Mara Kimmel executive director of ACLU Alaska “Abolishing abortion rights is undemocratic and unacceptable”
by CARLOS MATías
In May, the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska (ACLU) named Mara Kimmel, public policy expert and chief counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Alaska affiliate, as their executive director.
ACLU of Alaska works to ensure that everyone in the state has the same protections and opportunities promised by the US Constitution. As of June 1, Mara Kimmel replaces interim director Susan Orlansky, who continues as Cooperating Counsel.
Mara Kimmel has experience in public policy, legal work, and advocacy in justice, immigration and tribal livelihoods. She has been a professor at Seattle University School of Law, University of Alaska Anchorage, and Alaska Pacific University, and a researcher at the Anchorage Museum. She has worked on equity, resiliency, and anti-trafficking initiatives, and has led Welcome and Resiliency actions in the Municipality of Anchorage.
What are the main challenges you face in your new position? Many Alaskans have been excluded from institutions of power because of race, language, poverty, identity, incarceration, and other factors. We must integrate all Alaskans into civic, political, and economic institutions.
ACLU of Alaska prioritizes the protection of rights and responsibilities recognized in the State Constitution. It is a statement of values: privacy, equality, rehabilitation... In November, Alaskans will be asked if we want to hold a constitutional convention. We ask ourselves this question every ten years and we always say no. The ACLU urges that we say no again. Protecting Alaska’s constitution is fundamental to the rights and freedoms in our state.
In 1973, the Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade. In 2022, it is overturned by Trump-appointed conservative justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh,and Amy Coney Barrett. We women have only had the right to make basic health decisions about our bodies for 50 years. The fact that this right has just been ripped away is undemocratic and unacceptable. It is undemocratic that six people can decide to deny basic rights to half of all Americans. It is unacceptable that these six people would deny these rights, based on writings from the Middle Ages and from a time before women had the right to vote. It is unacceptable that we still do not have equal rights for all people.
How do we resolve this lack of citizenry? Americans support the right to abortion and bodily self-determination. They support fundamental rights to equality. But our institutions are increasingly led by a minority that is bold in its anti-democratic positions. One way to address this imbalance is to make sure that all of us who can vote, vote for people who represent the values of the majority of Americans.
Justice Samuel Alito says, “it is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the elected representatives of the people.” Where in the Constitution is abortion prohibited?
The right to privacy may not be specifically enumerated in the Constitution, but it is essential to liberties. The Supreme Court read the Bill of Rights from the perspective of a time before women had the right to vote. The Constitution still does not include an equal rights amendment. Too many people, including women, still do not have equal rights under the law.
Are there more civil liberties at stake? Yes. Marriage equality, the right to love who we love, and the right to contraception. Other rights are at risk, including marrying whomever you love, regardless of racial identification.
What must America do to improve its democracy? We need to make sure that the statement “we the people” really means all of us. Institutions have treated non-white people, women, the LGBTQ+ community and those involved in the criminal legal system as “less than equal.” There has never been a time in American history when we were all truly equal.
Our votes are necessary to improve our democracy, but the accessibility of voting to all citizens must be ensured. Election materials must be explained clearly and, in the languages spoken by voters. We must improve voting processes in rural regions and restore voting rights to citizens who have been incarcerated and rehabilitated.
We must ensure that all Alaskans can be part of our civic, political, and social organizations. We must recognize the impacts of racism, colonialism, misogyny and white supremacy on our democracy and democratic institutions, and how those dynamics continue to exclude so many Alaskans from so many opportunities. What must happen for America to once again be “a free country,” an example for all democracies? America has never been a “free country” for all. Black and brown people, women, LGBTQ+ people, have historically been treated less than white men. Every attack on the rights of Americans makes us less free, and none of us are free if we are not all free.
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