The Reproductive Rights Checklist

After an election in which Republican rape philosophers—from Todd Akin in Missouri to Richard Mourdock in Indiana—went down in defeat, and after 20 women, the most in any year in history, were elected to the Senate, it would be reasonable to hope the political chatter devoted to concern-trolling over ladyparts will decline. But we shouldn’t assume the issue is going away. Battles over funding are likely to become a bigger priority for both pro- and anti-choicers. With that, here’s a review of the good, the bad, and the ugly for the future of reproductive rights.

The Good

Because Obama won the election, the Affordable Care Act will continue to be implemented, which bodes well for reproductive health care. The ACA requires insurance to cover a slate of women’s preventive health services without requiring a copay, including well-woman visits, testing for HPV—a virus that causes many forms of cervical cancer—and, most contentiously, contraception. Many insurance plans have started this coverage, and all plans will by 2014. While it’s hard to predict the impact of this new policy, there are plenty of reasons to believe it’s going to improve women’s health outcomes. The St. Louis-based Contraceptive Choice Project, which offered the same no-cost counseling and contraception to participants that all insured women will get under the ACA, found that participants had dramatically lower rates of abortion and teen pregnancy than comparable populations.

The ACA bans federally subsidized insurance plans from covering abortion, but this recent election gave a small sign of hope that the popularity of eliminating abortion coverage (and forcing patients to pay out of pocket) is receding. A proposed amendment to the state constitution in Florida, which would have banned insurance benefits earned by state employees from covering abortion, was expected by both supporters and detractors to get a majority of the vote, though maybe not enough to pass (60 percent of the vote was required for it to become law.) At the beginning of October, only 40 percent of the voters opposed the ban, but on November 6th, 55 percent of voters turned out to vote against it. Perhaps voters are beginning to agree that it’s unfair to exclude abortion from insurance coverage simply because some people disapprove of the procedure.

The voter turnout in support of protecting insurance coverage for contraception and abortion should scare Republicans from continuing to attack access to reproductive health care, but if history is any indication, they won’t heed the warnings.

The Bad

Right now, Texas is experimenting in trying to reduce, and in some cases eliminate, subsidized reproductive health care for low-income women. Using abortion as a pretext, Texas stopped taking federal funding for women’s health clinics (even though abortion isn’t covered by federal funds), and established a separate fund that specifically excludes clinics that perform abortions, like Planned Parenthood. The state has promised to divert funds to crisis pregnancy centers that don’t provide effective family planning services. Right now, the state and Planned Parenthood are locked in a court battle over the funding cuts, but after a huge loss in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Planned Parenthood’s chances aren’t looking very good.

Six states have tried to block Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood, but the courts struck them down, citing federal non-discrimination laws. Texas’s strategy is different, however, because it declines federal funding altogether rather than comply with the law. Expect these other red states to follow suit if it works out for them.

We’ve seen a record number of attempts to pass abortion restrictions on the state level since Republican gains in state houses in 2010: 122 laws passed out of more than 1,000 bills drafted. Unfortunately, Republicans kept their hands on the levers of power at the state level, which suggests abortion-restricting bills will continue.

Two of the last Southern states that had escaped the bills before—Arkansas and North Carolina—will likely start seeing them now. North Carolina’s pro-choice Democratic governor Bev Perdue will be replaced by Republican Pat McCrory. Perdue vetoed a bill in 2011 that would have mandated waiting periods and ultrasounds, forcing doctors to guilt trip patients about abortions. It’s likely the legislature will try again now that they have a more amendable governor. Arkansas’s house switched from Democratic to Republican control on Tuesday. Arkansas's Democratic governor, Mike Beebe, is pro-choice but seems hesitant to advertise the fact, making it unclear if he will be as aggressive in vetoing anti-choice legislation as Perdue was.

The Ugly

This campaign season was noteworthy for its displays of misogyny when it came to the debate over reproductive rights, more overt than most of us can remember in our lifetimes. Considering that Republicans lost two Senate races that were a lock—Missouri and Indiana—because the candidates couldn’t keep their mouths shut on rape, surely they have to know that this is the time to turn down the volume on the misogynist bile, right?

Looks like the immediate answer is no. As Laura Bassett of Huffington Post reports, Concerned Women for America and the Susan B. Anthony List have already come out swinging, claiming that if Republicans had simply come down harder on contraception coverage and abortion rights, they would have performed better. Obviously, it’s ludicrous to suggest Romney would have done better aligning himself more with the Todd Akins of the party, but clearly anti-choice extremists have no intention of staying quiet or refraining from running more Akin-type politicians in primaries in the future.

Even though attacks on women who use contraception (i.e. the vast majority of women of reproductive age) clearly helped send female voters away from Romney and towards Obama, it appears right-wing media has no intention of letting up. Fox News's Greg Gutfeld has taken to using the name of Sandra Fluke, who had been set to testify to Congress about birth-control coverage at religious institutions but was targeted by Rush Limbaugh and the right, to mean “fuck." Limbaugh, while complaining that female voters broke for Obama, accused women who support insurance coverage for contraception of being stupid and acting like they’re nothing but “vaginas.”

Going forward into 2013, what’s clear is that the rift between the right and left on reproductive rights will expand. Democrats learned this year that supporting not just rights, but expanded access to reproductive health care, pays off on Election Day. Republicans, on the other hand, have built themselves a trap from which there is no easy escape. Abandon the war on women, and alienate a base that loudly supports it. But keep it up, and be rejected as out of touch with modern concerns. Early signs suggest they’ll be sticking with the base, but perhaps wiser people who actually want to win elections will prevail.   

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