Huge victories for reproductive health champions send a big signal about key issues that may swing elections in 2020
It was an off-year election night, but November 5 saw big wins for reproductive rights in key states: Kentucky, where Governor-elect Andy Beshear defeated anti-abortion extremist Gov. Matt Bevin, and Virginia, where Democratic candidates flipped both legislative chambers of the state legislature and created new reproductive rights majorities in Virginia.
The results demonstrate the unstoppable grassroots momentum to protect reproductive freedom — and prove again that access to health care, including safe, legal abortion, remains a top issue heading into 2020 as well as a winning issue for candidates.
Some key points to take away from the results:
1. Women Won — Big
It was a night of tremendous firsts in Virginia, the Old Dominion — where voters elevated the first Muslim woman to win election to the state legislature, and also elected the largest-ever delegation of women in the general assembly.
A major component of that showing: voters re-elected the first-term women of the legislative class of 2017. Of the 11 women who joined the Virginia legislature that year, nine ran for re-election — and all nine of them won.
What this means: As a Vox election roundup put it, “the fact that so many … women won — and more picked up seats on Tuesday — is a counterweight to a persistent narrative that women aren’t ‘electable’ when they run for office.”
2. Hate and Smears Lost
Anti-abortion politicians and activists, nervous about polls that indicated the potential for massive election losses, spent big in Virignia and Kentucky — spewing outrageous lies in an effort to manipulate voters into backing an agenda to ban abortion.
Today, those activists and politicians have nothing to show for their desperate tactics. One-term Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, among the most strident anti-abortion governors in America, went down in defeat even after a major anti-abortion group spent $750,000 in the state.
Results for anti-abortion forces in Virginia were just as dismal. A main target of their efforts, first-term Delegate Kelly Fowler, won re-election by nine points in spite of ads and mail pieces that wildly tied her to foreign gangs, made nonsensical claims about safe, legal abortion, and labeled her “bad for women.”
“The misleading, fear-mongering attacks on abortion from Republicans in Kentucky and Virginia failed because voters overwhelmingly support the right for people to make their own health care decisions without politicians getting in the way.”
– Kelley Robinson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and vice president, advocacy & organizing at Planned Parenthood Federation of America
3. Anti-Abortion Policies Are Unpopular
Nearly two-thirds of Kentuckians (65%) support the constitutional right to access safe, legal abortion. And there is no state in the country where banning abortion is popular. Still, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin pursued the agenda of an anti-abortion firebrand — putting him out of step with the country’s supermajority support for the full range of sexual and reproductive health options, including abortion.
The editorial board of the Lexington Herald-Leader accused Bevin of “seeking to effectively outlaw abortion in Kentucky.” Working with anti-abortion Kentucky lawmakers, he imposed restriction after restriction on providers of safe, legal abortion — and made Kentucky the first in a wave of states in 2019 to enact unconstitutional six-week bans on abortion, which attempt to block access to care before many women even know they’re pregnant.
Convinced that these policies would help keep him in the governor’s mansion, Bevin made his anti-abortion agenda the centerpiece of his campaign. He lost anyway.
4. The ‘Rainbow Wave’ Continues
Not only in Kentucky and Virginia, but also in state and local races across the country, LGBTQ candidates racked up wins on Tuesday. The LGBTQ Victory Fund hailed the results — counting at least 144 LGBTQ candidates as winners of elective office in 2019.
Gains for LGBTQ representation came despite homophobic and transphobic ads and campaign literature. In a hotly contested race in Virginia’s Prince William County, Danica Roem became the first openly transgender state lawmaker to win re-election — and faced down repeated attempts to make gender identity a focus of the campaign. “Trans people get stuck in traffic,” Roem told a New York Times reporter, referring to her signature issue of resolving the district’s traffic congestion. “I am right now literally stuck on Route 28, and I am a transgender woman.”
5. People Want More Access to Care — Not Less
In Virginia, champions of health care access were major winners in 2017’s legislative elections. Virginia went on to expand access to Medicaid, helping more than 300,000 people in the state obtain affordable health coverage. And by 2019, many of the lawmakers who had obstructed Medicaid expansion for years recast themselves as supporters of expanded coverage.
But voters weren’t fooled — and re-elected the pro-health coverage lawmakers who made Medicaid expansion possible. With both chambers of the legislature flipped to Democratic control in 2020, Virginia is now poised to scrap Medicaid work requirements — which limit access to coverage while offering no known benefit to public health.
In Kentucky, Bevin won Trump-Pence administration approval to impose work requirements in the state, despite repeated federal court challenges — and proposed to spend more than a quarter-billion dollars in an effort to push people out of the program.
Bevin’s opponent, Andy Beshear, promised to rescind the Bevin administration’s Medicaid work requirements on his first day in office. He won — a huge victory for the 95,000 Kentuckians who had been projected to lose their health-care coverage if Bevin’s policy went into effect.
Since Bevin was first elected in 2015, the number of Planned Parenthood supporters in Kentucky has grown to more than 75,000 statewide. In addition to knocking on doors and making phone calls in the weeks leading up to the election, Planned Parenthood Action Kentucky UCC ran targeted digital ads and sent mail pieces to highlight Bevin’s anti-abortion record.
In Virginia, the Planned Parenthood Virginia PAC (PPVA PAC) ran its largest-ever program in state legislative elections — investing more than $1 million to elect reproductive health champions to the state Senate and House of Delegates. PPVA PAC reached more than 150,000 Virginia voters through an army of volunteers and canvassers, mail, and targeted advertising. Supporters knocked on nearly 68,000 doors through PPVA PAC’s canvassing program — easily surpassing its initial goal of 50,000 doors.
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