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December 16, 2020 / Memos

Reproductive freedom in 2020 — and what’s next


As we close out 2020, we’re looking back at what the year brought for reproductive freedom and looking ahead to what’s next.  

This year, we experienced intersecting crises including the COVID-19 pandemic and a much-needed reckoning with entrenched white supremacy amid calls for racial justice. We saw politicians hell-bent on rolling back abortion access capitalize on every opportunity to push their agenda. We also witnessed unprecedented attacks on our democracy and a major eroding of the legitimacy of our judicial branch.

Meanwhile, advocates for reproductive freedom won major victories at the ballot box and continued to elevate both the stakes for abortion access and the impact restrictions and bans have on people’s lives. We even released a best-selling book from our president, Ilyse Hogue, and an accompanying podcast chronicling the untold story of the anti-choice movement!

But there’s no doubt that much work remains to be done. At NARAL Pro-Choice America, we’re preparing for the new year and a new chapter in the fight for reproductive freedom: 

  • We are continuing our work with the Biden-Harris administration to protect and advance reproductive freedom and hold them accountable to their commitments to ending racist and discriminatory abortion coverage bans like the Hyde Amendment, nominating judges who will protect Roe v. Wade, and undoing the damage wreaked by Trump’s executive orders. We must do everything possible to safeguard reproductive freedom, especially in light of the terrifying reality of a 6-3 Trump supermajority on the Supreme Court and a federal judiciary stacked with ideologues hostile to our rights. 
  • We will be watching closely as President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris name their cabinet officials, select key advisors, and outline their administration’s priorities. 
  • And we will continue to elect legislators who champion the freedom to decide up and down the ballot and work with them to advance legislation that not only protects but expands access to abortion and prioritizes science over a political agenda.

To say that 2020 has been an unprecedented year is an understatement. Here’s a look back at some of the year’s highlights and lowlights.

Exploiting the pandemic

Anti-choice politicians across the country seized on the COVID-19 pandemic to try to roll back abortion access, putting political gain before the health and well-being of the American people. State legislatures, attorneys general, and governors took steps to end access to abortion, dubiously claiming it was an elective procedure when of course abortion is by its very nature, time-sensitive, essential healthcare that people need. Meanwhile, anti-choice Republican senators tried to hijack a COVID-19 relief bill to restrict access to abortion.

Time and again, the party that claims a mantle of “pro-life” ideals continually defied and undermined public health guidance intended to keep people safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Vice President Mike Pence even spoke at large in-person gatherings at fake women’s health centers along with extremist anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List in states ravaged by the pandemic. (And those fake women’s health centers? They stayed open, trying to shut down abortion access, even in the midst of the pandemic!)

Hijacking the judiciary

Politicians lobbed attacks on reproductive freedom throughout the year:

  • In the first days of 2020, more than 200 Republican Members of Congress called on the Supreme Court to end the landmark Roe v. Wade case,
  • Congress confirmed a record number of judges at Donald Trump’s bidding,
  • Justice Brett Kavanaugh made it abundantly clear how willing he is to overturn precedent when it comes to Roe,
  • And after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) teamed up with Trump to jam through the confirmation of Amy Barrett to the Supreme Court, despite the fact that millions of Americans had already voted in the 2020 election and believed the incoming president should fill the vacancy.

And Democratic state attorneys general played a key role in pushing back on attacks on our rights and the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) took the unprecedented step of committing to only endorse candidates who support reproductive freedom.

Making the difference at the state level

While anti-choice legislators were able to advance their cruel agenda of control in several states this year—including jamming through abortion restrictions in the middle of the night in Tennessee and Iowa—lawmakers who support the freedom to decide made strides in other states. 

In Virginia, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia helped secure passage of the Reproductive Health Protection Act to end restrictions on abortion access and safeguard reproductive freedom.

In California, NARAL Pro-Choice California helped pass a bill to lift an outdated physician supervision requirement for certified nurse-midwives. What’s more, a long-stalled family leave bill finally won passage after NARAL Pro-Choice California and other advocates embraced the reproductive freedom implications of the bill and galvanized legislators to support it at a critical moment. 

Curbing disinformation and pushing for accurate, inclusive media coverage

Disinformation played a major role in American politics this year, from myths and misconceptions around COVID-19 and the threat it poses to attacks on vote-by-mail and our electoral system to baseless claims about abortion and more. 

NARAL released a new report and launched the Tell the Whole Story campaign, designed to help reporters cover abortion with accuracy and with an eye to who is affected: people who are pregnant and doctors who provide abortion care. We also trained our members to spot and combat disinformation online and pushed back on inflammatory and false rhetoric designed to confuse and mislead voters.

Reproductive freedom in the election

Champions for reproductive freedom won up and down the ballot in the November 2020 general election and NARAL made sure to draw a stark contrast between candidates who opposed and those who championed abortion access. Keep an eye out for more on this—but in the meantime, here’s a look at some of the critical victories we saw this year:

  • Voters turned out in historic numbers to send Joe Biden and Kamala Harris—who ran on a platform embracing reproductive freedom—to the White House. 
  • NARAL and our members helped elect Marie Newman in IL-03 and ousted one of the last anti-choice Democrats in Congress, incumbent Representative Dan Lipinski.
  • In Colorado, voters decisively rejected a ban on abortion later in pregnancy.
  • Voters in Arizona and Colorado flipped two critical seats in the U.S. Senate, electing NARAL-endorsed candidates Mark Kelly and John Hickenlooper.
  • And in Michigan, Senator Gary Peters won his race after sharing his personal abortion story—holding a critical seat in the U.S. Senate.

Everyone should be able to decide if, when, how, and with whom they start or grow a family.

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