Get Informed

Subscribe to our newsletters for regular updates, analysis and context straight to your email.

Close Newsletter Signup

Coronavirus: Voting And Abortion Rights Imperiled

Coronavirus: Voting And Abortion Rights Imperiled


People in nearly every state are under some form of a stay-at-home order because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But today in Wisconsin, residents must decide whether they want to protect their health or participate in democracy. The state’s Democratic governor tried to postpone in-person voting in the presidential primary and local elections, but Republican legislators and a solid conservative majority on the state’s Supreme Court have blocked those attempts.

The New York Times called the decision “only the first round of an expected national fight over voting rights in the year of Covid-19.” The Republicans’ success “rattled democracy in a key battleground state” and in a decision late Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority ruled against Wisconsin Democrats’ attempt to extend the deadline for absentee voting in the elections, saying such a change “fundamentally alters the nature of the election.” (In another part of the decision, the justices said, inexplicably, that moving the date of the elections might not.)

The Court’s four liberal members dissented, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writing that “the court’s order, I fear, will result in massive disenfranchisement.” The Court ruled that voters had to cast absentee ballots by April 7, but, Ginsburg wrote in dissent, “tens of thousands of voters who timely requested ballots are unlikely to receive them by April 7.”

On Twitter, liberal political advocate Leah Greenberg noted the irony in the Court’s decision being issued remotely: “The Supreme Court has started issuing decisions remotely in order to protect their own safety. One of their first remote decisions was that Wisconsin voters will have to show up in person and risk their lives if they want their votes counted.”

The reasons behind the decision seem nakedly partisan and race-based. “Trump, whose false claims about voter fraud have gone far beyond anything ever alleged by his Republican predecessors, appeared to openly say as much last week when he complained about Democratic vote-by-mail proposals in Congress,” reports the New York Times. “They had levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” he said on “Fox and Friends.”

As Kyle Barry wrote last week for The Appeal: Political Report, a spot on the state’s Supreme Court is also at issue in today’s election. “Jill Karofsky, a trial court judge and former prosecutor, is challenging incumbent Daniel Kelly, who was appointed by Republican Governor Scott Walker in 2016” and was personally endorsed by President Trump. “If Karofsky wins, liberals will narrow conservatives’ majority to a 4-3 edge, and will then have a chance to regain control of the court” in 2023.

Criminal justice has played a major role in the judicial race, and the winner could play a pivotal role in deciding the partisan fight over a Republican-supported move to purge more than 200,000 names from voter registration rolls, which could significantly alter the November election results.

It would seem that Trump, and his ideological allies on the U.S. Supreme Court and the Wisconsin Supreme Court, are joining authoritarians in other countries who have exploited the coronavirus to scrap civil liberties. In Hungary, “Viktor Orban used the pandemic to institute rule by decree,” writes Michelle Goldberg in a New York Times opinion column. “In Jordan and Thailand, leaders have used the pandemic as an excuse for cracking down on the press. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and his allies have frozen the Knesset and shut down most courts, postponing Netanyahu’s own arraignment on corruption charges.”

“American autocrats are no less opportunist,” Goldberg writes, in their attempts to use the pandemic to further erode the right to an abortion. In so doing, they are sacrificing public health goals by forcing people to travel often long distances to get an abortion. Abortion providers in New Mexico, for example, are seeing an influx of patients from Texas, where Governor Greg Abbott declared abortion a nonessential procedure that could not be performed during the coronavirus pandemic. This prompted one woman to drive 780 miles to Denver for a medication abortion. “Obviously, had this pregnancy not been a factor, I wouldn’t be traveling during a pandemic,” she said in a lawsuit she filed against Abbott.

Abbott’s reasoning, that disallowing abortions saves personal protective equipment needed by doctors and nurses, is specious. The alternative to abortion, for a pregnant person, is carrying a fetus to term and giving birth, which requires far more prenatal (and postnatal) appointments, and a longer and more involved hospital stay during birth.

And then there are the additional hospitalizations that are not uncommon during pregnancy. This writer, for example, who is pregnant, just this week had complications that required her to spend 24 hours in a hospital. During that time, nearly a dozen doctors, nurses, and other staff members came into the room, and each time had to use masks, gloves, and gowns. The Republican position in this case is not a logical argument; it’s a political one.

Republicans in several states are trying to ban abortion during the coronavirus crisis, and they have made similar arguments. “Federal courts have blocked such orders in Ohio and Alabama,” reports NPR. “Officials in Iowa agreed to allow doctors to determine when an abortion is needed. A federal court briefly blocked a ban in Texas, before that decision was overturned on appeal. Litigation is ongoing.”

One woman, M, arrived at her appointment at a clinic in Oklahoma City, only to find the doors locked after the facility had to shut down because of an order from Governor Kevin Stitt banning most abortions. “And immediately I just, like, broke down,” she told NPR. “I just lost my job because of the coronavirus. I already have a 10-month-old daughter. I don’t know what I’m gonna do, you know?”

M found a friend to drive her to a clinic in Kansas that would take her.  “There were so many people there from so many different states, and I only think about how many couldn’t make it,” she said.

Considering the people who didn’t make it to the clinic is crucial, but it is also worthwhile to consider all the people who did. They were all brought together from different states into a single waiting room. During a pandemic. Because of politics.