This past election cycle, we saw the power a government-issued ID can give an individual. In states where voter ID laws were being enforced, individuals who did not have government IDs could not exercise their right to vote. Several communities were impacted: transgender people, Latinos, African Americans, students, the elderly, people with disabilities – in short, many, many people. These ID laws harken to Jim Crow-era poll taxes and “literacy tests,” and at the same time increased the impact of fear tactics used to intimidate voters from going to the polls, exacerbating the historic and current inequities that many communities of color face.
Voting ID laws, and voter suppression in general, also have a unique impact on women of color. Recently, the Center for American Progress issued a report that shows how voter suppression denies justice for women of color. The report finds that many people who are eligible to vote don’t have the appropriate identification they would need to do so, and that this disproportionately impacts people of color — and particularly women of color. While only 8 percent of white voters lack proper identification, 25 percent of African American and 16 percent of Latino voters do not possess the needed identification to vote according to these laws. What’s more troubling, some states have required proof of citizenship before individuals vote. According to the CAP report, 7 percent of all eligible American voters lack quick access to documents needed to show citizenship, and though 34 percent of women have documents showing citizenship, these documents do not reflect their current legal names. Once you see these numbers, it’s no wonder that women of color are disproportionately impacted by voter suppression efforts. In fact, the CAP report estimates that between 596,000 and 959,000 women of color may have been disenfranchised this past Election Day.
Transgender people, too are uniquely impacted by voter ID legislation. Transgender and gender non-conforming people face a complex web of barriers to gaining documents that accurately reflect their gender and name. In fact, a report from the Williams Institute found that 41 percent of transgender citizens do not have documents that reflect their transitions, and 74 percent did not have an updated passport, and 27 percent did not have identification documents that reflected their current gender at all. The report also found that transgender and gender non-conforming people of color, students, those with low incomes, and those with disabilities were disproportionately impacted. Moreover, presenting an identification document that does not match one’s gender presentation can not only present a barrier to vote, but may also expose transgender people to harassment or violence.
The use of a government issued ID to suppress the rights of “undesirable” communities is not just limited to voting rights, however, but is also a barrier for access to over-the-counter emergency contraception. As it stands now, over-the-counter emergency contraception is only available to people over the age of 17, and they must provide government-issued identification. Those under the age of 17 and those who have no government-issued ID must get a prescription. Because having updated and valid government-issued identification is difficult for women and transgender people of color, obtaining emergency contraception over the counter can be difficult or impossible. Additionally, women, transgender, and gender non-conforming Latin@s have disproportionate rates of uninsurance, making the prospect of getting a prescription for emergency contraception – a time-sensitive drug – that much more costly and burdensome. Moreover, for Latin@s, including undocumented Latin@s, many other obstacles may factor into their ability to access the care they need in a timely fashion: financial costs, lack of linguistically and culturally competent providers, stigma, and lack of transportation.
Critics may say that individuals who cannot access over the counter EC should just use other forms of over the counter contraception on a regular basis, such as condoms and spermicide, but let’s face it: not all individuals are in healthy relationships, cost may be a barrier for these methods as well, but most importantly, sometimes birth control methods fail. The bottom line is that all individuals should have real access to a wide range of birth control options so that they can truly exercise and enjoy their bodily autonomy.
The recent focus on presenting government-issued IDs is having a tragic impact on women and transgender people of color. These laws deny people not only their civic voice but truly deny their right to bodily autonomy and self-determination. In the coming week, tell Secretary Sebelius to revisit the evidence on EC and remove its restrictions so that all people can make the healthy choice for themselves and their families.