Election 2020 Wrap-Up: The Reproductive Rights Landscape

11.24.2020

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From the record-turnout presidential election to referendums on state ballots, the results of Election 2020 will affect the reproductive rights landscape in both federal and state policy going forward.

The election of Joseph R. Biden, Jr., as President and Kamala Harris as Vice President brings the promise of a U.S. domestic and foreign policy agenda that once again advances reproductive rights as fundamental human rights. After four years of the Trump-Pence administration’s attempts to undermine reproductive rights through harmful policies and appointments, the Center for Reproductive Rights celebrates the outcome of the presidential election and looks forward to working with the Biden-Harris administration to secure reproductive health, rights and justice; promote maternal health; protect civil rights and women’s rights; and renew American leadership in international institutions. (Read the Center’s statement on the presidential election here.)

Here’s a wrap-up of other election results and initiatives that will impact reproductive rights and health policies:

Congress and Federal Legislation

While control of the Senate will not be determined until the outcome of two Georgia runoff elections in January, two new champions of reproductive rights will be joining the Senate: Mark Kelly of Arizona and John Hickenlooper of Colorado. In the House of Representatives, the majority of members will continue to support reproductive rights. 

The Center will continue to advocate for federal legislation to protect and advance reproductive rights and health. Along with our Act for Women campaign partners, we’ll be working to make progress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), which would protect the right to access abortion care throughout the country by safeguarding against bans and medically unnecessary restrictions. The Center will also continue supporting the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act, which aims to ensure insurance coverage for abortion care, no matter what a person’s income or how they’re insured. Vice President-Elect Harris supported both these bills in the Senate.

Improving access to quality maternal health care and addressing the ongoing maternal health crisis—specifically the unconscionable disparities in maternal health outcomes for Black and Indigenous people in the U.S.—also remains a priority of the Center’s. We are optimistic about the prospect of enacting legislation such as the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act to help alleviate these disparities. Vice President-Elect Harris was the lead sponsor of the Senate version of this bill.

State Ballot Initiatives

In Colorado and Washington, voters confirmed their support for reproductive health, rights and justice. For the fourth time in 12 years, voters in Colorado rejected a ballot measure designed to ban abortion later in pregnancy. The Center joined a coalition of over 125 organizations in opposing this ballot initiative—and its defeat is a victory for Coloradans and for people in surrounding states who rely on Colorado to access this care. In the state of Washington, voters resoundingly supported state legislation requiring inclusive, comprehensive, and medically accurate sex education for every student in the state. The measure will ensure that young people in every community will receive health lessons based on science, which will enable them to make their own decisions about sex. 

Unfortunately, in Louisiana, voters approved an anti-abortion constitutional amendment that added language specifying that the right to abortion is not protected. Louisiana is already hostile to abortion rights, with numerous restrictions that already make it difficult to access abortion care. Such restrictions are most harmful to those already facing barriers to accessing care: Black, Indigenous, and people of color, women, the LGBTQI community, people with low incomes, and young people. Together with our local partners, the Center is committed to fighting to make sure Louisianans can access the care they want and need. Just this past June, in the Center’s case, June Medical Services v. Russo, the Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that could have closed all but one abortion clinic in the state.  

Despite Louisiana’s amendment and numerous restrictions, abortion remains legal in Louisiana and in every U.S. state.

State Legislation

Multiple governors who support abortion rights were reelected in November, including North Carolina’s Governor Roy Cooper and Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee. New state legislators were elected on platforms that include support for reproductive health, rights, and justice and many of these legislators hold identities that are currently underrepresented in their state chambers.

The Center will continue to work with state advocates and legislators to promote state legislation to protect and advance reproductive rights and health, including efforts to protect abortion in state law, increase access to abortion care and reproductive health care, and respond to the maternal health crisis. In addition, we will work with our partners to oppose restrictive state legislation that would limit reproductive autonomy.

The Federal Courts

Although the new administration will have the opportunity to appoint demographically diverse judges committed to equal justice under law and to reproductive rights, daunting challenges nonetheless lie ahead. Across President Trump’s term in office, the U.S. Senate confirmed more than 220 judges, including three Supreme Court justices, to lifetime appointments on the federal bench. These judges and justices will be hearing cases for generations to come.  

The Center for Reproductive Rights, however, has won cases before a wide range of federal judges who have been appointed by both Republican and Democratic presidents. And the stakes are simply too high to back down: Dozens of abortion-rights cases are working their way through the federal courts, and one has already arrived at the Supreme Court's doorstep. Also in the pipeline are other cases we are litigating on abortion access, contraception, and the ability to make one's own health care decisions. We will continue to fight in the courts to protect our rights.

Moving Forward

The Center is prepared to work closely with our national and state partners to push forward proactive legislation and block hostile bills in Congress and in the states—and to work with the new administration to undo the damage of the last four years and make progress on rebuilding laws and policies that respect reproductive autonomy and human rights for all. As we’ve done for nearly 30 years, we will continue to advance reproductive rights as fundamental human rights in the U.S. and around the world, no matter the obstacles. 

Read the Center’s statement on the Biden-Harris election victory.