“We’ve seen a rise in extremism, but we’ve also seen a growing mass of allies fighting back harder than ever”

“We’ve seen a rise in extremism, but we’ve also seen a growing mass of allies fighting back harder than ever”

In the run-up to the most important election for generations, we ask women voters how they feel about the choice that lies ahead. 

Liz Gustafson is the State Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut. 

I’m 28 years old and I’ve lived in Connecticut most of my life, except for four years when I went to college in Florida. Then I realised I wanted to move back here and do advocacy work. I was in graduate school doing my Master’s in Social Work during the last election, and I’ll never forget the days and weeks after. I’m very lucky to have been in the School of Social Work, because we just basically social worked with each other,  working through our emotions. 

This election means everything for protecting our fundamental rights and freedoms, and also undoing the harm that the current administration has done. That’s not just policies they have pushed for and signaled for states that are less friendly to reproductive freedom to pass. This administration has also pushed an extremist ideological agenda. The rhetoric that they use has really emboldened extremism, and it’s so dangerous. 

Everyone should be able to decide if, when and how to start or grow their families regardless of race, gender, identity, sexuality, immigration or economic status without government interference. But misinformation is terrifying at the moment. The stigma and the shame can get to people – even to people that are like me and have a thick skin. That is deeply concerning. 

The next President must address barriers to healthcare because they can have a profound impact on people’s lives. 

If they pass the Each Women Act  it would reverse the Hyde Amendment (a 44-year-old ban on federal Medicaid funding for abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or a threat to a woman’s life), and guarantee insurance coverage for abortions once and for all. Another thing would be re-establishing Title 10 funding and reversing the domestic gag rule. Title 10 funds were never used for abortion services because of the Hyde Amendment, but they were used for essential services such as STI testing and treatment, breast and cervical cancer screenings, contraceptives, and so many other things. The Trump-Pence administration illustrated their extremist agenda by forcing and implementing changes to Title 10, which has threatened  access to those services for 4 million Americans. 

Having the next administration make these changes wouldn’t solve all of our issues when it comes to protecting and expanding reproductive freedom. State level restrictions have led to an extremely varied landscape of access across the country, and people face very different barriers depending on where they live. These barriers disproportionately impact black, brown and indigenous people, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, young folks and people living on low incomes. 

A Trump super majority on the court is catastrophic. It underscores the importance of addressing the crisis we face in the courts. We should have all options on the table when analysing court reform, as at least from the Supreme Court perspective, their rulings rule people’s lives. We have to be really creative because he has packed the courts by appointing over 200 people, so the first step would be unpacking them. 

Americans are thinking about economic justice at this election because of the impact of Covid-19, but also healthcare and access to healthcare. There’s a Supreme Court hearing on the Affordable Care Act next month, just a few days after the election. It’s terrifying in its own right – without a pandemic that would be problematic, but the fact that they are going through with this during a global pandemic is very worrisome. Racial justice, reproductive freedom, and environmental justice, are also key issues.

Having an extremist as our leader has signaled to a fringe extremist minority – because it is a minority. In the US and I think at a global level, if you look at what the World Health Organization says, access to reproductive healthcare is a human right. It has a widespread positive impact on individuals, and a country’s health and wellbeing on so many levels. In the US we’ve been under constant attack because he’s been dog whistling. 

We’ve also seen a rise in anti choice violence and threats against providers. But we have also seen such a growing mass of allies and advocates fighting back harder than ever and finding creative solutions. At the local level, communities have been coming together, and local politicians have been finding ways to address these issues. 

This global extremism and attack on reproductive freedom is happening at a time when we’re facing a global pandemic, which has brought to light existing inequities. I think it’s a big wake up call, especially for folks that might have thought everything was fine. The mass mobilisation  we’re seeing in Poland is incredible, we can learn from them.  If we take lessons we’ve learned from other countries that are not letting this fly, I think that we’ll be able to fight back here.

There’s been a rushed, negligent move by the Senate to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court when they should be laser-focused on economic relief, and the health and safety of our communities. Those Senate Republicans should be watching their backs because we’re in the middle of an election and I think people who may have supported them before now might not. Even if Trump wins, if we get a majority in Congress and the Senate it will be great, because that would help us be bold and be proactive. 

At the local level, having states that take bold action are ways we can absolutely fight back. Connecticut codified the provisions of Roe v Wade in 1990. If Roe v Wade were overturned, it would be up to states to do the same. Connecticut cannot be complacent. We have to, as we have in the past, take the lead in passing proactive pro-choice policies, and making sure everyone can access care, either residents of our state, or folks that may need to travel here. 

People have been doing work on the ground since before the Trump administration. Groups of people come together to provide transport and other practical support to make sure people can access care. I think there’s going to be more of that. Communities are going to find a way to make sure that people can get the care they need. Although it would be great if we had an administration that was supportive of that. 

More on the US elections: Election 2020 series

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