Washington View, December 2022
Written by Brian Dixon, Senior Vice President for Governmental and Political Affairs | Published: December 12, 2022
Abortion Was on the Ballot, and Voters Showed Up to Retain Their Rights
Note: This column was written using the information available to us at the time of our press deadline, November 17, 2022.
Voters across the United States held back the so-called “red wave” predicted by pundits.
Reproductive rights and abortion access drove Democrats and young people to the polls to keep Republican gains minimal in the U.S. House of Representatives and non-existent in the U.S. Senate. Voters also supported enshrining abortion access in state law by passing ballot measures in California, Michigan, and Vermont. Voters in Kentucky defeated an effort to ban abortion in that state by a decisive margin. And even in states where abortion rights were not on the ballot directly, they were essential to stopping the long-predicted Republican sweep.
Abortion is why, in Pennsylvania, Senator-elect John Fetterman beat Dr. Oz and why Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA-7) held on to her seat in a toss-up district. Abortion is why, in Virginia, Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-7) and Jennifer Wexton (D-VA-10) were re-elected to the U.S. House. Abortion is why President Biden and Vice President Harris held a celebratory rally in Washington, DC, on the Thursday following the election, rather than hosting a Democratic post-mortem meeting.
And abortion is why Democrats won control of all of Michigan’s government for the first time since the early 1980s. In addition to passing an abortion rights ballot measure in Michigan, voters gave Democrats a sweep of the statewide offices, re-electing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer by a wide a margin and denying an election denialist the Secretary of State job. Crucially, Democrats also picked up majorities in both the Michigan state House and Senate.
In Arizona, Sen. Mark Kelly held off a challenge from Blake Masters to win a full six-year term. And Democrat Kelly Hobbs will take over the Governor’s office.
In Pennsylvania, Rep. Susan Wild, a champion of family planning programs whose campaign focused on threats to abortion rights, defeated her Republican opponent. Democrat John Fetterman flipped the Senate seat currently held by Republican Pat Toomey, defeating New Jersey resident and celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz. At his victory party in Pittsburgh, Fetterman’s supporters munched on crudités in an unsubtle jab at a much-mocked ad Dr. Oz ran on TV during his campaign. Fetterman was clear in his support for reproductive freedom, as was Pennsylvania’s new Governor-elect Josh Shapiro. Shapiro pledges to keep the Commonwealth pro-choice, and the fact that Democrats flipped the state House of Representatives makes that a much simpler task.
In Virginia, two pro-choice Democratic women—Reps. Jennifer Wexton and Abigail Spanberger—held on to their seats in swing districts by highlighting their opponents’ support for national abortion bans. Spanberger ran compelling television ads about her opponent’s claims that she would oppose any exceptions to a ban because pregnancy from rape was highly unlikely because it didn’t occur “organically.”
In Nevada, Democratic incumbents held on to three competitive House seats and the U.S. Senate seat. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s victory gave Democrats the Senate majority, with the runoff election in Georgia still to come at our press time.
In New Hampshire, all three Democratic incumbents on the ballot dispatched election denying opponents who promised to support a national abortion ban. Rep. Chris Pappas, whose district was gerrymandered to make it more likely to fall to a Republican, won with 54 percent of the vote. Pappas has worked with Population Connection since first coming to Congress four years ago. His colleague in the House, Rep. Annie Kuster, won her race by a similar margin. Sen. Maggie Hassan was elected to a second term by a 10-point margin. All were considered toss-ups prior to Election Day.
We can build a future that brings everyone along and leaves no one behind. We can build a future that welcomes everyone and vilifies no one. We can build a future that gives equal opportunity to all—a future that gives equal opportunity to all and special privileges to none. And a future, a future that protects everyone’s fundamental civil rights and personal freedoms.
Among the newly elected members of Congress coming to Washington in January are Ohio Representative-elect Greg Landsman, who defeated long-time Republican incumbent and outspoken foe of abortion rights Steve Chabot. Landsman ran as a defender of reproductive freedom and picked up a seat in the Cincinnati area.
It wasn’t all wine and roses for Democrats though. Their hopes to pick up open Senate seats in Ohio and North Carolina were dashed. Several champions of global family planning programs were defeated in tight races in swing districts. And the loss of the House majority, albeit by an extremely narrow margin, will cause additional challenges to expanding access to family planning around the world and tackling the crucial challenges of population growth and sustainable development.
Congress returned to Washington the week after the election with a packed agenda, including orientation for newly elected members, party leadership elections, and the unfinished business of passing 2023 appropriations bills. Current members still need to decide on funding levels for international family planning programs—funding that has been stagnant for 12 years. And we’ll be pushing them to include the Global HER Act provision to prevent a future president from unilaterally reimposing the devastating Global Gag Rule.
According to polling we commissioned by Lake Research Partners during this election, a solid majority of voters, both Democrats and Republicans, support repealing the Helms Amendment that has banned the use of foreign assistance for abortion care around the world, oppose the Global Gag Rule, and oppose pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions because of personal moral or religious objections.