115TH CONGRESS, 2ND SESSION
NARAL Pro-Choice America’s 2018 Congressional Record on Choice documents the key House and Senate votes on reproductive freedom taken during the second session of the 115th Congress.
In 2018, anti-choice Republicans took full advantage of their second year in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House. The near constant attacks on reproductive health, rights, and justice came on all fronts, but most notable was the battle for the future of the Supreme Court and our fundamental rights. After the retirement of longtime Supreme Court moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy, Trump nominated far-right extremist Brett Kavanaugh to fill that vacancy. The fight against Kavanaugh was the fight of a lifetime. His confirmation cemented a 5-4 conservative majority on the high court, fulfilling a decades-long goal of the anti-choice movement. They made abundantly clear from the moment Justice Kennedy announced his retirement that this was their opportunity to gut or even overturn Roe v. Wade, and that Kavanaugh was their man for the job. Their support for Kavanaugh never wavered, even when multiple women came forward to report his history of sexual assault, and GOP senators fell in line behind them. Despite countless protests and historic activism across the nation, all but one member of the Republican caucus supported Kavanaugh, and he was ultimately confirmed 50-48.
While Trump has been unable to deliver on many of his abhorrent campaign promises, it is hard to overstate the impact that his administration has already had on the federal court system. In addition to Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Trump has seen marked success in stacking the lower federal courts with anti-choice extremists. Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP have been critical to this success, undermining countless rules and norms to confirm Trump’s judges as fast as possible. 30 circuit court nominees and 47 district court nominees were confirmed just in 2018 – far outpacing confirmations under previous administrations. Beyond the breakneck pace at which they have been confirmed, Trump’s nominees are more extreme and less qualified than ever before. Several have been rated “not qualified” for lifetime seats on the federal bench by the nonpartisan American Bar Association for reasons ranging from lack of legal experience to inability to be impartial. Sadly, most have been confirmed with full Republican support despite having been deemed unfit to serve. By the end of the year, one in six federal circuit court judges were Trump appointees. We will feel the impact of this shift in the courts long after he has left office.
Of course, the attacks on reproductive freedom have not been limited to the courts. The House began its assault on abortion access almost immediately with a January vote on legislation that would interfere with the safe practice of abortion care. Later in the year, the House passed two large tax bills that included a provision aimed at advancing so-called “personhood” under the guise of helping families pay for college, a move that would make it easier to ban abortion outright in the future. While all of these measures passed the House, Republicans did not have the votes to advance them in the Senate. Likewise, Senate votes on an abortion ban and an amendment to defund Planned Parenthood both failed to reach the necessary 60-vote threshold to vote on passage of the legislation.
Fortunately, after two full years of an all-out assault on our rights by the Trump administration, Americans finally had a chance to make our voices heard at the polls. Thanks to incredible turnout for November’s midterm election, the coming 116th Congress will look vastly different than those of the past. More than 100 women will serve in the House of Representatives for the first time in history, more openly LGBTQ people were elected than ever before, and numerous other glass ceilings were broken across the nation. In addition, Democrats will take control of the House, allowing for an important check on the President, and some of the 115th Congress’ worst offenders lost their seats and will not be returning to Washington.
There is no doubt that, despite our electoral victories, reproductive freedom remains in grave danger. With Kavanaugh seated on the Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade is more vulnerable than ever. No matter what is to come, NARAL Pro-Choice America, our two million member-activists, and the seven in 10 Americans who support access to legal abortion are not going anywhere. We remain steadfastly committed to defending and advancing the fundamental rights we all hold dear, including the right to freely decide if, when, and how to start a family.