, Republicans need to suppress Democratic votes. And the best way to suppress Democratic votes is to craft laws that claim to protect election integrity but actually do the opposite. It means enacting ostensibly race-neutral laws that disproportionately impact Black and brown people and make it harder for them to vote, while pretending that’s not what you’re doing. 

Because the fact of the matter is this: People are becoming more pro-choice. Most peope in this country do not oppose abortion. Anti-abortion activists have spent the better part of 40 years throwing everything they have, including millions of dollars, at this fight, and still people are becoming more pro-choice.

That means Susan B. Anthony List is going to do whatever it can to make sure HR 1 doesn’t become law. That means keeping Black and brown people from voting because when Black and brown people vote, they vote for Democrats. And 99.9 percent of Democrats want to expand abortion access, not shrink it.

So of course the SBA List is teaming up with Ken Cuccinelli and American Principles Project, one of those conservative think tanks that touts itself as pro-family but is really only concerned about making sure women aren’t having abortions or wearing pants in the workplace.

It’s the only way they can win.