Over the past two years of election coverage, the media has done
occasional pieces about abortion politics. A good example was the
pre-election piece run by the New York Times.
The themes were Catholic voters and the saliency of the issue (in
particular, candidates being threatened by bishops who would withhold
communion) and a possible southern strategy by Democrats to pick-up
seats by running so-called "pro-life" candidates. But yesterday’s
election showed that if political analysts would look for a moment
through something other than the narrow lens of abortion they’d find a
broader set of crucial reproductive rights issues that influenced
This year a number of candidates that ran for
the Senate, the House and as Governor engaged in a wide reproductive
health debate that went way beyond abortion to include birth control,
emergency contraceptive, pharmacist refusals to fill birth control pill
prescriptions and sex education. It turns out it was a great strategy
for pro-choice candidates. In the tightest of races, last night’s
results showed the broader agenda was a winning one.
Hampshire, pro-choice Democrat Jeanne Shaheen used anti-choice opponent
John Sununu’s anti-contraception record to portray him as an extremist.
She unseated him (52/45) and we now have a new pro-choice voice in the
In Colorado, Protect Families Protect Choices, the
campaign to defeat Amendment 48, educated Coloradans about threats the
Amendment posed to the most common and effective birth control methods
as well as stem cell research and IVF treatment. Amendment 48, which
just a month ago seemed a toss up, was handily defeated by 73 to 27.
the United States, poll after poll shows 9 in ten voters support birth
control. If a candidate, or measure, can be "outed" as extreme on such
a popular practice, it resonates with voters. These are important life
decisions that have resonance in voters’ lives. Compare the number of
times a woman uses birth control to prevent pregnancy to how often she
terminates an early pregnancy. One in three women will have an abortion
in her lifetime. Yet, virtually all women (98%) aged 15–44 who have
ever had intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method. Birth
control is universally used and supported. And so candidates that can
expose their opponents’ positions against contraception can win over
voters in a big way.
Take, for example, the Connolly-Fimian
House race in Virginia’s 11th. In the final days of the campaign,
pro-choice Democrat Gerry Connolly was able to focus attention on
anti-choice Republican Keith Fimian’s ties to a extremist
anti-contraception operative. Connolly revealed that Fimian is a board
member of an organization that seeks to have business leaders impose
religious doctrine in the workplace. Connolly also exposed Fimian’s
decision as a CEO to deny his employees contraceptive coverage. In that
tight race, Connolly was able to pull out a victory. In Washington
State, what was long viewed as a tight gubernatorial race became a
runaway contest. Incumbent pro-choice Democrat Governor Christine
Gregoire used access to birth control as an issue and ran ads revealing
that her opponent, anti-choice Republican Dino Rossi, supports giving
pharmacists the right to deny women their prescriptions for birth
control. Gregoire won 54 to 46. (Several other races where
contraception played a important role are still too close to call.)
the Presidential race, the reproductive health issues that clicked with
voters were those that Americans could see affecting their own lives.
The failure of abstinence-only was exemplified by Bristol Palin and her
unintended pregnancy. It isn’t what Americans want for their daughters.
McCain’s attempts to portray Obama as an extremist on sex education
fell flat. Americans understood that age-appropriate sex education
protects our children. People understood that what Obama supports is
teaching children from an early age that they have the right to protect
themselves, whether from a sexual predator or, when age-appropriate,
from STDs and pregnancy. Palin’s support of a policy to charge rape
victims for pregnancy prevention was something Americans could imagine
happening to themselves or a loved one. McCain’s inability to answer
whether he supported contraceptive coverage became a big issue,
mystified most Americans, an revealed how out-of-step he was from the
day to day lives Americans live.
The electorate believes deeply
in protection, prevention, and common sense solutions. That’s the
pro-choice platform that the media failed to recognize this year. But
as this election year demonstrated it’s this broader array of issues
where pro-choice politicians and gained traction with voters. The 2008
election is the time we finally broadened the discussion to be about
our right to make important life decisions for ourselves. It was the
year that pro-choice became pro-choices.
This article was first posted at Birth Control Watch.