Here’s How Republicans’ Redistricting Push Paved The Way For New Anti-Abortion Laws

Nurse LaShonda Pinchon of the Alabama Women’s Center.
Nurse LaShonda Pinchon of the Alabama Women’s Center.

The Alabama Women’s Center is one of three remaining abortion providers in the state — and the sole provider within 150 miles. Alabama passed the nation’s most restrictive abortion law in May—a law that would make the providers at this clinic into felons. It was one of at least a dozen states that have passed new abortion restrictions already this year. But from the vantage of the Alabama Women’s Center, the story of abortion access in 2019 started nearly a decade ago.

Nurse LaShonda Pension has worked in the center as restriction after restriction, law after law came through the Alabama state legislature. She says the recent bans come as no surprise.

I’ve gone through the 24 hour waiting period. The 48 hour waiting period. Having to change buildings because the hallways weren’t wide enough at our other facility. You know I’ve been here through the duration of it... I think we that have been in this fight weren’t shocked. The ones that haven’t been paying attention are the ones that are shocked.

As host Kai Wright reveals in the latest episode of WNYC’s podcast The Stakes, in order to understand the wave of recent state bans like the one in Alabama, you have to talk about gerrymandering.

More than a third of all restrictions placed on abortion have been put in place since the 2010 election, according to the Guttmacher Institute. That year was a wave election for Republicans across statehouses nationwide. In states like Alabama, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, national Republicans spent huge sums of money in a bid to take charge of state legislatures in advance of redistricting.

“Karl Rove actually wrote about it in the Wall Street Journal, so it wasn’t as though it was some kind of secret project,” says Michael Li of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. “It was like a slow moving hurricane that you can totally foresee coming. But Democrats didn’t do anything to prepare for it.”

Since these new Republican were elected, many of them with affiliations to the newly formed Tea Party, were in charge of redrawing district maps, their dominance was baked in to the political battlegrounds we find ourselves facing today. Many of the recent bills, like the one in Alabama, have been framed as direct challenges to Roe versus Wade, designed for Supreme Court consideration.

Alabama Representative Laura Hall is a Democrat who represents the district in which the Alabama Women’s center is located. She says that since 2010, her colleagues have introduced a bill curbing access to abortion “every year or so.” Her warning to Democratic voters around the country:

If you were concerned about power and the impact in a negative way they can have in your state or your district, look at Alabama. This is a good example of when you have a super majority.

Subscribe to The Stakes here. Click the player below for full episode audio.

WNYC’s health coverage and The Stakes is supported in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Jane and Gerald Katcher and the Katcher Family Foundation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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