Reproductive rights and abortion were not big issues in this fall’s election. It was all economy, economy, economy. The one big anti-abortion ballot measure — Colorado Amendment 62, which would have conferred “personhood” starting at conception — was trounced by a 3-to-1 margin.
But that doesn’t mean reproductive rights won’t suffer because of the election.
Congress will now have a lot more anti-choicers in its halls: at least 49 new members of the House and seven senators, including extremists like Tea Partier Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who opposes abortion even in cases of incest and rape. And at least 10 governorships have flipped from pro-choice to anti-choice.
Here’s the grim take from Jodi Jacobson, editor in chief of RH Reality Check:
[The] election did not, in my reading of polls, votes and analyses, represent an anti-choice mandate, an anti–health reform mandate, nor an anti-environment mandate. But don’t worry, that won’t stop anti-choice, anti–health care, climate-change-denialist politicians from “creating” said mandates both in their rhetoric and in their actions. …
[H]ere is my prediction: We will see almost immediately a range of efforts to focus on restricting reproductive and sexual health and rights. A House of Representatives led by the Republicans and Tea Partiers will give full reign to the likes of Congressmen Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Mike Pence (R-Ind.), and Joe Pitts (R-Penn.) to constantly push for restrictions on women’s rights in U.S. international policy. They will try to pass a law codifying a global gag rule, try to reinforce and strengthen abstinence-only until marriage funding in U.S. global AIDS funding.
And this newly empowered contingent of right-wingers won’t stop at trying to curtail international family-planning and reproductive-health programs.
Watch for a big domestic fight over whether birth control should be covered as preventive care. Under the new health-care law, a panel of experts will begin meeting this month to recommend what kinds of preventive care insurance companies should be required to provide free to women. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who wrote the women’s health amendment that passed as part of the health-care bill, says the legislation was clearly intended to cover family planning services.
Indeed, if preventing unwanted pregnancy doesn’t count as preventive care, what does? Ob-gyn David Grimes, an international family planning expert who teaches medicine at the University of North Carolina, lays it out:
There is clear and incontrovertible evidence that family planning saves lives and improves health. Contraception rivals immunization in dollars saved for every dollar invested. Spacing out children allows for optimal pregnancies and optimal child rearing. Contraception is a prototype of preventive medicine.
A number of newspaper editorials this week make the same point, including one in the San Jose Mercury News with the no-duh headline “Of course federal health care must cover birth control.”
But ‘winger religious groups have started ramping up their opposition to free contraceptive coverage. And they now have many more allies in Congress. Jacobson predicts that “there will immediately be pressure not to include contraceptive coverage as preventive care.”
While retrograde anti-choicers will control the House next year, they don’t have a majority in the Senate, and President Obama can be expected to veto the worst of any legislation that manages to squeak through both houses of Congress. But the anti-choice lobby is relentless and wily, and small changes in policy can have huge impacts on women’s choices and lives, so watch out.