2018 threatened to be a bad year for reproductive rights.
It began with NIFLA v. Becerra, in which the Supreme Court ruled that fake women’s health centers can continue deceiving women about their reproductive healthcare options. Then, just one day later, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement and Brett Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court, a judge whose anti-choice record in the lower courts foreshadows a deciding vote to gut Roe v. Wade.
Unfortunately for the Trump Administration, Americans care deeply about protecting reproductive freedom. According to a recent Gallup poll, 74% of registered voters said that the way women are treated in US society is “extremely/very important” to them. And in a survey of suburban women conducted by Public Policy Polling on behalf of NARAL Pro-Choice America, 78% of suburban women in key Congressional districts said they support abortion access, and 52% said they are more likely to vote for candidates that will protect reproductive freedom.
With the election results in, it is clear that this polling was accurate, and that 2018 was, in fact, a good year for reproductive rights. NARAL Pro-Choice California mobilized hundreds of our members from all over the state to help topple the anti-choice majority in Congress and prove that our voices and our votes are powerful tools against the anti-choice agenda coming from the Trump Administration and the Kavanaugh Supreme Court.
Since election night, the trickle of reproductive freedom wins at the ballot box has steadily and assuredly become a flood. Californians up and down the state, from liberal bastions in the Bay Area to traditionally Republican strongholds in Orange County and the Santa Clarita Valley, came out for reproductive freedom.
NARAL-endorsed candidates flipped five seats in the House of Representatives, including Katie Porter (CA 45), Katie Hill (CA 25), Harley Rouda (CA 48), Mike Levin (CA 49), and Gil Cisneros (CA 39). In critical statewide races, pro-choice, NARAL-endorsed candidates won every position. And in the California State legislature, NARAL-endorsed candidates Anna Caballero (SD 12), Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (AD 16), Christy Smith (AD 38), Cottie Petrie-Norris (AD 74), and Tom Umberg (AD 34) flipped anti-choice seats to reclaim a pro-choice supermajority.
These wins came from the hard work of organizers and dedicated volunteers who spent their days knocking on doors, making phone calls, and mobilizing their friends and families, and resulted in the largest voter turnout in a midterm election in decades. In California alone, turnout was at 62.5%, the highest percentage in a California midterm since at least 2006. These results send a resounding message to the country about California’s values and our condemnation of the anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT policies of the Trump Administration.
But this moment is more than a victory. It is a continued call to action, for both ourselves and our leaders. Our work is far from over; there are still many barriers to accessing reproductive healthcare in California. As of 2014, 43% of California counties were without an abortion clinic. College students and people in rural areas still struggle to access abortion services, and Governor Brown’s veto of SB 320, which would have mandated that the UC and CSU provide medication abortion care, was a reminder that in California the fight is far from over. Anti-choice, religious-run fake women’s health centers, commonly referred to as “Crisis Pregnancy Centers,” operate in California in alarming numbers; women who work for religious institutions are legally allowed to be fired for private reproductive healthcare decisions; and the steep price of abortion services continues to disproportionately affect lower-income women. If we are to rectify these wrongs, we will need visionary leadership from our elected officials.
Fortunately, we are prepared to strike boldly towards a future where every Californian has equal access to reproductive freedom. The bill to bring medication abortion to all public universities is being reintroduced next week, and Governor-elect Gavin Newsom has already pledged to support it.
As constituents, we have never been more active, involved, or better positioned to get the kinds of results we expect from our representatives. But future victories don’t come without continued engagement — so it is on us to write letters, to rally, to make phone calls, and to show up and hold our electeds accountable. In doing so, we give our representatives the opportunity to be the leaders on reproductive freedom that this nation needs.
Although California had historic wins for reproductive freedom at the ballot box, access to reproductive healthcare services has never been more tenuous in the rest of the country. In the 2018 election both Alabama and West Virginia voted to approve measures that will severely limit abortion access and act as “trigger” laws to make abortion illegal when Roe is gutted. With an anti-choice majority locked into the Supreme Court for generations to come, the future of legal abortion care hangs in the balance.
California must remain a beacon of hope for the 7 in 10 Americans who believe women have the right to control their reproductive destinies, and a place where no woman is left behind because of her economic or geographic background. With a post-Roe world looming, it is ever more incumbent on us to take steps to make accessibility and affordability a top priority in California, and to ensure that no woman in California will ever be criminalized for managing her own abortion care.
In 2018 we sent pro-choice champions to Washington and Sacramento with the message that we will not go back. Now is the time to make that message an ultimatum and rise up to the challenge and opportunity of making reproductive freedom truly and unequivocally a right in California.