How the abortion rights movement won the midterms
“We were able to meet people where they were with other issues that they cared about,” Alexis McGill Johnson of Planned Parenthood told Supercreator.
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FIRST THINGS FIRST
“Abortion is on the ballot” was more than a slogan for the millions of Americans who helped Democrats defy expectations and make the midterm elections so competitive that as I’m writing this, we still don’t know which party will control either house of Congress.
Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told me on Wednesday afternoon that direct engagement with voters was key to turning out Democrats, women and young voters in an election that history and pundits said wouldn’t be close.
“We were back on the doors this cycle in a way obviously that we haven’t been in COVID years having conversations with folks directly about abortion — no minced words, just straight-up conversations,” McGill Johnson said. “And obviously, when you have a constitutional right taken away from you and have a very direct conversation around the implications of that a year into seeing what that looks like in Texas. But we were able to meet people where they were with other issues that they cared about.”
Prior to the leaked Supreme Court Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, McGill Johnson, with Laphonza Butler, president of EMILY’s List, and Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, announced a plan to collectively spend $150 million on the 2022 midterms to ensure that champions of reproductive freedom were elected up and down the ballot.
Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire defeated an anti-abortion challenger by several points while pro-choice candidate John Fetterman flipped a Senate seat and Josh Shapiro was elected governor thanks in part to Pennsylvania voters who ranked abortion as their most important issue. At the state level, Democratic Govs. Laura Kelly of Kansas, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Tim Walz of Minnesota, Michelle Lujan Grisham and Tony Evers of Wisconsin ran on a commitment to protect abortion rights as anti-abortion elected officials attempt to muster support for a national abortion ban.
Voters in California, Michigan and Vermont supported ballot initiatives that enshrined abortion rights into the state constitution and Kentucky voters rejected a measure that would have empowered politicians to make health-care decisions for which they lack the experience and expertise.
“When voters were given a chance to definitively vote on abortion, they resoundingly supported preserving and expanding access and we saw that last night, the eight out of 10 Americans who support the legal right to abortion made their values clearer on election day, especially in places where abortion was clearly on the ballot,” Timmaraju said.
Butler added, “We focused our efforts this election on ensuring voters knew which candidates stood with them and which candidates stood with protected their fundamental rights. And what we saw when voters knew exactly what was at stake was that they turned out, they showed up.”
Despite polls showing that a strong majority of Americans support abortion access and opposed the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe, advocacy groups and pro-choice candidates were cautioned against making reproductive freedom the centerpiece of their campaigns as the election drew closer.
On one hand, there were Democrats who were saying the party was too timid in response to attacks from Republicans on crime and immigration. And on the other, there were strategists like James Carville and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont who said Democrats needed to focus on an economic message that would resonate more with working-class voters.
But leaders in the movement argue that asking voters to choose between the economy and abortion is a false choice because people don’t live single-issue lives and most candidates don’t run single-issue campaigns.
“The good thing about reproductive justice is that we don’t just want to talk about Dobbs. Abortion is a manifestation of the ways transphobia, racism, gender oppression, misogyny [and] xenophobia all conspire to limit the livelihoods of people who can get pregnant across the United States and, quite frankly, globally,” Kelly Davis, executive director of New Voices for Reproductive Justice, said. “So what it teaches me is that there is no political affiliation to oppression. Racism and gender oppression is endemic to all American politics, all American political systems.”
Davis added that while elites litigate the abortion-versus-economy debate, it’s Black women, femmes and girls who end up losing their lives due to the inequities in our health care system.
“So is it surprising to me that any politician who is an elderly, white cisgender straight man does not understand the lived experience of the people who are most harmed by abortion restrictions, which are Black and indigenous people who can become pregnant?” Kelly asked. “Is that a shocker to me? No.”
A spokesperson for Carville could not be immediately reached for comment. A spokesperson for Sanders did not respond to a request for comment.
If we’ve learned anything about the anti-abortion movement over the past five decades, it’s that they won’t stand pat in the face of this week’s historic progress. In fact, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and its partner Women Speak Out PAC announced it would spend at least a million dollars to elect Herschel Walker to the Senate in next month’s Georgia runoff against Sen. Raphael Warnock. (Walker has been accused by two different women of pressuring them to get an abortion.)
“I think the reality is that the work that opposition has done is the work that we all need to continue to do in terms of staying on those doors, having those conversations, engaging in direct conversations with folks over and over again, continuing to work on college campuses,” McGill Johnson said.
Timmaraju said that NARAL would be mobilizing its members along with colleagues in its coalition to aggressively show up and hold Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia accountable for the anti-abortion bill he signed into law in 2019.
“This is not a one midterm solution. This is a long game, a long fight,” Timmaraju said. “And what Georgia and some of these states in the deep south need is a consistent, ongoing investment in organizing and accountability work.”
Movement leaders will also look to keep other stakeholders engaged on these conversations.
“We’ve collectively hosted a number of conversations with corporations with CEOs, university presidents and trustees, folks who also have a stake in a conversation around reproductive rights and freedom,” McGill Johnson added. “And I think that much of the work that we’ll need to continue to do over the next few years as we fight to get back into the [United States] Constitution will mean engaging multiple stakeholders around this conversation.”
For the next two years, the movement will have a partner in President Joe Biden, who has signed executive orders that provide patients with support and ensure abortion providers are able to deliver care without fear of prosecution.
Vice President Kamala Harris has also been a driving force behind the administration’s whole-of-government approach to the issue. She’s held several listening sessions with activists, patent providers on the ground, state legislators and young people to raise in the country about what's happening and as we partner together to come up with solutions.
“But it really does come down to ensuring that Congress is going to be a partner with this administration and that’s what we’re fighting for,” Timmaraju said. “We really need Congress so that’s where the fight’s gotta be so the president can do what he committed to, which is signing the Women’s Health Protection Act.”
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IN THE KNOW
The White House on Thursday outlined its wish list for the lame-duck session that kicks off when Congress returns next week. On the administration’s ambitious agenda: A spending package that funds the government beyond next month’s deadline and includes money for disaster relief, Ukraine aid and future COVID variants; a marriage equality bill that would protect interracial and same-sex marriage from being overturned by the Supreme Court; the annual defense budget, which the administration says should include Sen. Joe Manchin’s controversial energy permitting bill; and confirming the judicial nominations President Biden made earlier this year.
President Biden took off Wednesday night on a week-long trip with stops in North Africa and Asia. Today, he’ll speak at the 27th United Nations Climate Change conference in Egypt on the investments his administration secured to fight the crisis and meet with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt as well. On Saturday, Biden will arrive in Cambodia for the US-ASEAN Summit, where he will affirm America’s support of the economic, political, security, and socio-cultural development of Southeast Asian countries and meet with Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of Cambodia. He will participate in the East Asia Summit on Sunday and meet with the prime minister of Japan and the president of South Korea to discuss the continuing nuclear and missile threats posed by North Korea. The president will spend the rest of the trip in Bali, Indonesia at the G20, a summit composed of most of the world's largest economies.
Related: Biden on Monday will meet face-to-face with President Xi Jinping of China at the G20. The meeting has been in the works for weeks now and, according to a senior administration official, will give the leaders a forum to discuss the relationship between the two countries, China’s worrisome activities along the Taiwan Strait, its human rights violations and harmful economic activities, the war in Ukraine and North Korea’s recent provocations, and climate change. The official said that the meeting isn’t expected to result in any major deliverables but instead is an important first step to building a floor for the relationship between America and China and set the “rules of the road.” When asked before leaving the White House last night if his conversation with Xi will be productive, Biden said, “I always think my conversations are productive.”
Inflation was 7.7 percent in October — the smallest 12-month increase since the beginning of the year — a sign that the Federal Reserve’s aggressive interest-rate spikes may be working. But housing costs continue to remain high, rising 0.8 percent in October, the largest monthly increase since August 1990. Jared Bernstein, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Biden administration, told me that although the White House has seen a real slowing in the price of rent, it takes maybe six to 12 months for that to work its way into the inflation overall picture. “We’re confident that we’re going to see more relief in that sector because the Federal Reserve has really cooled off that market,” Bernstein said. “So that’s going to show up in prices. It’s just going to take a little bit.”
Related: President Biden said that despite the encouraging inflation report, “we could see setbacks along the way. “So probably one area where that comes to mind is energy,” Bernstein said when I asked him what they might be and what the administration is doing to anticipate them. Oil is a very volatile commodity due to the war in Ukraine, which could lead to some ups and downs, he added. Biden continues to press oil companies and the refiners to pass some of their high profits along to consumers to help amplify the administration’s efforts to provide additional relief. “We have to keep pressing on that issue,” Bernstein said. “Keep trying to get people more breathing room.”
Brittney Griner has been transferred to a penal colony in Russia; her condition is unknown. The administration is super tight-lipped about the whole situation due to the fragile negotiations with Moscow to secure her release. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan would only share that he and the president are personally engaged in the talks with Russia and that they have offered a series of proposals over the past several months that have gone ignored. President Biden said on Wednesday that he hopes President Vladimir Putin of Russia will be more willing to negotiate in good faith now that the US’s midterm elections are over. “I am determined to get her home and get her home safely,” Biden said.
A Texas district court judge on Thursday blocked President Biden’s student debt relief plan from taking effect. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement that the Education Department believes the program, which was already on hold due to another court challenge, is “lawful and necessary to give borrowers and working families breathing room as they recover from the pandemic and to ensure they succeed when repayment restarts.” The White House said it strongly disagreed with the court’s ruling and that the Justice Department has filed an appeal. “For the 26 million borrowers who have already given the Department of Education the necessary information to be considered for debt relief — 16 million of whom have already been approved for relief — the department will hold onto their information so it can quickly process their relief once we prevail in court,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
Americans are split evenly on whether Republicans winning control of Congress would have a positive or negative effect on their personal lives, with similarly even splits about the ramifications of Democratic control of Congress. A YouGov poll conducted days before the election found that many of the 35 percent of Americans who believe Republican control would have a positive effect on them say that they think Republicans will bring down inflation-driven costs, focus on US energy production, and counter President Biden's agenda. Of the 35 percent who say the opposite, many say that they worry about the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people if Republicans take control, while others believe Republicans would cause irreparable harm to the climate and American democracy.
Democrats picked up seven new Latino members in Congress. Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro said that they represent the largest Congressional Hispanic Caucus class in history. The members’ average age is 38 and the group includes the first Latina to represent the midwest, the first Gen-Z member in Congress, and the first Latino to represent Austin, Texas, and the first LGBTQ immigrant.
More midterm firsts. Becca Balint was the first woman to be elected to Congress in Vermont; 25-year-old Maxwell Frost is the first Afro-Cuban member of Congress and Summer Lee will be Pennsylvania’s first Black congresswoman ever when she is sworn in in January.
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