On Thursday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reconsider the Texas law that shut down thirteen clinics in the state, leaving only eight abortion clinics open in a state where 5.4 million women are at reproductive age. The Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, and Planned Parenthood challenged the original ruling last Tuesday on the basis of the constitutionality of a provision in the law that abortion doctors must have admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of the abortion clinic—a measure many doctors claim is unnecessary. The measure effectively closes most abortion clinics in Texas.
This law is just one of the latest attacks on women’s rights in the Republican war on women. But will it, and all of the anti-woman legislation and court decisions leading up to it, amount to a greater voter turn out in the 2014 midterms? Will it encourage more single women—who overwhelmingly favor Democrats—to vote?
In Texas, come October 29, nearly one million women in the state will have to travel 300 miles round trip to find a safe, legal abortion. The man who brought back some of these restrictive provisions from the dead is the Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who appealed a lower court ruling on behalf of the state. He also happens to be the Republican candidate for governor. Running against him is Democrat Wendy Davis, who famously filibustered the abortion bill in 2013. It appears that with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision not to reconsider the restrictive abortion law, women’s rights are back in the forefront of that election.
After the economy, people who vote Democratic cite women’s rights as the most important issue influencing their decision in the midterm elections. And Republicans have presented women with plenty of reasons to turn out to the polls to vote against them. Some Democratic legislators are taking the opportunity to fire away at Republicans and putting women’s rights at the front of their campaigns.
So, here is the predicament of the Democratic Party: Its constituents tend not to show up at the polls for midterm elections. Voter turnout in general is low in midterms, but Democrats face a much steeper challenge than their GOP counterparts, as Republicans are more likely to make it to the ballot box to cast their votes.
Wendy Davis trails Greg Abbott by roughly nine points. While she ignited the abortion debate last year and shared her own experience having an abortion this year, her television ads shy away from the topic. Understandably, Davis wants to show that she is not a one-issue candidate, but for so many women, abortion, contraception, and their right to control their body is the issue. Davis has a steep hill to climb if she wants to win, and playing it safe isn’t going to ignite voters to come out to the polls in midterm elections.
According to Real Clear Politics, nine Senate seats remain toss-ups. Republicans need six of those seats to win the Senate. The New York Times’ polling gives Republicans a 66 percent chance they’ll win the Senate. And Davis’s chances are looking very slim.
Women voters—especially unmarried women—could change all of that.
Ten million fewer unmarried women showed up to the polls in 2010 than in 2008—that’s 10 million women who failed to have their voices heard with their votes.
That has some Democrats aggressively vying for those votes; but turnout efforts will have to target that particular constituency if the margin is to be met. In Georgia, the New York Times editorial board notes, a voter turnout drive by the progressive New Georgia Project has driven up registrations in the state by 85,000, much to the consternation of Republicans.
But such efforts will have to be replicated in a number of competitive states if the Democrats are to capitalize on the war on women.
In Colorado, incumbent U.S. Senator Mark Udall, a Democrat, is running against Cory Gardner. Udall knows he needs the female vote, and he knows he has the ammunition to take down Gardner. The senator has run television ad after television ad against Gardner’s stance on abortion, contraception, and fair pay. Here’s my favorite of his:
There are at least four other ads like that addressing the fact that Gardner voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act, supports anti-abortion measures (including in cases of rape or incest), and had supported the Personhood Amendment to the Constitution, which would eliminate most birth controls. The effectiveness of the ads show—Udall leads among unmarried women by 33 points.
And in Kentucky, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes doesn’t need hound dogs to track Mitch McConnell down, or his record for that matter. Grimes has been hammering McConnell’s voting record in numerous ads. If you believe in women’s rights, the case against him is damning.
McConnell voted against the Violence Against Women Act in 2012 and in 2013, as well as the Paycheck Fairness Act in 2014 and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009. While he has attempted to twist that tale, his voting record appears to tell a very clear story: McConnell doesn’t care all that much about women.
The jury is still out on whether the right’s recent attacks on women’s rights will turn out the voters needed to prevent anti-abortion, anti-contraceptive, anti-equal pay Republicans from gaining or keeping office this election season. And in the remaining twenty-four days until Election Day, Democrats need to capitalize on the recent events in order to enlist women’s support.
In the end, the results of the 2014 midterm elections will serve as a test of how much voters, and candidates, really care about women’s rights.