Mario Sto. Domingo, Research Intern | December 11, 2020 Blog Post

One month has passed since Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris were declared the winners of the 2020 presidential election. Since then, much of the national media’s attention has shifted to their transition team and President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede. While the incoming Biden-Harris administration is a sign of hope for reproductive rights, lost in the election news coverage were the results of several critical state ballot measures on reproductive rights and health care.

In case you missed it, here are the three wins and one loss for reproductive rights:

Wins for Reproductive Rights

Colorado Defeats Ban on Later Abortions

Colorado law has no time limit on abortion during a person’s pregnancy. On Election Day, Coloradans rejected a proposal to change that. Nearly 59% of Colorado voters rejected Proposition 115, which would have banned abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy. The extremist ban’s only exception would have been for pregnant people who face immediate harm to their physical health. The ballot measure did not provide exceptions for cases of rape, incest or serious fetal abnormalities. Although the proposition specified that people who sought later abortions would not be punished, doctors who perform such abortions would be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $5,000. Proposition 115’s defeat is not only a win for reproductive rights but also a win for reproductive justice, as research has shown that bans on abortions disproportionately impact young and low-income people as well as people of color.

Colorado Approves Paid Family and Medical Leave

Reproductive freedom means an individual has the right to decide when and how to start a family. But this decision does not begin and end with a pregnancy. For this reason, paid family and medical leave is a sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice (SRHRJ) issue. A majority of Colorado voters approved Proposition 118, a program to establish paid family and medical leave for up to 12 weeks funded by payroll taxes. The program provides an additional four weeks of paid leave to those with health complications from pregnancy or childbirth. Eighty percent of the state’s workers currently lack access to paid family and medical leave, and about 2.6 million Coloradans stand to benefit from the program. Proposition 118 would allow workers to earn up to $1,100 per week on leave while keeping their job and benefits. Given the facts that the United States is the only wealthy country in the world that does not provide paid family leave and that 93% of low-income workers in the United States do not have access to paid family leave, Colorado’s new program can be considered a significant win for reproductive rights and reproductive justice.

Washington Approves Comprehensive Sex Education

Roughly 58% of Washington voters approved Referendum 90, which is a ballot measure that upheld Senate Bill 5395, a law that requires Washington public schools to provide comprehensive sex education for all students. The legislation stipulates that public schools must provide sex education lessons that are evidence-based, scientifically accurate, age-appropriate and inclusive of all students, and it allows parents to opt out and excuse their children from such instruction. Washington’s proposal for comprehensive sex education instills the importance of bodily autonomy and reproductive rights, as public schools must now emphasize affirmative consent as a requirement before sex and how to be a good bystander. Studies have shown that comprehensive sex education programs are effective in reducing teenage pregnancy, risky sexual behaviors and sexually transmitted infections.

A Loss for Reproductive Rights

Louisiana Declares No State Constitutional Right to Abortion

About 62% of Louisiana voters approved an amendment to their state’s constitution that declares that there is no state constitutional right to abortion or abortion funding. Because the United States Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade prohibits abortion bans before fetal viability, this amendment does not have an immediate effect on existing state law; however, if Roe were overturned or significantly rolled back, individual states would have more power to restrict abortion. Louisiana could then ban abortion entirely, as its state courts would be forbidden from striking down abortion restrictions such as its “trigger law,” which would automatically go into effect if Roe were overturned. The passage of the amendment comes about four months after the Supreme Court decision in June Medical v. Russo struck down a Louisiana law that required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and would have left the state with only one abortion provider.

Conclusion

Direct democracy is yet another tool by which reproductive rights, health and justice are put on the line, and we could see its use increase if the power to regulate abortion is returned to the states. While governors have issued executive orders to temporarily block abortion access due to COVID-19 and state legislatures have passed various abortion laws since Roe, voters have used their ballots to protect or restrict the reproductive rights of their fellow citizens at the state level. Political science research has shown that more ballot initiatives on issues such as abortion are associated with higher voter turnout — so it’s imperative that SRHRJ advocates do not lose sight of down-ballot questions as they become increasingly contentious and consequential. Although Trump and his anti-choice policies at the federal level are on their way out, conservatives will continue to seek out state governments and electorates like those in Louisiana to attack reproductive rights across the country. While that is certainly cause for concern, ballot measures such as those in Colorado and Washington show that progressives have new opportunities to fight back and enshrine protections of their own.

Mario Sto. Domingo is a research intern at Equity Forward. His research and advocacy interests include reproductive, LGBTQ, and other human rights. Mario has worked as a research intern at NARAL Pro-Choice America and Freedom for All Americans. Mario is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, College Park.