While the Trump administration continues to limit access to sexual and reproductive health care, patients and activists alike can take comfort in knowing rollbacks may abate at the state-level as newly elected governors take office in 2019. There may even be more proactive measures to expand access to birth control, abortion, and other reproductive health services next year.
The GOP’s steadfast control over state capitols wavered on Tuesday with Democratic wins in governors races — indeed, the most wins for either party in a single year since 1994 and the greatest pickup for Democrats since 1982 — and gains in local legislative seats.
The policy implications are even more notable: the country will soon have the most number of pro-choice governors in decades thanks to voters, according to a Planned Parenthood Action Fund analysis of the midterm elections shared with Thinkprogress. It’s not that every Democrat is pro-choice (for example, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards) or that every Republican is anti-abortion (take, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker), but the party affiliation is usually a good signifier of the politician’s view on health care, especially abortion.
On Tuesday, 10 states (Colorado, Kansas, Maine, Missouri, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, New York, and Wisconsin) saw a remarkable shift in the balance of power with gubernatorial and legislative flips. By PPAF’s count, there are now 25 governors and 19 state legislatures (including the District of Columbia) that will push back against the Trump-Pence, anti-choice agenda. It may even be 27 governors, depending on the pending results in Florida and Georgia.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, Democrats who didn’t shy away from questions about reproductive rights — namely, abortion access — during the campaign flipped seven governorships on Tuesday. Five of the seven gubernatorial offices were held by ardent anti-abortion Republicans for the past four or eight years. Notably, Democrats captured the most seats in the Midwest, where abortion restrictions have been rampant. Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly, for example, made abortion a campaign issue and won in red-leaning Kansas over staunch conservative Kris Kobach, who is “100% pro-life.” The same is true for newly elected Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers.
Activists can no longer depend on courts to block or overturn restrictions to reproductive care given the record number of Trump-appointed judges to the federal courts and the conservative makeup of the Supreme Court. So now advocates, like Planned Parenthood, are especially concentrating resources on state policy. Planned Parenthood’s political arm invested $20 million in state elections during the midterms, many of those governor’s races.
“Sexual and reproductive health including abortion is often times dictated by what state you live in,” said Rachel Sussman, PPAF’s national director of state policy.
“It is imperative that at the state level, we are electing leaders and officials who are not just going to stop bad laws from getting enacted but who are in a position to actually drive policies that protect access to care and expand.”
Former governor of Kansas Sam Brownback signed more than 30 abortion restrictions into law and Kelly assured voters that this trend would stop when she’s in office. Another notable win came out of Michigan with Gretchen Whitmer, who successfully ran against Bill Schuette; he said he’d uphold a decades-old abortion ban should Roe v. Wade be overturned and called Obamacare’s requirement to cover specific benefits, including maternity care, “stupid.”
Governors not only serve as a backstop, but yield power to enact positive legislation quickly. The first bill New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D), for example, signed into law restored funding to Planned Parenthood that was cut under former Gov. Chris Christie (R). The second expanded Medicaid coverage for birth control. Newly elected Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) said she’ll expand Medicaid on day one — another win for reproductive health care as Medicaid pays for nearly half of all U.S. births.
Governors and attorneys general have also played a critical role in opposing the Trump-Pence agenda, specifically by way of lawsuits. More than a dozen of governors threatened to sue the Trump administration if it moves forward with its proposed gag rule, cutting funds to Planned Parenthood and preventing providers from offering comprehensive family planning counseling. More governors could now sign on to this or band together against another anti-choice policy.
PPAF’s last midterm count also has voters flipping at least seven legislative chambers (Colorado Senate, Connecticut Senate, Minnesota House, Maine Senate, New Hampshire Senate, New Hampshire House, New York Senate). Capsizes in New York, for one, could mean the state will finally codify Roe into law. And Colorado could pursue ambitious bills like a paid family and medical leave insurance program.
Poll after poll has shown the country supports better access to reproductive care — be it abortion rights afforded by Roe or free birth control. Now, voters have just elected local representatives that believe as much.
This post inaccurately stated the Colorado Governor and has been updated.