The House Has Time for Planned Parenthood Smear, But Not for Voting Rights?

Distraction is an ongoing tactic used by the House Judiciary Committee which has, so far this year, managed to hold hearings attacking the Affordable Care Act and questioning the constitutional right to birthright citizenship. Now, the committee is holding a hearing on recent allegations made about Planned Parenthood -- allegations that a number of states have already investigated and found to be false.

This distraction tactic gives the impression of something "necessary" happening, even as the committee continues to avoid an important part of its job, and that is move forward on fixing the Voting Rights Act (VRA). In fact, it hasn't held a single hearing on specific legislation to fix the VRA since the Supreme Court first gutted the landmark civil rights legislation more than two years ago. While the Republican-led Judiciary Committee been engaging in politically motivated show hearings like today's panel on the discredited allegations against Planned Parenthood, communities across the country are facing the second federal election cycle without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.

Let us not be distracted. The Voting Rights Advancement Act, which restores important preclearance requirements for states with a history of racial discrimination in voting laws, and makes other necessary enhancements to the VRA, has been sitting waiting for congressional action since June.

Committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia says that new legislation isn't "necessary." To put this in perspective, as recently as 2006, a renewal of the Voting Rights Act complete with the protections that Goodlatte now says are unnecessary, passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support -- including Goodlatte's. In just a short period of time, it has apparently become acceptable in Goodlatte's party to not only object to the Voting Rights Act's protections but to stop them from moving forward.

This summer, on the second anniversary of the Supreme Court's Shelby County decision, I joined hundreds of civil rights activists in Roanoke, Virginia, at a rally demanding that Chairman Goodlatte move forward on restoring the Voting Rights Act. So far, he hasn't listened.

The great irony is that critics of Planned Parenthood are attempting to use the experience of Black Americans to justify their cause, claiming that their efforts to cut down on health care options for women are in fact meant to protect women and people of color. At the same time, these same politicians are doing their best to undermine the crown jewel of the Civil Rights Movement, the issue that sparked the march in Selma, the legislation that was paid for in the blood spilled on the Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years ago.

It's time to stop these distractions from what is the real threat to people of color. We are not threatened by having and exercising the right for women to make decisions about their own bodies, or the affordable health care services provided by Planned Parenthood. What is threatening are the continued efforts, decades after the end of Jim Crow, to bar us from our own democracy.

It's time to listen, Mr. Chairman. Our right to vote is just as important, just as necessary absent unnecessary barriers, as our reproductive rights. It's time to make time for voting rights.