The Midterms, Amendment 1, and Some Small Victories

If you have access to any sort of news source, or anyone who cares about the news, you know that last night, the Republicans took control of the Senate.

Some are absolutely panicking.  Republican control of the Senate could mean that several sub-cabinet positions, such as Surgeon General, aren’t filled for another two years.  It may well mean that federal benches lack judges, who can’t get confirmed by the new Senate, which will cause case backlog and important cases may go undecided for years as well.  In this blogger’s opinion, those are probably the two worst possible outcomes of this election, because the president can still veto any legislation that swings too far to the right, providing an important check on the actual lawmaking powers of Congress.  I don’t mean to downplay the problems inherent in Republicans being able to block the confirmations of important appointees, but in all fairness, they were already doing so to some extent (see, for example, our lack of a surgeon general).  That said, it could happen more, and in the event that any of the Supreme Court justices has to step down or otherwise be replaced, this could be a serious legal crisis for the United States.

But I digress.  There’s another side to this analysis, which I actually think has presented well, and that’s this: Republican control of the Senate is not indefinite, and these may not be the Republicans liberals are utterly terrified of.  Slate‘s William Saletan argues that many (not all) of the Republicans who gained seats yesterday did so not by running to the right, but by embracing ideas that have been championed by the left.  From reducing minority incarceration rates to targeting real unemployment and underemployment as issues, we are seeing more of what should have been Democratic talking points coming out of Republican campaigns this year, and that’s comforting, though I am sure we’d all like to see those pretty words turned to action.  It’s one thing to campaign saying that cuts to Medicare are unjust, and another to actually go to Congress and figure out what to do about the budget so that people can access healthcare.  Regardless, I am cautiously optimistic that this means that more moderate Republicans are rising to prominence again, and that the core of the party will shift back towards the center and away from the extremes that have caused so much gridlock and inaction in Congress.

The thing I’m not sold on is the protection of my rights as a woman in this country (or, for that matter, as a person who has the capacity to become pregnant), given that this seems to remain a contentious issue.  While Colorado (thankfully) voted down the proposed “personhood” initiative in their state, Tennessee voters approved Amendment 1 yesterday, a measure that essentially says there is no right to an abortion in Tennessee, no positive right, no negative right.  This is the state’s response to Planned Parenthood v Sundquist (2002), a Supreme Court case that said state legislatures only have the right to pass laws that explicitly protect the health of the pregnant person.  This measure would allow the legislature to have greater power in creating laws to regulate access to abortion, reducing access across the state.

Technically, Tennessee can’t outright ban abortion in the state, which would fly in the face of federal law…but this amendment would allow the state to enact, or re-enact, measures that have been previously struck down by the Supreme Court, including a 48-hour waiting period for individuals seeking abortions, and allowing the state to more heavily dictate the information that doctors provide, which is concerning to pro-choice groups that worry Tennessee will provide inaccurate or untrue information for doctors to pass along to patients.  The amendment also seeks to reduce the number of pregnant people who come from out of state to receive abortions.  Overall, this measure aims to make it much harder for pregnant people to access abortion in Tennessee, and risks the integrity of medical professionals whom pregnant people need to be able to trust.

It’s also not the only state working towards such measures.  While, as previously stated, Colorado’s proposed measure failed, as I am writing this it is not yet clear what will happen in North Dakota, the third state with a personhood measure on the ballot.  Only time will tell if this is indicative of a wider trend regarding access to abortion, and proponents of pregnant people’s right to choose will need to find ways to combat these measures if we are going to successfully preserve a right to bodily autonomy.

All that said, I’ll end this post with a few happier notes.  As of this election, 100 women will be serving in Congress, the most to have ever served concurrently in United States history.  As organizations like EMILY’s List, the WISH List, and others have fought to increase female representation in politics, this represents a major victory, despite the fact that many female candidates backed by these organizations were not necessarily able to pull out a win themselves.  The first Black southern representative since Reconstruction was elected last night, along with the first Black female Republican representative, and the youngest woman to be elected to Congress to date.  Those are some promising achievements as well, as more individuals from under-represented groups may take a leaf from their books and look into running for office.  Three states approved minimum wage increases, and in Washington state, voters approved a measure to expand background checks for the purchase of firearms.  Massachusetts voters also approved a measure to allow workers to accrue more sick leave, which means workers will be able to make better decisions about their own health.

And even if all of that doesn’t comfort you as much as you’d like, don’t forget: there’s always 2016.  The Senate race for 2016 will likely look a bit different than this year’s, with different states up for grabs as we move through the next election cycle.  And with a new presidential candidate, and a new presidential cycle, the Democrats (if you support them) may be able to whip up more support and more enthusiasm among their base, which traditionally has higher turnout in presidential election years than during the midterms anyway.  In addition, with a new presidential election cycle looming, those in Congress who may have their sights set on the Executive Branch may have different incentives regarding their jobs.  Only time will tell–but for now, celebrate the victories, keep your eye on DC, and remember, only constitutional amendments are permanent, and we don’t have nearly enough consensus in the US to pass one of those.



~ by Randi Saunders on November 5, 2014.

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