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A Midterm Voting Guide for Reproductive Justice

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Welcome to The Week in Reproductive Justice, a weekly recap of all news related to the hot-button issue of what lawmakers are allowing women to do with their bodies!

Are you eligible to vote this Tuesday? If you’ve voted already, great, but if you haven’t yet, there’s absolutely no excuse not to, and no shortage of issues to be mindful of as you decide what and who you’ll be voting for. However, for the sake of this column’s focus, and the indisputable reality that the ability to fully control one’s body affects every aspect of their lives, it’s crucial that we consider the tremendous implications this election could have for reproductive rights specifically.

The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and the Trump administration’s escalated all-out war on the bodies of women, LGBTQ people, and immigrants, are steadily backing us into a corner. Last week, the administration announced its plan to all but erase the existence of transgender people from government recognition. In some ways, this election is the last front that could stop marginalized people from losing everything.

For years, lawmakers regarded reproductive rights as a tangential issue, if they thought about reproductive rights at all. For a little while, even in the face of a nearly unprecedented threat to safe, legal abortion with the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, it seemed this trend among lawmakers and American voters would continue: A Quinnipiac University poll from this summer showed 62 percent of voters believed the precedent established by the Roe v Wade abortion ruling was actually in trouble, to just 27 percent who did.

But it looks like recent events leading up to the midterms have changed this, particularly among Democratic voters. The Republican Party has mobilized its base for decades through demonizing abortion and building a sense of urgency around the issue—not just through stoking the right’s faux concerns about the wellbeing of children, but unifying their base around its collective desire to punish and keep women in their place.

And now, growing concern about the future of reproductive rights, after years of complacency and staunch refusal to listen to women’s voices, is mobilizing Democratic voters to show up, a new report shows.

Per FiveThirtyEight this week: “[A] recent PRRI survey found that nearly half (47 percent) of Democrats said abortion is a critically important issue to them personally; 40 percent of Republicans said the same. That represents a dramatic swing since 2015, when 36 percent of Democrats and 43 percent of Republicans said abortion was a critical concern. Democrats are almost twice as likely today to rate the issue as critical as they were in 2011.”

Kavanaugh’s confirmation, considering his proven record of attacking women’s rights, marked a dangerous low point for reproductive rights in this country, but the greater War on Women has been mounting for years now. On the state level, more than a quarter of the almost 1,200 restrictions on abortion passed since Roe were passed between 2011 and 2016 alone; 90 percent of counties lack an abortion provider.

With just days to go before the most important election of our lives, here’s a quick guide to voting pro-choice next week:

1. Is abortion on the ballot in your state?

If you live in Alabama, Oregon or West Virginia, it is. Sure, abortion is on the ballot in every state where voters will have the opportunity to choose between pro-choice candidates and candidates who see women as state incubators, but in Alabama, Oregon, and West Virginia specifically, ballot measures could decide the future of abortion access, especially in an increasingly likely post-Roe era.

Alabama and West Virginia voters will vote on whether to adopt a law that would immediately make abortion illegal if and when Roe is overturned; currently, about 20 other states have laws like this in place. An Oregon ballot measure would undo a recently enacted law that guaranteed access to abortion and other reproductive health care at no cost, striking at the heart of the classist and racist discrimination in who is able to control their bodies. The new measure would prohibit public funds from paying for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or a threat to the pregnant person’s health.

If you live in any of these states, make sure you don’t skip the propositions section of your ballot.

2. Check candidates’ voting records on health care and reproductive rights.

Not to undercut the importance of voting, but it’s just one part of the greater process: You have to do the research to ensure you’re making an informed vote. To ensure that the candidate you plan on voting for has a pro-choice record, the endorsement pages of Planned Parenthood Action Fund or NARAL Pro-Choice America could offer you some guidance. And certainly, check Vote Pro-Choice’s 2018 voter guide; simply enter your address here, and it will queue up the pro-choice candidates on every level of government—city council, state legislature, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate—you should vote for.

3. Don’t forget about your state legislature.

Speaking of electing pro-choice candidates, let’s not forget these critical facts: 1) If Roe is overturned, abortion rights will be decided by state governments, and 2) among the more than a thousand restrictions on abortion enacted since Roe, and the roughly 13 cases in the courts that could end Roe right now, nearly all of these are the products of anti-choice state legislatures. The Democratic Party has notoriously dropped the ball on state-level elections in recent years, breeding deep red state legislatures across the country that have constantly produced terrifying anti-choice bills, from an Oklahoma bill that would require women seeking abortions to have the written consent of a male guardian, to Iowa’s successful fetal heartbeat ban.

That said, don’t just vote for federal Congressional candidates or gubernatorial races. Your state legislators matter; their bills and votes and legislative behaviors impact your day-to-day life—and certainly your reproductive life—arguably far more directly than your federal representatives. Be sure to give Vote Pro-Choice’s voter guide another look, and make sure to note the stances of state legislature candidates and vote appropriately.

4. Nationwide races to watch. Municipal races are important, state-level races are important, and, yes, across the country, federal races are important too. Of the thousands of hot, competitive races to watch, here are just a few that could have the most impact on reproductive rights:

  • Beto O’Rourke vs. Ted Cruz for US Senate: While Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is notoriously one of the most anti-choice politicians in the country, O’Rourke, who is in a statistical tie with Cruz as of the latest polling, has vocally spoken out about one of the least discussed, most important realities around reproductive justice: Women are dying from lack of maternal and reproductive health care at alarming rates, and women of color are disproportionately affected.
  • Jacky Rosen vs. Dean Heller for US Senate: Nevada Sen. Dean Heller famously called allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh a “hiccup” in the confirmation process and has been a consistent anti-choice vote throughout his time in the US Senate. In addition to her strong pro-choice record in Congress, Rosen has also actively worked toward gender pay parity. Heller and Rosen are also in a statistical dead heat.
  • Stacey Abrams vs. Brian Kemp for Georgia Governor’s office: Where Brian Kemp has pledged to be a “pro-life” governor and praised Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban law, Abrams was critical to fighting a 20-week abortion ban during her time in Georgia’s state legislature. As of 2018, reproductive health care is deeply inaccessible in Georgia.
  • Kate Brown vs. Knute Buehler: Don’t be deceived by Oregon’s famed reputation as a blue state. After conservative PACs invested millions into Democratic Gov. Kate Brown’s opponent’s race, Brown’s lead over Buehler has narrowed to 3 points as of this week. Brown signed into law the most progressive pro-choice legislation we’ve seen in years, in 2017, with the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which covers the costs of abortion and reproductive health care for all Oregonians, while Oregon state Rep. Buehler has been a consistent anti-choice vote.
  • Fred Hubbell vs. Kim Reynolds: Last year, Gov. Reynolds signed a bill that essentially banned abortion, making it illegal at about six weeks, which is before most women even realize they’re pregnant. In sharp contrast, Hubbell formerly served as the chair of Planned Parenthood of Mid-Iowa. It should be clear how the living standards of Iowan women would change drastically for the better if Reynolds is voted out.

Tune in next week to see what lawmakers will try next in their never-ending mission to derail reproductive justice!

(image: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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