THE BLOG
01/20/2015 06:04 pm ET Updated Mar 22, 2015

The US Supreme Court and the Right to Choose... Happy Anniversary?

This week marks the anniversary of one of the most hotly contested U.S. Supreme Court decisions affecting women's reproductive freedom. And it's not Roe vs. Wade.

Five years ago a bitterly divided 5-4 majority gave us Citizens United -- overturning century-old precedent by declaring unconstitutional the government's restriction of independent political spending by corporations and unions. Since 2010, super PACs have stormed the scene pouring billions of dollars, much of it undisclosed "dark" money, into our elections. Buying political influence is now easier, shadier and more costly to our democratic values than ever.

What does campaign finance reform have to do with abortion rights? Plenty. The drive to dismantle both is led by an overlapping cast of characters who understand all too well that tearing down our systems of democracy is the ticket to winning their regressive social agenda.

First, the players. The legal engineer behind Citizens United is James Bopp, a lawyer whose resume is notable for its commitment to ultra-conservative causes -- including as lead lawyer for the National Right to Life Committee, his go-to client in cases seeking to gut campaign reform. (He also represents Susan B. Anthony List, Concerned Women for America and the Traditional Values Coalition, among others.)

Bopp's initiation to campaign finance began with a battle against the Federal Election Commission regarding rules regulating the distribution of pro-life voter guides in the 1980 election. He since has placed campaign finance squarely within the pro-life platform. So opposed to reform is the National Right to Life Committee, its members have withdrawn support from stalwart abortion opponents who support campaign reform -- including, notoriously, John McCain in his 2000 bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

Today, Right to Life and its cohorts stand to be big winners in the post-Citizens United wild west of campaign laws. It goes like this: When the major contributor to anti-choice super PAC, Women Speak Out, happens also to be its parent organization, Susan B. Anthony List -- which, as a non-profit, need not disclose its donors -- voters don't know who is bankrolling attacks on pro-choice candidates.

Bopp's legal technique reflects a sophisticated long view of the battle. Since Citizens United, he has filed dozens of cases challenging campaign finance laws, positioning them to land in strategic sequence. He acknowledges a parallel path to overturning Roe, stating a pragmatic truth: "When you have a willing court, then you pursue what they're willing to do."

No doubt, the Roberts Court has proven itself more than willing to unravel and undermine democracy. In addition to the damage it has wrought on campaign finance, the same 5-4 majority eviscerated the Voting Rights Act in 2013. As for abortion? We'll likely soon see. The latest generation of restrictions -- from requiring providers to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, to bans on later-term procedures -- not only render the ability to access abortion nearly impossible today, they lay the groundwork for a potentially willing Supreme Court tomorrow. This deliberate approach to chip away at longstanding rights has led to some of the "keenest successes of the conservative movement and the Republican Party."

Bopp's decades-long crusade to dismantle campaign reform demonstrates how keenly he and his fellow conservatives understand the importance of the systems of democracy -- and that how we elect our representatives undoubtedly affects who gets elected.

In the face of campaign finance and voting rights under fire, it is time to take a page from the National Right to Life Committee's playbook. Progressives must join forces, across respective issues, and get behind a bold and meaningful democracy reform agenda. If we don't address our broken systems, we'll never be able to solve our problems, from women's health to economic inequality to climate change. And those problems will only multiply each time our electoral systems are further cut back, chipped away and compromised.

When it comes to opponents of reproductive choice, make no mistake: our elections, the bedrock of American democracy, are in their line of fire. So on these back-to-back anniversaries -- Citizens United Wednesday, Roe Thursday -- the pro-choice community must speak up and out about both rulings and the ideals we hold dear: our right to choose and our democratic values. We can't win one without the other. And we are dangerously close to losing both.