The 2018 Midterms Put Abortion Access In A More Precarious Position — But There's Also Good News
The results from Tuesday's elections will have enormous impact on the reproductive rights movement. On both the national and local level, the 2018 midterms showed that abortion access is a major issue for voters and set the stage for a continued battle over the issue in the years to come.
Restrictions to contraception access were on the ballot in three states on Tuesday. Voters in Alabama, West Virginia, and Oregon had the option to make it more difficult for women to terminate pregnancies in their states — and while Oregon's did not pass, the measures were successful in West Virginia and Alabama. The Alabama and West Virginia ballot initiatives declared that abortion is not a protected right under their state constitutions.
"Alabama is unfortunately one step closer to banning abortions altogether," Dr. Brandi Shah, a family doctor and clinician who's about to start work in Alabama and a board member with Physicians for Reproductive Health, tells Bustle about the state's new law.
Abortion isn't totally banned in Alabama now, though, thanks to Roe v. Wade and the federal protections it guarantees. As Shah describes it, the law is an "an offensive tactic so that the state could already have it codified in their constitution that abortion would be illegal" if the Supreme Court does chip away at the ruling, as many reproductive rights advocates fear will happen under the new conservative SCOTUS majority. Shah notes that the consequences of such a move would be primarily felt by those who are marginalized, including low-income women and women of color.
These potential threats to Roe v. Wade seem more likely now that the GOP has expanded its hold over the Senate. The significant Republican majority all but ensures that President Donald Trump will be able to continue appointing Supreme Court justices if more vacancies arise (Trump made it very clear during the 2016 election that he would nominate anti-abortion access judges).
But the midterms didn't bring only bad news for reproductive rights advocates. Democrats took the House, which means that they will be able to stop measures restricting reproductive rights that come up in Congress over the next two years. Although Congress can't ban abortion altogether (thanks to Roe), it can propose bans on certain types, and those are far less likely to pass in a split Congress.
Meanwhile, in state elections, Democrats flipped several state legislatures, which could prevent anti-abortion laws from being passed, and the Democrats who are taking over governorships can stop anti-abortion laws that do pass from being signed into law. (And, of course, they can also work on laws that protect abortion access.)
Plus, there's the possibility that the new laws in Alabama and West Virginia have already "challenged people to continue to move this fight forward," which is what Shah says she thinks has happened.
"This is a process," she tells Bustle. "It is kind of a slow process in places like Alabama," but, "We're certainly slowly moving in directions that are recognizing some of these rights, like access to health care, and putting leaders in place who are fighting for those rights."
Exit polls from the election certainly back that up. NBC found that two-thirds of voters support Roe v. Wade as it is, including 83 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of Independents. The opinion was nearly even among Republicans: 44 supported it and 45 were opposed. Surveys leading up to the election found that abortion access is a major concern for voters. A Pew poll found that 61 percent of Democrats said it would be a "very important issue to their vote," and 44 percent of Republicans said the same. The elections' extraordinarily high turnout indicates that contraception access is a big priority for Americans right now.
As a physician, Shah has seen first-hand why that is. "Abortion is health care, plain and simple," she tells Bustle. "The fact that there is this political interference in what happens between me and my patients for some of their most private health care decisions is very troubling."