Rounding Up: The Implications For Reproductive Health and Justice of Tuesday’s Senatorial Election Results


As we’ve all heard by now, Tuesday’s election results signal interesting times ahead for the Republican party – and by “ahead” I mean in November. From everyone’s favorite anti-masturbation, Tea Party candidate for U.S. Senate, Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, to New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, who beat out local tea party candidate Ovide Lamontagne, the first leg of the 2010 elections reveals a bumpy road ahead.

There is mixed news. According to Nate Silver, of the fivethirtyeight.com, the Tea Party wins on Tuesday greatly reduce the chance of a Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate, in November.

Tea party-backed winner O’Donnell is one example of the extremist wing that may be bad for business. Silver’s calculations give the Republican party a 75 percent chance of losing the seat to Democrats in that state, because of her win. Notes Silver about her win:

But on the basis of the polling (and here we are, thankfully, again on solid empirical ground) the Republicans went from being extremely likely to win the race to extremely likely to lose it.

She is stridently anti-choice (even in cases of rape and incest), anti-comprehensive sex ed, and opposed to gay rights. She’ll run against county executive, Chris Coons, who ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Coons is strongly pro-choice, and supports Roe v. Wade. According to his web site, Coons also supports public funding of reproductive health services for women who need help from the federal government, and:

“strongly supports efforts through the recent health care reform legislation and through Medicaid and other federal programs to ensure that women have access to vital tools, including medical services and access to nutritious food options, which will give babies a head start in life… believes that health insurance plans that cover prescription drugs should cover prescription contraception equally.”

In New Hampshire, Sarah Palin ally Kelly Ayotte’s win over Tea Party favorite Lamontagne, means a better chance for Republicans in that state. Ayotte will run against strong Democratic challenger, Rep. Paul Hodes, who is giving up his seat in the House to run for Senate. Hodes has been a stalwart supporter of reproductive rights; voted against – and encouraged others to oppose – the anti-choice Stupak Amendment in the health care reform bill; and was endorsed by the NARAL Pro-Choice America PAC. On the other side, Kelly Ayotte was emphatically endorsed by Sarah Palin for bringing a case (“and winning!”) to the Supreme Court to compel minors to notify their parents when they seek an abortion. Except Ayotte didn’t actually win the case; in fact, New Hampshire lawmakers repealed the law on which the case centered.

Prior to Tuesday’s Republican primary, Paul Hodes wasn’t worried, no matter who he ends up facing:

“Whoever wins tomorrow, they share an extreme far-right radical agenda,” he said on “Top Line” Monday. “It’s not a policy position that the independent voters of New Hampshire, who care about fiscal responsibilities, integrity, and independence are really going to cotton up to.”

Other important senatorial races with the potential to impact reproductive health and rights policy include Wisconsin and Maryland. In Maryland, Senator Barbara Mikulski, long-time women’s health advocate, won the Democratic nomination on Tuesday. She’s going for a fifth term and it seems likely she’ll beat out Tea Party endorsed Republican Eric Wargotz, a physician and unabashed “birther.” Wargotz doesn’t say much about his positions on reproductive rights but he did speak out when Maryland received federal health care reform dollars to set up its high-risk pool (temporary insurance coverage for those most in need, until health care reform measures kick-in). President Obama angered reproductive heatlh and rights advocates when he declared that high-risk pools may not cover abortion care, except in cases of rape or incest or when the woman’s life is endangered. Still, anti-choice organizations issued press releases stating the opposite and Wargotz spoke out about abortion coverage in high-risk pools set up in Maryland, stating:

“Taxpayer dollars should never be used to fund abortions. Those who believe abortion is the taking of a human life should not have their tax dollars go to fund something they believe is morally wrong.”

Mikulski is a women’s health hero to many. She’s the first woman Emily’s List helped elect to office, back in 1986. And there may not have been a stronger women’s health advocate during the health care reform process of the last year or so. From speaking out about gender discrimination in insurance policies to doing away with allowing insurance companies to classify pregnancy as a pre-existing condition and thereby deny women coverage, Mikulski has been unmatched in her advocacy for women’s health. The Mikulski Amendment to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires all plans to cover comprehensive women’s preventive health care and associated screenings including pelvic exams, mammograms and STI testing. Silver, however, isn’t worried. According to his calculations, with Wargotz’ win, there’s a 1 percent chance Mikulski will lose her Senate seat.

Races in New York are also worthwhile to mention as they pit Democratic incumbents such as Senator Gillibrand and Senator Chuck Schumer against extremely conservative Republican candidates. IN Wisconsin, Senator Russ Feingold is running against well-funded Republican Ron Johnson.

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