Opinion: Vote to protect abortion rights

Rep. Ilhan Omar will fight to protect reproductive rights. Omar is up for re-election this year; the Minnesota primary is on Aug. 9.

by Stacey Burns

Just a few weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court negated decades of established precedent when it invalidated Roe v. Wade, the decision that enshrined abortion as a fundamental right in the United States. With a stroke of the pen, the justices triggered immediate abortion bans in six states, with several more to follow, each creating its own set of punitive conditions.

Many of these states have imposed extraordinarily harsh penalties on people who seek abortion and the health care providers who perform them. Missouri and Texas, for instance, have laws on the books that would charge patients and doctors with felonies carrying terms of up to 15 years in prison. Many are seeking to trap people within their states, attempting to stop them from traveling for an abortion.

In short, anyone who can get pregnant is now facing a new reality where half of the country could force them to carry a pregnancy to term, no matter their circumstances. No matter their capacity. No matter their life plans. No matter what health risks they face. It is no exaggeration to describe this new reality as a public health crisis.

Thankfully, here in Minnesota, abortion not only remains legal, but our governor, attorney general and Democratic members of Congress are committed to protecting this right and eliminating barriers that make it more difficult for anyone to get an abortion in a timely manner, including the many people who are already traveling here from out of state for care.

One of those members of Congress is 5th District Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, the first woman of color ever elected to Congress from our state. One of the reasons I have supported Ilhan Omar from her first foray into elected office is her commitment to abortion access, a commitment she laid out for me the first time I met her at a coffee shop in south Minneapolis to learn more about her run for the Minnesota State Legislature back in 2016. She has not only been a fierce defender of the right to an abortion, she also embodies reproductive justice values. And since coming to Congress, has made protecting this right — and espousing these values — one of her main priorities.

She is a House co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, which passed the House and would codify abortion rights into law. She supports eliminating the Hyde Amendment, which walls off access to abortion care for millions of people enrolled in Medicaid and other federal programs, and repealing the Global Gag Rule, a policy that restricts nonprofits across the globe that receive U.S. foreign assistance from providing anyone assistance with or referrals to abortion services. She has spent the past several months vociferously arguing for Democrats in the Senate to abolish the filibuster to allow Congress to pass a federal law legalizing abortion for all.

After the ruling striking down Roe, she was on the steps of the Supreme Court almost immediately protesting and gave an impassioned speech about the need for us to mobilize and demand that Congress act to protect abortion rights. This last Sunday, she addressed a crowd of thousands of Minnesotans gathered at our State Capitol to march for abortion rights, reminding us how fragile those rights are and urging advocates to help her fight back. And just Wednesday, the Congresswoman joined 16 of her brave colleagues outside of the Supreme Court, arrested for their commitment to abortion rights. “I will do whatever it takes, including putting my body on the line, to protect reproductive rights,” she said.

She has also been steadfast in her support for policy that would make all healthcare a human right. She’s vice chair of the Medicare For All Caucus and an original co-sponsor of the bill. Anyone challenging Ilhan has a high burden to clear in demonstrating their commitment to abortion rights in particular, and universal healthcare generally.

Which brings me to Don Samuels, the controversial former school board member running against her in the Aug. 9 DFL primary.

One of Don’s closest allies and strategists is Victor Martinez, a failed candidate for Minneapolis City Council who ran — and I’m not joking here — as a pro-life conservative. He even voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 Primary. Here he is strategizing with Samuel’s campaign manager. Martinez has said he is “unapologetically pro-life from the womb to the tomb.”

Samuels says he supports abortion rights. The same cannot be said about his stance on overall healthcare. Instead of embracing Medicare for All, Samuels offers a piecemeal approach to healthcare policy that would still leave many Americans without real coverage.

So, ok: Samuels is a purportedly pro-choice candidate who campaigns with anti-abortion activists and opposes universal healthcare for anyone who might need an abortion (or any other form of healthcare). These may not be dealbreakers in a standard election, but in a primary happening just weeks after the Supreme Court stripped us of a fundamental constitutional right, when the incumbent is one of the foremost champions for abortion rights in Congress, they are for me.

And I certainly know that in the new normal of a post-Roe America, I am not willing to take a risk on entrusting him to protect our rights in Congress.

The person I do trust is Ilhan Omar, who has been a champion for all. Given our current Supreme Court, do you want someone in Congress you can count on to vociferously fight for abortion rights or someone who you have to roll the dice on?

The DFL primary in CD5 is on Aug. 9. If you value the right to an abortion, I urge you to vote for the candidate who leaves no doubt.

Ilhan has always fought for abortion rights. I’m going to fight for her.

Stacey Burns is an abortion access advocate who has worked for several local and national abortion rights organizations. @WentRogue on Twitter. 

This OpEd essay has been lightly edited for style and clarity.