As the nation is reeling again from a violent act of white supremacy to the pending SCOTUS decision on abortion rights to the fragility of the access to vote, Black women are still facing unrelenting attacks on their fundamental rights and freedoms in America.
Since the 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision, state-level voter suppression laws have increased where anti-choice bills and laws are plentiful. These laws disproportionately impact Black women’s right to vote and access to all forms of reproductive healthcare and abortion —literally silencing their voices and controlling their bodies.
With the threat to end Roe v. Wade at the forefront of our national discourse, many often forget that the majority of women who seek an abortion in the United States are already mothers. According to the Guttmacher Institute, an estimated 59 percent of abortions were obtained by women with children.
Voting is being touted as a tool to offset the impact of a Roe reversal, but the reality is voting as a Black mother has barriers, especially in Georgia. As a new mother in 2018, my fiancé and I decided to vote early, believing we’d be able to avoid major lines. We ventured out with our four-month-old daughter to one of our local early voting locations.
We were shocked by the line wrapped around the building because there weren’t enough voting machines for the number of people in line. I remember struggling to keep my baby swaddled in the crisp November air and thinking about where I could nurse her once I was inside. We waited in line for three hours that day, and I know my experience isn’t unique.
At the organization I founded and lead, Women Engaged, we listen to the stories of other Black women across the state who have to navigate similar challenges when voting. Mothers have critical decisions they must make to exercise their right to vote.
Will my child or children be able to handle waiting in line for multiple hours? Can I make it to my child’s daycare on time to pick them up if I find myself waiting in a long line to vote? How can I ensure a safe environment for my family when voting?
As mothers, so much is on the line for us, our families and our communities this year. But the question remains, how do we ensure every mother can cast their ballot?
During Women Engaged’s 2018 election protection work in the predominantly Black neighborhood of Pittsburgh in Southwest Atlanta, we were able to hand out snacks to waiting voters and their hungry children, many of who had been waiting in line for four hours.
The so-called Election Integrity Act of 2021, otherwise known as SB202, prevents people from distributing food or water to voters standing in line, which impacts the voter and anyone standing in line with them, including their children. Voters in Georgia must now navigate voter suppression bills that attempt to restrict voters’ basic needs to vote, disproportionately impacting Black women and creating another obstacle for disenfranchised populations to exercise their right to vote.
When Black women vote consistently and their access is protected, they vote with their communities and families in mind. Something SB202 attempts to undermine. Given the history of long lines and wait times, we cannot assume every person can take time off.
Voters who lack adequate childcare or paid time off to vote may choose between their children’s comfort and waiting in a long line to vote. Paid time off to vote is not universal, nor are companies required to provide it to employees.
Also, as major decisions regarding the bodies of Black women continue to be on the ballot, local and federal policymakers must ensure our right to vote is fully protected under the law. Congress must pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would prevent states from attempting to police elections without federal approval.
Black mothers and women must have a space to use their voices and champion the critical issues that affect our bodies through free and fair access to the ballot box. In a statewide poll, funded by ProGeorgia and administered by my team at Women Engaged and other community partners, out of 30,000 people surveyed, nearly 80 percent reported childcare for children under 12 would help them vote.
We believe that state policymakers and the Board of Elections should partner with childcare centers near polling locations to better support Black mothers and others needing childcare while they vote. When Georgians take the Women Engaged pledge to vote, they can indicate their needs, such as childcare, and we help connect them to resources to assist them in those services.
Access to comprehensive reproductive health care can help reduce Georgia’s high maternal mortality rate for Black women. Georgia’s expansion of Medicaid would ensure all Black women can afford and access quality healthcare.
Voting rights are fundamental to a healthy democracy, and reproductive rights are critical to self-determination. Black mothers can create the changes we hope to see in the future for ourselves, our families, and our communities— and we demand to have our voices heard and needs met.
Malika Redmond is the co-founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Women Engaged.