The Nov. 5 midterm elections for 35 of the 100 Senate seats and all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, plus nearly 40 governors races and elections in the majority of state legislatures, looked bad for Donald Trump’s Republicans, but for pro-life voters, the results were more mixed than an outright defeat.
While Democrats picked up the House and gained seven governors and seven state legislatures; Republicans made gains in the Senate.
Democrats needed to gain a net of 25 House seats and two Senate seats to gain control of those respective chambers. Democrats won at least 39 House seats (some were being recounted when The Interim went to press) but the Republicans gained two in the Senate, strengthening their majority. According to an analysis of the voting records of Republicans who lost House seats, many were pro-abortion or unreliable pro-life votes from swing, suburban and northeastern or midwestern congressional districts. Despite summer polls showing Democrats winning control of the Senate, Republicans made gains in the chamber.
By historical standards, the Republicans did not do that poorly. In the last 21 midterm elections, the incumbent president lost an average of 30 House seats and four Senate seats. In 2010, President Barack Obama’s first midterm election, Democrats lost 63 seats in the House and six in the Senate. In 1994, President Bill Clinton’s first midterm election, Democrats lost 54 seats in the House and nine in the Senate.
Republican gains in the Senate are the most meaningful for pro-lifers, with four important gains. Rep. Kevin Cramer defeated pro-abortion Senator Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota. Missouri’s pro-life Attorney General Josh Hawley defeated pro-abortion Senator Claire McCaskill in the Show Me State and pro-life Mike Braun beat Senator Joe Donnelly, who was endorsed by Democrats for Life, in Indiana. In Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott defeated pro-abortion Senator Bill Nelson. According to the National Right to Life Committee voting record, in the last session of Congress, Nelson and McCaskill did not record a pro-life vote in seven abortion-related measures, whereas Heitkamp voted pro-life once and Donnelly twice. They all voted against Donald Trump’s Supreme Court appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh in October.
Republicans also maintained their hold on a handful of too-close-to-call seats that looked like they might have tilted Democrat. Pro-life Rep. Marsha Blackburn beat popular former governor Phil Bredesen to maintain retiring GOP senator Bob Corker’s seat in Tennessee and pro-life Senator Ted Cruz (R) repelled a strong challenge from pro-abortion Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) to keep his seat in Texas. Both Blackburn and Cruz had 100 per cent pro-life voting records in Congress.
Republicans tried – and appeared to succeed – to make judicial appointments a election issue. According to Bradley N. Kehr, government affairs counsel at Americans United for Life, the midterm results illustrated “that courts matter and unborn children matter.” The incumbent Democrats who lost close races all voted against President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court appointee, Brett Kavanaugh, in September.
Pro-abortion Democrats picked up Senate seats in Arizona and Nevada and narrowly retained Senator John Tester’s seat in Montana. The net effect is a gain of two pro-life senators.
Americans United for Life said that the gains in the Senate mean “President Donald Trump will be able to continue to put judges on the federal bench – including potentially the Supreme Court – who practice judicial restraint, uphold the rule of law.” Both of Trump’s appointments to the Supreme Court are pro-life critics of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Trump may be able to appoint another justice to the Supreme Court; Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85 years old and in declining health, although she has said she will not step down during Trump’s presidency because she does not want the process to appoint her replacement politicized.
The Supreme Court is not the only court Trump will make judicial appointments to. Over the next two years, there are expected to be at least a dozen new vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals and 120 vacancies in the U.S. District Courts. The Senate votes on those appointments, also.
The House flipped to Democrat control, with the likely result being outspoken pro-abortion Rep. Nancy Pelosi returning to the Speaker’s chair. Americans United for Life said that the “with the (Republican) loss of the House, it is now going to be significantly more challenging to get any pro-life policies moved through Congress,” and Kehr said that the Democrats “will likely seek to strip all protections for the unborn from legislation.” He noted that the pro-life majority in the Senate “will have to stand up on pro-life issues to even maintain the status quo.”
There were also pro-life victories on two state-level referendum. Citizens in two states, Alabama and West Virginia, passed pro-life ballot measures that amend their constitutions to declare that there is no right to abortion under their constitutions. In Alabama, 59 per cent of voters backed the pro-life initiative, while in West Virginia, 52 per cent of voters did likewise. The constitutional amendments are similar to those in four others states (Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota) that would trigger an abortion ban if the Roe v. Wade abortion decision is ever reversed. There are currently more than ten cases making their ways through the judicial system that could present the opportunity for the Supreme Court to reconsider its infamous 1973 decision.
The Republican majority in the Senate means getting a six-seat anti-Roe majority on the Supreme Court is a distinct possibility. If the Court does overturn Roe, abortion will not automatically become illegal, but rather the issue will be returned to the states. Some states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, and Ohio have broadly pro-life laws, while other states may move to further restrict or even ban abortions. But other states such as New York and California have liberal abortion regimes, and there is even speculation they might promote their states as abortion destinations. Furthermore, as Jim Hughes, vice president of International Right to Life Federation told The Interim, in an age of chemical abortion that can be easily shipped across state lines, the goal should not be easily circumscribed state pro-life laws, but a Human Life Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that explicitly protects all preborn children.
Meanwhile, in Oregon, 64 per cent of voters rejected a ban on taxpayer funding of abortion. Opponents of the ballot measure outspent proponents, $3.7 million to $300,000. Planned Parenthood affiliates across the country helped fund opposition to the initiative.
AUL’s Kehr said the election results demonstrate “the need to continue to push pro-life policies at the state level and not to leave it to Congress to ensure protections for the unborn and their mothers.” Considering Hughes’ worries about the abortion pill, state-level pro-life laws may not be a long-term strategy. Jim Sedlack of the American Life League said the immediate goal at both the federal and state level should be the defunding of Planned Parenthood.
Most pro-life groups accentuated the positive following the midterms. Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser said they were “a clear victory for the pro-life movement,” while warning pro-lifers to not be complacent: “(they) must be prepared to fight to hold the line on important pro-life policies such as the Hyde Amendment” outlawing federal taxpayer funding of abortion. March for Life president Jeanne Mancini also warned against complacency, stating that “all pro-life gains made by this Administration will come under fire, and we will no doubt see efforts to expand taxpayer funding for abortion as well as the erosion of conscience rights.”