Reproductive Rights and Voting Rights Take Center Stage Across the Nation

By Paul R. Pace

NASW and social workers were active in supporting two national mobilization efforts this year.

As states pass laws that restrict voting access and women’s rights to reproductive care, NASW signed on to be a partner organization for major protests.

Reproductive Rights

NASW Vice President Anthony Estreet (center), and NASW staff hold the association’s banner at the Women’s March to Mobilize and Defend Our Reproductive Rights in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 2, 2021

In the Women’s March to Mobilize and Defend Our Reproductive Rights, NASW called on the nation’s more than 700,000 social workers to join in ensuring reproductive rights are protected. NASW’s participation in the event aligns with the social work profession’s fundamental ethical tenet of client self-determination.

NASW Vice President Anthony Estreet, PhD, MSW, associate professor at the Social Work Department at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md., joined NASW staff and social workers who participated in the mobilization event in Washington, D.C.

“I’m down here in Washington to fight for women’s rights,” Estreet said during the march. “My wife and my future kids can have access to abortion care and women’s rights as they see fit. Nobody should be in control of women’s rights.”

Marches and demonstrations were held in an estimated 650 towns and cities across the U.S., including virtual events. In Washington, D.C., Women’s March Executive Director Rachel O’Leary Carmona spoke to the crowd. She highlighted the latest challenge to reproductive rights: the Texas abortion ban, which prohibits abortions in the state as early as six weeks and allows almost any private citizen to sue abortion providers and others.

At press time, the U.S. Supreme Court had yet to block the law. “All of this in a state that has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country,” O’Leary said.

“It is shameful and beyond that, it is dangerous.”

As a Mexican-American and someone who lives in Texas, this is personal, she told the crowd. “As a woman, this is personal,” O’Leary added. “As someone who deserves to be able to live her life on her terms, this personal. It is personal to all of us.”

She said 80 percent of Americans believe women should be able to access abortion care, and that one in four women in the U.S. have abortions. She urged lawmakers in Washington to advance the Women’s Health Protection Act, H.R. 3755, which protects a person’s access to abortion. While the bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, it is unlikely to advance in the Senate, policy experts say. Nonetheless, O’Leary urged passage of the bill “so that states cannot take sledgehammers to abortion rights whenever they feel like it.”

Critical Moment for Abortion Access

Speakers included Dr. Jamila Perritt, president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health, and an abortion provider in the District of Columbia.

“We are at a critical moment for access to abortion in our country,” she said, “and I will not hide from the fact that as a provider of comprehensive reproductive health care that will always include abortion care, this moment is truly frightening. … Now is the time to be loud and clear that abortion is health care that cannot be delayed.”

“I am honored to listen to the stories of the people for whom I provide care—who come to me wanting and needing this care,” Perritt said. “And I am honored to care for them in a way that allows them to live the lives they have defined for themselves, where they are controlling their bodies for their families and their futures.”

The need to access abortion care does not occur in a vacuum, she said. “The majority of people seeking abortion care are already parents, and reproductive justice demands we have the human right to parent 
the children we already have in safe and 
sustainable communities.”

Voting Rights


NASW President Mit Joyner (third from right), Mel Wilson (far right), NASW staff, and others at the voting rights march in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 2021

NASW also participated in the 2021 March On for Voting Rights. Major events were held in Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Phoenix and Washington, D.C., and other cities across America. NASW President Mildred “Mit” C. Joyner, DPS, MSW, LCSW, was among the participants in Washington, D.C.

NASW noted there are currently 400-plus bills in circulation across 49 states that aim to restrict or outright suppress the right to vote. The proposed bills specifically aim to ban ballot drop boxes and mail-in voting, reduce early voting days and hours, restrict who can get a mail-in ballot, prohibit officials from promoting the use of mail-in ballots even when voters qualify, and criminalize the distribution of water to voters waiting in the long lines that these laws create.

In Washington, D.C., Alicia Garza, political strategist and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network, spoke to marchers. She urged Congress to approve the For the People Act, H.R. 1, which passed in the U.S. House of Representatives but failed in the Senate. It calls for expansion of voting rights, and a change in campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of money in politics.

“We are marching today... because we want Congress to pass the For the People Act,” Garza said. “Yes, because we must have statehood for D.C., but bigger than that, we are here to march today because we intend to build and wield power. We aim to transform how power works so that never again will anyone be denied their right to be fully human. Protecting our right to vote is about power.”

It’s about a small group of people trying to keep the power from the rest of us, she said. “They know in order to keep that power they have to work real hard to leave us out and leave us behind. They know in order to do so they have to rig the rules so we can never get ahead.”

U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, also spoke. “It is time now for the Voting Rights Act to be passed,” she said. “We are united. We come to you today with an ask. We ask you to stand with us. We ask you to fight with us. We ask you to make justice for us. Because we know there are so many injustices. We know that if we do not stand up for voting rights, if we do not stand up and get people registered to vote, then we can’t make a difference.”

cover of December 2021 / January 2022 magazine

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