Commentary

Partisan gerrymandering and the fight for reproductive freedom

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments in the North Carolina cases of Rucho v Common Cause and League of Women Voters v. Rucho. These cases are asking the Court to weigh in, again, on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering. The courts have often held that it’s up to lawmakers to decide when partisan gerrymandering is so political it effectively thwarts the will of the electorate. We won’t try to guess what the Supreme Court may decide, but we are watching these cases closely, with part of the argument having been handled by our friends at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

At NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, we’ve long advocated that voting rights are intricately connected to reproductive rights. Whether we are advocating for abortion rights; equitable access to contraception and prenatal care; affordable child care; paid family leave; or support for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, we know that our right to equitably access the ballot box to choose our elected officials is a key component of citizen advocacy, no matter the issue. A robust government of the people that allows for the exchange of ideas and truly values the input of diverse voices will lead us to a more just, equitable and democratic society.

Unfortunately, partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts robs us of a government by the people. It instead creates a government that is barely responsive to everyday citizens as it positions itself to coast by indefinitely on safe districts and uncontested races. When numerous candidates are continually running for election to the General Assembly without general election challengers, or lawmakers in “safe” districts believe they have some kind of mandate simply because they were drawn districts that cater to their ideology, we are left with a legislative body that feels compelled only to respond to other elected and government officials and special interests inside the Legislative Building. They then ignore the voices of the constituents outside of the building who rightly feel they have been left without any representation, and that the system has been rigged against them.

An example of how this rigging impacts policies can be seen in how leadership in the General Assembly has advanced restrictive abortion laws in the past decade. Despite North Carolina being one of a handful of states that legalized some types of abortion prior to 1973’s Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision, and also established a state abortion fund in 1978, North Carolina has recently become one of the most hostile states when it comes to abortion access. The majority of North Carolinians, like people across the country, support access to safe and legal abortion no matter their personal feelings on this issue. And many don’t believe the General Assembly should focus on restricting access to abortion rather than acting on issues such as access to affordable health care and supporting public education.

Despite the narrative of extreme polarization in our society, many North Carolinians share similar values. We believe in a living wage; on-the-job protections from discrimination; the expansion of health care access; the protection of reproductive rights; and free and fair elections, including independent redistricting. Rather than the opportunity for robust policy debate on issues, we have gerrymandered our way to a government by, of and for out-of-touch lawmakers chiefly concerned with holding onto their own power. And this is not what democracy looks like. We hope the Supreme Court also sees it that way.

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