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7 Women's Health Takeaways From the Midterms

Two years into the Trump administration, Americans had the opportunity to weigh in on how things are going. And though it wasn’t the massive "blue wave" some had predicted, Democrats made significant gains nationally — most notably through taking control of the House of Representatives. 

Beyond that, it was a night of progress toward — though not reaching — more gender-balanced representation, with a record number of women heading to Congress. Between historic candidacies and state-level ballot measures, there’s a lot to unpack in terms of how women’s health will be impacted by the election results. Here are some of the biggest takeaways.

Alabama & West Virginia pass restrictive abortion measures

Voters in Alabama and West Virginia voted to approve regulations that would significantly restrict access to abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court. In Alabama, the new amendment adds language to the Alabama constitution that would “recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children.” In other words, it effectively give a fetus the same rights as a person who has been born — a policy that sets a dangerous standard. And if that wasn’t scary enough, this Alabama measure does not include exceptions permitting abortion in cases of incest, rape or life of the mother being at risk.

And then there’s West Virginia. Voters there passed the No Constitutional Right to Abortion Amendment, which would change the state’s Constitution to read “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.” In short, that means Medicaid cannot be used for abortions — even those that are medically required (and had been previously covered in West Virginia). 

Oregon votes against abortion restrictions

Fortunately, voters in Oregon rejected a measure that would have prohibited public funds from paying for abortions except in the cases of rape, incest or threats to the pregnant person’s health.

Nevada gets rid of the tampon tax

Voters in Nevada made it only the 10th state to get rid of the so-called "tampon tax." This means period products are now exempt from state sales taxes and no longer classified as a luxury items. 

Though this may not seem like a big deal, it is a step toward menstrual equity, meaning people who menstruate should have access to the products they need in order to fully participate in society. Great job, Nevada — let’s hope other states follow suit.

Improving maternal health is still on the agenda

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., was handily reelected last night, and that’s good news for maternal health. Speaking at the #BlogHer18 Creators Summit in August, Gillibrand outlined a bill she introduced in the U.S. Senate that would create standardized best practices for maternal health in hospitals across the country in addition to the money to fund this program.

Of course, her reelection doesn’t guarantee this bill will pass, but it does ensure she’ll still be in the Senate fighting for improvements in maternal health.

Marijuana is more acceptable & accessible

A was a good night for those working to legalize marijuana — both for recreational and medical uses. Michigan voters approved recreational marijuana use, joining nine other states and Washington, D.C. In addition, measures passed making medical marijuana legal in Utah and North Dakota. And though marijuana isn’t a women’s health-specific issue, it’s worth noting because of the growing support medical marijuana is receiving from mothers who would advocate its use for their children with conditions like autism.

The House Science Committee will be run by someone who believes in science

Republicans have held control of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology since 2010, which has featured a revolving door of leaders who do not believe in science. But now that Democrats control the U.S. House of Representatives, that means the committee will have a much-needed change in leadership. 

Better yet, the ranking Democratic member of the committee — and likely new chairperson — is Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas. As a former chief psychiatric nurse, Johnson not only believes in science, she has a professional background in it. It’s unfortunate simply having someone whose qualified for the job be considered progress, but that’s where we are, and this definitely is.

More women’s voices means better representation

The whole point of a representative democracy is electing people who we want to represent our best interests and advocate for us in government. Just the fact that more women are now in Congress than ever before likely means issues like reproductive health that were previously considered fringe or special interest (since, you know, old white dudes can’t get pregnant) are now more mainstream. 

Did the midterm elections solve everything? Definitely not. But it demonstrated that when women run for office, we win. So many of us are still reeling from Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, and the election results offer some hope that when given the opportunity, we’re ready to step up and make change.

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