How Women's Rights Fared In The Midterms, From The Good To The Very, Very Bad
Now that our 2014 midterm election hangover is fading, it's time to shake off the overwhelming GOP wins and turn to the most pressing issues women faced Tuesday at the polls. Reproductive rights were on the line for millions of women from Colorado to Tennessee, while minimum wage battles raged on in the South and Midwest. Not to mention, Massachusetts made gay rights history, Rhode Island celebrated a huge milestone, and Scott Brown, well, let's just say he's cemented a special place in feminist history. There were winners, losers and, in some cases, uncertainty.
Here's where women won and lost on Nov. 4 — and how we can move forward.
WIN: No On "Personhood"
For feminist activists, the big races Tuesday night were in Colorado and North Dakota, where measures declaring "personhood" for unborn fetuses were on the ballot. In Colorado, Amendment 67 would have altered the state's constitution to include fetuses — at any stage of development — under "person" and "child" in the Colorado criminal code, as well as the Colorado Wrongful Death Act. Similarly, North Dakota's "Life Begins at Conception" Measure 1 would add a line to the state's constitution, stating: "The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected."
Anti-abortion advocates in North Dakota tried to distance themselves from the word "personhood," while Yes On 67 activists claimed the measure was created solely to prevent "violence against pregnant mothers and their unborn children." However, reproductive rights activists warned that both measures were veiled attempts to curb abortion access and use of birth control, and potentially criminalize women and doctors in the process. Women in Colorado and North Dakota saw through the rhetoric, defeating both measures by more than 64 percent, respectively.
On the defeat of Colorado's Amendment 67, Cathy Alderman, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado said in a statement:
Once again, the women and families of Colorado have made it abundantly clear that they do not want the government interfering in women’s personal and private health care decisions.
Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe of Catholics for Choice, which also organized extensively to defeat the Colorado measure, said:
Catholics saw Amendment 67 for what it is — an attack on the rights of every individual to make their own choices, follow their own conscience and exercise their own religious liberty. The majority of Catholics very clearly support policies that enable women and men to make their own decisions about whether and when to have children.
LOSS: Tennessee Can Now Ban Abortion
Two out of three anti-abortion measures were rejected by voters on Tuesday — but the one that passed may be the most draconian yet. Tennessee's Amendment 1, or "Legislative Powers Regarding Abortions," adds language to the state's constitution that grants lawmakers the power to restrict abortion or ban it altogether, including in cases of rape, incest and when a woman's health is at risk. Tennessee voters passed the measure by 53 percent.
The text added to the Tennessee constitution reads:
Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.
With this amendment, abortion rights in Tennessee — a state with just seven abortion providers — are in a dire situation. But reproductive rights activists in the state are already planning to fight back. Cherisse Scott of the reproductive justice organization SisterReach said on Wednesday:
Going forward from this loss, we need a clear Southern strategy for fighting back initiatives like Amendment 1. That strategy must be multi-issue. Our attention on abortion access cannot occur in a vacuum. If we are to win in the future, we must engage our faith communities and continue a conversation about compassion and justice. We must include an analysis of poverty, comprehensive sexuality education, and other issues that impact poor people across our state. That is our pathway to success.
WIN: A Rhode Island & Massachusetts Milestone
Rhode Island women were happy Tuesday night when businessperson-turned-politician Gina Raimondo became the state's first female governor. (It's about time, Rhode Island.) Raimondo, a pro-choice Catholic, recently ruffled the robes of Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, who urged parishioners to boycott Raimondo because of her support for abortion rights and instead write-in Mother Teresa on the ballot. There's no word yet on how Mother Teresa did, but it looks like Raimondo safely won the landmark race.
Just a few miles north in Massachusetts, Maura Healey made history: She's the first openly gay person to serve as Attorney General in the United States. Healey won her race easily, beating out Republican challenger John Miller with 62 percent of the vote.
Healey has long been an LGBT advocate, and her new position as Massachusetts Attorney General makes incredible inroads for gay politicians. As Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement on Tuesday:
Maura Healey is one of the staunchest advocates for equality we have in this country, and we join her in celebrating her historic victory tonight. As the nation's first openly gay attorney general, she is an inspirational trailblazer and will fight to guarantee civil rights and legal equality for all people of Massachusetts.
DRAW: Wendy Davis Loses In Texas, But Women Of Color Turn Out
I'm not going to try and sugarcoat this: Wendy Davis' inevitable loss is a blow to Texas women who have seen their reproductive rights — including their right to safely raise families — crushed by the state's staunchly conservative legislature and abortion crusader Gov. Rick Perry. Governor-elect Greg Abbott doesn't believe in abortion even in cases of rape or incest, supports the closure of the majority of Texas' clinics and women's health centers, and would reject the Medicaid expansion for 1.5 million low-income Texans.
But if there's a lone bright spot in the Texas gubernatorial race, it was the incredible turn out of women of color for Wendy Davis. According to exit polls from the Texas Politics Project, 94 percent of Black women and 61 percent of Latina women voted for Davis. However, 67 percent of white women voted for Abbott, revealing the deep racial and class divides among Texas women — and the state's Democratic Party.
LOSS: The Senate Is More Anti-Woman Than Ever
The U.S. Senate has been keeping us (relatively) sane. The House just passed a 20-week abortion ban? No big deal — the Senate will veto it. The House just tried repealing the Affordable Care Act, again? No way, says the Senate.
Now, the Senate has flipped from Democratic to Republican control, and what was once a pro-choice, pro-sane beacon is now an anti-choice minefield waiting to implode. President Obama has already promised to veto any restrictions on reproductive rights, but that still won't stop the Senate Republicans from trying new anti-abortion tactics.
WIN: Minimum Wage Laws Succeed
Voters elected GOP candidates and approved progressive policies. Four states — Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota — said "yes" to increasing minimum wage, joining 12 other states that have raised their hourly wages in recent years. These living wages will overwhelmingly affect women, who make up two-thirds of the minimum-wage workforce nationwide, according to the National Women's Law Center.
To be sure, there's still more to be done. The NWLC says a federal minimum wage increase to over $10 an hour would benefit nearly 28 million workers, 55 percent of whom are women. But with more red states approving wage increases, the attitudes on fair wages are a-changin'.
WIN: Paid Sick Leave Gains New Ground
Much like minimum wage increases, paid sick leave is a very pro-woman policy, particularly for working mothers in hourly-wage jobs. Paid sick leave was on the ballot in one state and three municipalities on Tuesday — and came out victorious in all four races. The largest victory was in Massachusetts' statewide election, where the ballot measure passed easily. Residents of Trenton and Montclair, New Jersey, and Oakland, California, also approved paid sick leave.
According to The Boston Globe, Massachusetts now has the strongest law guaranteeing paid sick leave — the measure ensures that workers in businesses with more than 11 employees receive at least 40 hours of earned sick leave a year.
Images: Getty Images, No On 67/ Facebook, Gina Raimondo/Facebook