When Abortion Isn’t A Partisan Issue
Welcome to Voices Of Color, a column that explores what’s on the minds of voters of color in this year’s midterm elections. Too often, media coverage focuses on the political preferences of white people with euphemisms like “suburban women” or “middle class.” But in this column, we want to know what makes voters of color tick.
We want to explore their views on politics, policy, the future of our democracy, our two-party system and everything in between. We hope that this column offers fresh perspectives from the minds of those whose political opinions are often overlooked or assumed. If you think you might be a good fit for this column, fill out this form — we might get in touch.
When the Supreme Court announced in June that it was overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision establishing a constitutional right to abortion, Nancy Evans (not her real name),1 51, started to worry about the unintended consequences for low-income women and women of color. Peter Wong, 54, wondered what other enshrined rights might be on the chopping block.
Evans is an independent, and Wong is a Republican. But both are voters of color, and like many other nonwhite Americans, the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization led them to question how they can put their anger and sadness over the ruling and its aftermath to good use. “I’ve been actively looking at ways that I can engage a bit more with political communities,” said Gregory Dukes, 34, of South Carolina. “Stacey Abrams is right next door, so I’m wondering whether I need to go knock on doors for her, for instance.”
But even if they’re not actively campaigning for pro-abortion-rights candidates this fall, one thing is becoming clear: Abortion — or expanding abortion access — is going to be top of mind when they cast their ballots in November. A PerryUndem poll conducted a few weeks after the Supreme Court’s decision found that voters of color, especially Black voters, were substantially more likely than white voters to say that safe and legal abortion was important to their vote.
Voters of color are more likely to prioritize abortion
Share of registered voters who say safe and legal abortion is extremely or very important to them personally in getting out to vote in the November election, by race or ethnicity
|Asian American/ Pacific Islander||63%||
To understand why, I talked to five voters of color about why abortion is now such a high priority for them. In my interviews, I found that concern about abortion access is widespread despite party affiliation and the obvious partisan divides in the abortion debate. Several people, like Gianna Gonzalez, 23, questioned the impact the Dobbs ruling would have on women regardless of whether they’d be personally affected. And others told me they viewed axing Roe as more than just a loss of access to reproductive care. (This lines up with my previous reporting on Black voters, who may be more likely to view abortion access as a civil rights issue.)
Disagreeing with the court’s decision on Roe, however, doesn’t mean all voters of color are looking for the same thing in terms of abortion’s legality. And that’s what makes it so difficult to evaluate polling on this topic. As I discovered in my conversations, there’s hardly any uniformity when it comes to what restrictions people want lawmakers to put in place.
I wanted to better understand these fissures and gauge the complex and oftentimes contradicting views of people of color who listed abortion as a top voting concern for them headed into the fall. While everyone had different fears about what a post-Roe world might look like, each person was disappointed or angered by the court’s decision and said that abortion would continue to be a top issue for them until the protections of Roe were codified into federal law or the court’s decision was overturned.
The interviews below have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Alex Samuels: How do you feel about Roe being overturned?
Nancy Evans (Black and white, 51, North Carolina, independent): It was a horrible decision. It really was shameful. There are going to be unintended, bad consequences to this that people didn’t think through. As a result, I do everything in my power to support abortion rights as much as I can.
Paolo Aquino (Filipino, 47, California, Democrat): I firmly believe in a woman’s right to choose and feel like the current court didn’t appreciate the precedent that Roe set. I also feel that the court isn’t reflective of the majority of the country, since a majority of Americans wanted to keep the law as is.
Peter Wong (Chinese, 54, Oregon, Republican): I’m not happy with it because I don’t think an established right should be withdrawn.
Gregory Dukes (Black, 34, South Carolina, Democrat): I’m religious, so my personal and religious beliefs are that I don’t believe in abortion. That said, the overturning of Roe should be viewed as a concern for every person of color and minority group because the underpinning of most of these decisions has to do with privacy. The fact that a settled piece of law could be overturned — in part due to shifts in justices — is a slap in the face considering what the court is supposed to be and who they’re supposed to represent.
Also, there was a middle road we could’ve taken here. I think most people will say that they support abortions up to 15 weeks or so, which I think is enough time to make a decision on whether you want a child.
AS: Are you worried about abortion access in your state?
Gianna Gonzalez (Mexican and Filipina, 23, California, Democrat): I’m not because our governor [Gavin Newsom] said he’s going to attempt to enshrine the right to a legal abortion in our state’s constitution. Plus, California is obviously very Democratic-leaning, so I’m not too worried about abortion access here. That said, it still troubles me to hear cases like the one about the 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio who had to travel to Indiana to get a legal abortion. These issues don’t have to affect me personally in order for me to care about them.
Evans: I am, especially because we’re so close to states that have cut off access to the right to get an abortion. Some of them, like South Carolina, tried to do so, and I know Tennessee and Georgia have passed some version of a restrictive abortion ban too, which makes [North Carolina] a potential travel state. And although we have a Democratic governor currently, there’s enough Republicans in the state legislature and enough momentum to where I think they will try to eventually pass a more restrictive law here as well.
AS: Would you support a ban, or partial ban, on abortion?
Evans: I think there should be common-sense limitations on when you can get an abortion. It doesn’t have to be unrestricted, but I think we can impose restrictions after, say, five months or so.
Gonzalez: I don’t support any bans on abortion because reproductive health is deeply personal and reproductive care looks different for every pregnancy. If there were any bans, I fear that people who may medically need a later-term abortion will fall through the cracks. We’ve already seen doctors hesitant to treat patients because the legalese is so vague in states where bans have been passed, even with exceptions. No one wants to be prosecuted just for doing their job.
Dukes: I would support a 20-week abortion ban with exceptions for rape, incest, severe fatal anomalies or the life of the mother.
AS: How do you think of Democrats versus Republicans on this issue (i.e., what do you think Democrats and Republicans each want to do on abortion)?
Evans: There are different extremes of the parties. There are probably some Democrats who want open access to abortions no matter how far along the pregnancy is versus some extreme Republicans who want to ban all abortions without any exceptions for rape, incest or the mother’s health. I don’t think you can paint either party’s views with a broad brush, but the two extremes are, to me, not where the majority of America is. I think the majority is somewhere in between. And if enough common-sense moderate Republicans and Democrats put their heads together, they could come up with a national law that would codify Roe and allow for abortions up to a certain point — with exclusions accounting for a mother’s health and the health of the fetus.
Wong: I think, currently, that Democrats want to protect abortion rights while Republicans are very much against it. I am a longtime Republican, but the party I grew up with is quite different from the Republican Party as it is now. My ideal Republican Party would be more focused on small government and try not to get into other people’s private affairs, but the current Republican Party is very, very aggressive on abortion rights, in part due to religious reasons — which I’m very against.
AS: Does the decision affect you directly? If so, how? If not, why is abortion an issue you care about?
Evans: Yes and no. My husband is a physician who delivers babies, so it affects his work — which affects me. Personally, I think I’m pretty close to being beyond my birthing years, but I have two step-grandchildren, and this decision makes me wonder what type of rights and choices they are going to have for their own personal fertility going forward.
Gonzalez: After the Dobbs decision was announced, my best friend revealed to me that she had gotten an abortion. She was in a terrible relationship with an abusive partner and didn’t want to bring a child into that chaotic environment. To me, that’s completely understandable. Of course, I can’t say whether I would do the same thing because I’ve never been in that position, but there are so many different reasons why someone might need to get an abortion, and it’s not up to me to judge them. Like I said earlier, these issues don’t have to affect me personally in order for me to care.
Aquino: I’m married with two kids, and we’re done having kids, so abortion access or lack thereof doesn’t necessarily impact me directly. But I do consider getting an abortion a woman’s right, and I feel like women’s autonomy is important despite the fact that I’m a man.
Dukes: I have friends and family who are women, and watching their reactions after Roe was overturned affected me the most. As I said earlier, this decision for me goes back to privacy, and it scares me that we can just go back and revisit or change established law.
AS: What kinds of action would you like the federal government to take on abortion?
Evans: I’m under the impression that some lawmakers want to try and make it illegal to go to another state and have an abortion. But I think the federal government should strengthen HIPAA [privacy] laws in order to further protect the privacy of a woman to go wherever the hell she wants to go and get whatever treatment she wants — whether it’s Botox, a tummy tuck or an abortion. That’s her business. The federal government should take preemptive action to restrict states from trying to make outlaws out of women who try to seek care in other places.
Gonzalez: I would like to see them codify Roe into law. It would be nice to see them finally get it on the books. Should they codify it into law, it won’t have the chance to get overturned by a politicized or lopsided court.
Dukes: Let Kansas be an example of what should happen here. The federal government should encourage as many states as possible to put abortion rights on the ballot for their citizens to decide because I think that if you let people just voice their opinion on this issue alone, it’s a winner. I would love for the federal government to codify Roe, but I think that’s a fool’s errand without getting rid of the filibuster at least.
AS: Has the Dobbs decision encouraged you to engage in politics in a way that you hadn’t?
Evans: It’s not that I wasn’t doing some of the things that I am now, but I’m definitely more engaged. So, for example, I would from time to time give money to Planned Parenthood; now I have a recurring monthly payment, and I doubled what I was originally giving. And as I seek out candidates to vote for, I’m only considering those who are interested in common-sense limitations on abortion or are open to laws being codified to allow for safe access to abortions.
Gonzalez: I started donating to campaigns that have pro-abortion candidates, and I’ve never really donated to politicians before. And this isn’t necessarily new since I protested during the Black Lives Matter marches in 2020, but after Roe was overturned, I broke out my cardboard and my markers and participated in a rally for the first time in almost two years.
Wong: The decision doesn’t make me want to vote more or less because I always do. I have had conversations with my friends who think the issue doesn’t concern them and, as a result, don’t think the Supreme Court’s decision is a big deal. But I’ve tried to express my opinion that rights should be established, not taken away; and if we view this as wrong, even if it doesn’t concern us, we should voice our opposition instead of being silent.
Dukes: It really has. Particularly here in the South in a conservative state like South Carolina, it can be scary to be a Democrat or a liberal. But this decision has led me to contact and reach out to my state representative and senator to let them know that the country is moving in a direction that I personally don’t agree with. In the past I don’t think I would’ve done that.
AS: What are you most worried about in a post-Roe world? Do you think voting will help address your concerns?
Evans: I’m concerned about the poor, women of color that won’t have access to safe abortions now. If you have money, you can always go to another state — or even another country — and get whatever access you want. But it’s the people who are continually left behind that will continue to hold the burden of this decision. I think voting will help, yes, because it matters who’s elected as governor and senator in some of these redder states. It matters to the people who live there.
Gonzalez: All of the things I was worried about are already coming true. Like I mentioned earlier, the story of the 10-year-old girl in Ohio was an atrocity, and there are other well-known cases now of people who have ectopic pregnancies and are unable to get proper care too. Obviously, these incidents are some of the more extreme cases, but the fact that this is happening at all is unacceptable — especially in a country as developed as America. I absolutely think voting can change the landscape, though. I think a lot of people forget that democracies require voter participation to work. I know a lot of people probably feel powerless right now, but voting is one way to put some power back in your hands.
Aquino: I’m worried for the women who live in states now where abortion is now illegal. If they want to get an abortion, they may be forced to make difficult decisions, such as going to a state where abortion is legal if they can afford it. And if they can’t afford it, I’m worried that they might have to undertake some medically dangerous procedure or go to an unlicensed professional. Limiting a woman’s right to choose can result in poor health outcomes.
Dukes: I’m most concerned about the independence of our judiciary. This decision has shown the importance of showing up, particularly for Democrats, because I feel that we have a tendency not to vote on the issue of the Supreme Court, and we need to stop that. Republicans have voted on this issue, and continue to vote on the issue of the Supreme Court. We all should be scared of that. I think voting would solve some of my concerns here, yes, but we also need national Democrats to stop the infighting and put the independence of the judiciary at the top of their list of concerns.
AS: Under what conditions would abortion no longer be a top issue for you?
Aquino: Once a woman’s right to choose becomes legal across the country or once the Dobbs decision is overturned.
Dukes: Right now, it will always be because I don’t think we’ll get a codification of Roe. As such, this has to remain my No. 1 voting issue because there are other civil rights that are on the line.
AS: Was abortion a top issue for you in previous elections? Why or why not?
Evans: It was, especially in the elections for the U.S. Senate, because I kind of saw this coming. I was very disappointed when [former Supreme Court Justice] Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not retire while [Barack] Obama was president. As much as I loved her — and still love her — I really feel like if she had made different decisions, we might not be in this situation today. In previous election cycles, I knew that if the Senate went to Republicans, then we would have consequences. Elections matter.
Gonzalez: It wasn’t even on my radar, perhaps selfishly, because I never thought it was going to affect me. In hindsight, I guess that was a bit ignorant because even before the Roe decision, certain states already had abortion bans or trigger laws in place. But, honestly, before Roe was overturned, I took abortion access for granted. I think a lot of other people did too.
Aquino: It was not, because Roe was the legal standard in previous elections and I felt like the precedent set by Roe was in line with what I supported. As a result, I focused more on other issues.
Wong: No, because it was a constitutional right. But in this election, it is affecting my vote. In the last two election cycles, I’ve been voting for Democratic congressional candidates but for Republican statewide candidates. This year, I’m going to vote at the state level for Democrats as well because I don’t like that the states don’t have the freedom to take abortion away, and I want Democrats to be in charge.