Last week, Rewire released a report examining who was responsible for the majority of bills infringing on women’s access to abortion and other reproductive healthcare in 2016 and the first month of 2017. In case you’ve heard the lie — often perpetuated by those with the privilege of seeing their own interests advanced within the system — that the representation of women in politics isn’t important, the report serves as a casual reminder that it absolutely is.
In 2016, 90 percent of the 147 anti-abortion bills introduced in state legislatures and Congress were sponsored by white Republicans. And of the 167 anti-abortion bills introduced in January 2017 alone, 71 percent were sponsored by white Republican men, while 25 percent were sponsored by white Republican women.
Men and some women who will never share the stressful and traumatic experience of an unwanted pregnancy while lacking economic resources and support are calling the shots on what people in such situations are allowed to do. Ideally, empathy among grown adults would not require personal experience. But clearly, this isn’t the case with conservative lawmakers, particularly in rural states with unsettlingly repressive policies governing reproductive health care.
The root of the issue is privilege, and those with an excess of it seem to struggle to relate to those who lack it. As a result, they are unable to fully recognize the humanity of and fight for the human rights of the constituents they are supposedly representing. The issue of women’s rights — from our ability to access reproductive health care to our workplace conditions to the rights of sexual assault survivors — and the men in office who consistently fail to advance them, is obviously nuanced. However, as this latest report by Rewire reveals, the heart of the matter is relatively simple.
Male conservative lawmakers, often of majority-Christian, white and wealthy origins, are unable to relate to and fully recognize the humanity of low-income women of color with different values. This apathy and perhaps even outright disdain for those who are different appears to motivate their unceasing crusade on women’s autonomy and their perceptions of women as less worthy of human rights than fertilized eggs.
Of course, that attacks on reproductive rights are disproportionately to the detriment of low-income minority women, and bills attacking access to women’s healthcare by establishing legal, economic and geographic barriers tend to be sponsored by white male and female Republicans, can’t be ignored either. Historically, restrictions on reproductive rights have led to the entrapment of minority women in intergenerational poverty, as they are forced to birth children they cannot afford, and are sometimes injured in back-alley abortions. Additionally, decades of research have shown that the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding from paying for abortions for low-income women, disproportionately affects women of color.
The issue of prioritizing the ideologies of privileged Americans over the rights and dignities of women, particularly marginalized women, isn’t new, and has always been fundamentally rooted in lack of representation. For the better part of America’s history, women were barred from holding any political office or accessing equal education and employment opportunities.
While the legislative consequences of underrepresentation in politics are particularly underscored by reproductive rights, consider the demographics of lawmakers who vote against bills to alleviate causes of gender pay inequality. When Vice President Mike Pence voted against fair pay legislation several times throughout 2007 and 2009 while in the House, perhaps his votes had something to do with the fact that he had never been overlooked for a raise or promotion nor been discriminated against for having or potentially having a family on the basis of his gender.
Consider the sexual orientations of the lawmakers who vote in favor of pro-religious freedom bills that enable LGBTQ discrimination. When Sen. Ted Cruz staked his failed presidential campaign on this platform, perhaps his position had something to do with the fact that he had never been evicted by a landlord for espousing different views.
Consider the gender of judges who harass and undermine the experiences of sexual assault survivors. When Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Stanford rapist Brock Turner to just six months in jail, perhaps his decision had something to do with the fact that he had never been blamed for inciting harassment and, in extreme cases, even sexual assault due to his state of dress.
Political underrepresentation of women and, in particular, women of color, perpetuates a vicious cycle of oppression that, frankly, only increased diversity in politics at every level could alleviate.
Kylie Cheung is a freshman majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. Her column,“You Do Uterus,” runs every Thursday.