A Fundamental Shift in the US Approach to Family Planning

Mary Jane Gallagher

Last Tuesday's election offered major gains, both congressional and presidential, for advocates of family planning and reproductive health.

Last Tuesday we finally got what we’ve all been waiting for: a fundamental
shift in the way the United States looks at family planning. The election
confirms what Americans have known for years — that family planning services
are essential to our well-being. We are happy to be working with the
Obama transition team to knock down the barriers that have for too long
blocked families from exercising their reproductive rights. The American
voters sent a clear message; it is time to move past the Bush administration’s
ideological anti-family planning policies to pragmatic solutions. Now
we have the government to do it.

election proved to be one of epic proportions: with turnout smashing
historical records and pundit expectations, Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.)
won a massive victory over Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Democrats
expanded their majorities in both the House and Senate. Although Congressional
Democrats did not quite match the most optimistic predictions, results
for both congressional and presidential elections suggest a convincing
vote to take the country in a new direction. 

Obama won an historic election to become
the 44th President of the United States, winning 349 electoral votes
and still counting. With voter turnout appearing to top record highs,
President-elect Obama appears to have truly expanded the map for Democrats
in this election. Not only did he capture all states carried by Senator
John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004 and win the key swing states of Ohio,
Pennsylvania, and Florida, he won clear and convincing victories in
Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico and Indiana, states that had long seemed
lost to Democratic presidential candidates. 

For family planning providers
and advocates around the country, Obama’s election represents an enormous
victory, and we are hopeful that the coming days and years will provide
numerous opportunities to work with the new administration to increase
access to family planning services for low-income and uninsured women
and men.  

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As expected, Democrats made
significant gains in the Senate, claiming several open seats and unseating
at least two big name incumbents. While three races remain too close
to call (Alaska, Georgia, and Minnesota), it is unlikely that Democrats
will reach their goal of a 60 vote majority in the Senate. As
of this writing, the new Senate makeup stands at 55 Democrats (+6),
2 Independents, and 43 Republicans (-6).  

Voters elected pro-family planning
Democrats to open seats of departing, anti-family planning Republicans
Wayne Allard and Pete Domenici. In Virginia, pro-family planning former
Governor Mark Warner (D) won the seat of retiring, mixed-family planning
Senator John Warner (R). Two other states netted pro-family planning
pickups: pro-family planning former Governor Jeanne Shaheen (D) defeated
Senator John Sununu (R), and in North Carolina, pro-family planning
Kay Hagan (D) defeated incumbent anti-family planning Senator Elizabeth
Dole (R). These wins bring the expected pro-family planning majority
in the Senate to 59. The defeat of any one of incumbent Senators Ted
Stevens (R-AK), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), or Norm Coleman (R-MN) would
bring that majority to 60. In Oregon, pro-family planning challenger
Jeff Merkley (D) defeated pro-family planning Senator Gordon Smith in
an incredibly close race. 

House Democrats built solidly
on the gains they made in the 2006 mid-term elections, although they
failed to capture the 25-plus seats pundits and party leaders were projecting.
The surprises of the night came on both sides of the aisle, with somewhat
unexpected defeats of both Republicans (Thelma Drake, VA-2) and Democrats
(Nancy Boyda, KS-2). With 11 races still undecided, House Democrats
have made a net gain of at least 15 seats. The most recent information
has the makeup of the house at 251 Democrats to 173 Republicans. 

Of the eleven gubernatorial
races, Democrat Christine Gregoire’s (D) victory in Washington was
the most exciting for family planning advocates. Governor Gregoire’s
opponent, Republican Dino Rossi, supported pharmacists’ right to deny
emergency contraception to victims of sexual assault, abstinence-only
education, and other severe restrictions on women’s reproductive health

Voters in California, Colorado,
and South Dakota defeated ballot initiatives that would have significantly
restricted reproductive health. For a third time, California defeated
an initiative requiring a waiting period and parental notification before
a minor could obtain an abortion. Colorado’s initiative to legally
define a fertilized egg as a person failed in landslide. And South Dakota’s
residents voiced their opposition to an abortion ban with unclear exceptions
for health of the mother, rape, and incest.

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