The results of this year’s midterm elections were scary for reproductive rights advocates. The Republicans were able to gain a majority in the U.S. Senate (currently 52 seats, with 3 undecided) while expanding (243 seats, with 12 undecided) control of the U.S. House. As if that weren’t bad enough, many gubernatorial seats were lost as well: there will soon be 31 Republican governors. This shift in power means that the fight for reproductive rights is likely to become even more difficult in the near future, with many Republican victors committed to backing anti-reproductive rights legislation.
One of the most upsetting defeats was Mark Udall of Colorado, a long-time supporter of reproductive rights.
Udall was defeated by Republican opponent Cory Gardner, whose campaign has been notoriously anti-abortion, including early support for a constitutional “Personhood Amendment.” The intent of these personhood measures is to prohibit all abortions by equating abortion with murder.
The South Dakota senate seat is now in the hands of the aggressively anti-choice Mike Rounds who signed a law in 2006 that banned all abortions except in the case of extreme life-threatening circumstances.
Another blow came from the state level where Tennessee voters supported an amendment to the state constitution that grants state lawmakers the ability to push for legislation restricting abortion. The amendment specifies that there is “no right” to abortion and, some say, will make it easier for anti-abortion legislation to be introduced and passed.
Fortunately, the mid-term elections were not all bad news for women’s reproductive rights. Coloradans voted overwhelmingly (63-37) against a fetal personhood state constitutional amendment that would legally define fetuses as persons in the criminal code. It is alarming that voters who rejected a fetal personhood amendment would also elect a champion of fetal personhood.
Voters in North Dakota also rejected (64-36) an attempt to add the “inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development” to their own state constitution. This measure was so vaguely worded that it could be interpreted to prohibit all abortions and could complicate access to contraception and in vitro fertilization.
In Iowa, Republican Senator-elect Joni Ernst voted for a fetal personhood bill when she was in the state legislature and said that she would support federal fetal personhood legislation. She later attempted to soften her position on fetal personhood by saying, “That amendment is simply a statement that I support life.” Ernst’s obfuscation on the question is becoming commonplace with anti-reproductive rights candidates as they try to appear more moderate by lying about the true nature of their positions.
With a fully Republican-controlled Congress and 29 Republican-controlled state legislatures, the threat continues to grow. The capture by Republicans of both houses in three additional states this election does not bode well for women’s reproductive rights; the wave of restrictive reproductive rights legislation that has been adopted in recent years comes primarily from those states with Republican legislative control. It is crucial that we continue to fight to protect our reproductive rights and to organize for better outcomes in the 2016 elections.