Election Perspective from Nancy Northup

Primary Content

Imagine waking up the day after an election to find that your First Amendment Rights were more vulnerable than the day before?  Imagine if your ability to speak freely and worship as you choose changed from election to election?  Unfortunately, reproductive rights are subject to such political shifts.  Yesterday’s election was not a referendum on reproductive rights, but a reflection of voters’ deeply felt economic worries.  But reproductive rights will be collateral damage. The Center for Reproductive Rights’ mission is to work for the day when this isn’t so—when reproductive rights are protected as fundamental human rights that all governments are legally obligated to respect and protect.  While we advance that vision, we’re in the trenches today, suing the federal government, states and municipalities when they jeopardize women’s lives, health, dignity and equality.

Here are the results from yesterday through a reproductive rights lens and what they mean for our work going forward. As you know, the political landscape of the country shifted significantly overnight with anti-choice forces increasing their strength in the U.S. House of Representatives, Senate, governorships and statehouses. The House of Representatives likely gained 48 anti-choice members with several races still being decided. The Senate retained a slim but diminished pro-choice majority with two races still being counted. There are already members of Congress who would use any means to block access to abortion, and they now have new allies. We anticipate that the anti-choice leadership in the House will aggressively attempt to push through measures designed to stop all health insurance policies from covering abortion services, even for those who work in the private sector and pay for premiums out of their own paychecks. We look to pro-choice members of Congress to be a bulwark against such rights violations, and to the President for his leadership.

While considerable focus is on Washington today, the states are likely to move more expeditiously to endanger women’s health and rights. They were already the primary battleground before this election, although the extremity of our opponents largely flew under the public’s radar screen.  In 2010, the Center tracked more than 600 anti-choice state bills. The sheer relentlessness of our opponents was on full display this year in Oklahoma, where the legislature enacted eight new anti-choice laws, four of which were vetoed by now-retiring Governor Brad Henry (the legislature then overrode three of them). In January, Governor Henry will be replaced by an anti-choice governor.  Governors in Kansas and Florida also vetoed extreme bills this year. Unfortunately they too were not standing for re-election and will be succeeded by anti-choice replacements.

Not all the results are in from the governors races, but here’s what we know. Twelve states will switch from pro-choice to anti-choice governors. In addition to those mentioned above, they are Iowa, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Three states will change from anti-choice to pro-choice or mixed-choice governors: Colorado, Nevada, and Rhode Island. Clearly, the overall landscape has become more challenging.

Since the 2008 elections, we’ve added to our docket thirteen new cases in nine states—a number surpassing similar periods during the Bush presidency. In the wake of this election, we can expect to see an increase in egregious laws, such as the one Louisiana passed this year that gives the state health department the power to shut down abortion clinics without notice and an opportunity to be heard. The health department wasted no time in wielding its new powers: at 5 pm on the Friday before Labor Day, the state closed our client, Hope Medical Group for Women, the only abortion provider in a 200-mile radius. We secured a court injunction and got the clinic back providing services. The case is ongoing, and is a reminder of the critical role that courts play in protecting against abuse of government power.

We will continue to work for the day when reproductive rights, like First Amendment rights, are protected from the outcome of elections. Increasingly around the world, reproductive rights are being protected as fundamental rights.  It was expressed eloquently and forcefully by the Constitutional Court of Colombia in its 2006 ruling that overturned the country’s longstanding ban on abortion. The court wrote:

"Sexual and reproductive rights emerge from the recognition that equality in general, gender equality in particular, and the emancipation of women and girls are essential to society. Protecting sexual and reproductive rights is a direct path to promoting the dignity of all human beings."

We look forward to working with you toward this vision in the weeks and months ahead.

Thanks for all you do,

Nancy Northup
Nancy Northup
Nancy Northup