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September 10, 2021

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Culture wars in the US expose divide

The flaring up of US culture wars, from traditional fronts, including voting access and abortion rights, to new battlegrounds emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic like mask-wearing and vaccination, is putting the country’s deep and bitter political divisions on display.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed into law a bill on Tuesday, which critics have said amounts to restrictions on voting access, in the latest sign that the “Lone Star State” is leaning further to the right after adopting measures to limit abortions while expanding access to guns.

During a signing ceremony in the eastern Texas city of Tyler, Abbott said the measure, which bans drive-thru and 24-hour voting and adds new identification requirements for mail-in voting, will make it “harder than ever for people to cheat at the ballot box.”

Opponents of the law have argued its provisions will disproportionately restrict voting access for voters of color in Texas, a critical voting bloc for Democrats, and denounced it as an attempt by Republicans to hold onto power in the rapidly changing state where the growth of population has been mostly driven by non-whites.

The legislation also triggered controversy by making no exceptions for medical emergencies and pregnancies resulting from incest or rape, while allowing most US citizens to file lawsuits against abortion providers who they think infringed on the policy.

An article published by Bloomberg Law, a service for online legal research, said in response that “the unusual steps Texas took to protect its new abortion restrictions from being blocked right out of the gate mark a new front in culture wars.”

The US Supreme Court, where conservatives have a 6-3 majority over liberals on the nine-justice bench, last week refused to block the Texas law, prompting fears from abortion rights advocates that Roe v. Wade, the high court’s landmark 1973 decision establishing a woman’s right to an abortion, could be overturned, and fierce criticism from Democrats.

US President Joe Biden has vowed a “whole-of-government” response to evaluate what “legal tools we have to insulate women and providers from the impact of Texas’ bizarre scheme of outsourced enforcement to private parties” and has committed to protecting and defending the “constitutional right established in Roe v. Wade.”

The outbreaks of cultural wars in such areas as voting access and abortion rights are overlapping with polarized political and social battles around preventive and protective measures against COVID-19.

Debates about whether to require K-12 students and teachers to wear a mask and get vaccinated have caused skirmishes among parents, school administrators, and politicians.

The political divisions have weakened the US response to the pandemic and led to countless tragedies. Despite its strong medical and research capabilities, the country has recorded by far the highest case and death count globally, with more than 40 million infections and 650,000 fatalities.


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