116TH CONGRESS, 2ND SESSION
NARAL Pro-Choice America’s 2020 Congressional Record on Choice documents the key House and Senate votes on reproductive freedom taken during the second session of the 116th Congress.
2020 was a difficult and challenging year. Congress and the country as a whole grappled with multiple intersecting crises: the Trump administration’s obstinate refusal to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths in the United States alone; an uprising led by racial justice leaders to drive a national reckoning around white supremacy, systemic racism, and racial violence; and a president who intentionally attacked the foundation of our democracy – our right to vote – by spreading disinformation about the electoral process in an effort to hold on to power regardless of the will of the people. The related and compounding effect of these urgent issues was to lay bare the work that still needs to be done so that our families and communities can thrive. NARAL Pro-Choice America believes that there can be no reproductive freedom without freedom from tyranny and oppression and we are working with our allies to fight for that ultimate goal.
In the face of Republican control of the White House and Senate, the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives highlighted their progressive priorities by passing multiple pieces of legislation that would advance civil rights and gender equity. Early in the year, the House passed a joint resolution removing obstacles to the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, demonstrating a commitment to end discrimination against and ensure full equality for, women. In an historic first, the House voted in favor of statehood for the District of Columbia, a necessary first step to ensure full rights and representation for DC residents. As a state, D.C. would finally be able to eliminate barriers to reproductive healthcare imposed by Congressional Republicans who have long restricted abortion access in the nation’s capital. The House also passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to end employment discrimination based on pregnancy, despite a last-minute attempt by anti-choice Republicans to allow religious employers to refuse to comply with the law. Unsurprisingly, the Republican-controlled Senate did not take up any of these bills.
This year, the House also took the lead on several much-needed COVID-19 relief packages, which included NARAL priorities such as paid leave and sick time. However, further Democratic efforts were thwarted by Republicans’ continued insistence on putting ideology over the health and well-being of people across the United States. On one end of the spectrum, Senate Republicans exploited the urgency of the pandemic response to insert in one bill an expansion of a discriminatory abortion coverage restriction at a time when lawmakers should be focused on expanding access to healthcare. On the other end, Senate Republicans simply refused to take up additional relief legislation, letting COVID-19 continue to ravage people’s lives, health, and economic security.
The Senate started this year as it has the last several years —by attacking reproductive freedom. Republican leader Mitch McConnell held votes on a nationwide ban on abortion after 20 weeks and on a bill that would insert politicians into family decisions. Although it was clear from the start that both bills would fail on procedural votes, the anti-choice Senate wanted to make clear its priorities. And as they have for the entirety of the Trump administration, anti-choice senators continued to green-light Trump’s takeover of the federal judiciary by helping him stack the courts with judges hostile to reproductive freedom. Instead of addressing the pandemic, Republicans allowed Trump to appoint more than 220 judges in one term – a record that has not been met for several decades.
The battle over the independence and impartiality of the federal judiciary came to a head this year when the incomparable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, passed away. Despite the fact that the election was already underway, Trump, McConnell, and Senate Republicans made a power grab to cement a conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court, illegitimately ramming through the confirmation of anti-choice Amy Coney Barrett. Republicans made their misplaced priorities very clear: They value their ideology and power over the health, well-being, and will of the American people. Justice Ginsburg was a fearless champion for equality and justice, including reproductive freedom, and we honor her legacy by continuing our fight for the rights and freedoms she worked to advance.
While there is a tremendous amount of work still to be done, 2020 ended on a better note. Voters turned out in historic numbers to make their voices heard and elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Across the country, voters chose leaders who respect reproductive freedom and who will protect safe and accessible abortion care. As we continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic and confront entrenched white supremacy, President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris will prioritize fact-driven policy and the health and well-being of Americans, using evidence rather than an ideological agenda to guide their decision-making. As we begin to undo the harm done by the Trump administration, we take heart in the fact that the Biden-Harris administration has made clear their commitment to protecting and advancing reproductive freedom. This win brings us one step closer to making sure that reproductive freedom is a reality for every body.