The overlap between reproductive and democratic rights often goes unremarked. But the two are inextricably linked.

The right to abortion, for example, includes the right to bodily autonomy, to be free of government-enforced birthing, to determine the size and timing of one’s family, to cross state borders to obtain healthcare, and to receive mail (which might contain pills such as mifepristone for medication abortion) that has not been tampered with. More broadly, the right to an abortion enables women to live a fully engaged and satisfying life free from coercion by the state and by political groups within it.

Similarly, democratic rights include habeas corpus, freedom of speech, the right to vote, and again more broadly, the right to live one’s life as one pleases in accordance with one’s values and civil liberties.

Maine is exemplary in protecting both reproductive and democratic rights. Abortion remains legal following the Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe. State law provides specific protections for abortion up to the point of fetal viability, and there are few restrictions on access, while clinic entrances are designated as protected areas. Democratic rights include some of the most accessible voting methods in the country: a lengthy period for early voting, absentee ballots upon request, registration on Election Day, and no requirement for a registered voter to show an ID. Maine has also pioneered ranked-choice voting for state, primary, congressional, and presidential elections. This is more democratic because it prevents lower- ranked votes from being “wasted.”

At the other end of the spectrum is Texas. SB 8 bans all abortions after six weeks; it also empowers private citizens to sue anyone assisting or providing an abortion, and rewards these “citizen vigilantes” with a minimum of $10,000. The result is that the majority of Texans seeking an abortion have been forced to find care out of state, which means increased costs for travel, lodging, and often childcare, as well as loss of wages.  In a parallel move to suppress democratic rights, Texas’ SB1 empowers partisan poll watchers, who may intimidate voters, to move freely in a polling station, while threatening with criminal penalties election workers who attempt to regulate their conduct. Moreover, Texas restricts its citizens’ access to voting, such as by placing limiting conditions on mail-in ballots and requiring an ID for registered voters.

As Izabela Tringali and Julia Kirschenbaum of the Brennan Center for Justice have remarked, S.B. 1 and S.B. 8, which passed on the same day, “are linked not only in their tactics but also in a larger anti-democratic power play. Both laws aim to undermine basic rights and privatize certain enforcement powers in an attempt to entrench conservative political ideology in the public sphere.”


Our comparison of reproductive and democratic rights also reveals striking contradictions. For example, the Supreme Court justified the Dobbs decision as returning decision-making power to state courts and legislatures. Conservative states welcomed this reasoning as a strong affirmation of states’ rights, but within months, many lawmakers in those states began pursuing a national abortion ban.

Similarly, the widely used slogan “pro-life” makes little sense in a wider context. “Life” is not just a matter of biology (if it were, protecting it would mean prohibiting the slaughter of animals). Human beings also enjoy personal, financial, political, social, and spiritual lives, any of which may be seriously curtailed under the burden of government-enforced birthing, especially when we consider that the majority of people who seek abortions have a low income.

The overlap between reproductive and democratic rights means that one cannot be curtailed without impinging upon the other. Instead of fetal personhood, which attributes autonomy to a cluster of cells, we must recognize adolescents and women of childbearing age as having the autonomy, rights, and goals—the life—that society has a duty to protect. In order to do that, democratic rights—especially voting rights—must be protected nationwide.

Richard Ogle of Camden is a writer, researcher and business consultant. He has a doctorate in linguistics from UCLA and is the author of “Smart World: Breakthrough Creativity and the New Science of Ideas,” published by Harvard Business School Press. 

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