What the historic midterm election results *really* mean for the future of women’s health care


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Photo: Getty Images/Thomas Barwick

Let’s be real: Between the recent spate of mass shootings, reports of racially motivated voter suppression, and a new legislative proposal that seeks to narrow the very definition of gender, we Americans have a lot on our minds right now. But of all the issues influencing our choices in the 2018 midterm elections, health care was top of mind—an AP poll conducted in the run-up to Election Day found voters consider it the most important issue facing the nation, a sentiment that’s particularly strong among Democrats.

So now that that the ballots have been counted and the Dems have officially reclaimed control of the House of Representatives, you’re probably wondering what’s next when it comes to issues relating to your own health. Is Roe v. Wade still endangered? Is Planned Parenthood’s funding safe now? And what about pre-existing conditions—will the Trump administration actually be able to do away with protections afforded to them under the Affordable Care Act, as recently proposed?

While a lot of these answers still remain to be seen, below are a few of the election results that indicate how things could play out in the years to come along with some of the most significant state-level decisions made, affecting everything from abortion rights to drugstore shopping lists.

We’ve got more women representing us—and our bodies—than ever before

One of the biggest midterm wins was the fact that more than 100 women are heading to Congress in 2019—the largest number in history. Forty of these are women of color, including Ayanna Pressley, Massachusetts’ first black Congresswoman; Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim women elected to Congress; Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia, Texas’ first Hispanic congresswomen; and Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland, the first Native American Congresswomen. (Davids is also her state’s first openly gay Congressperson.)

A record number of women in federal-level legislative positions is something to celebrate. But more exciting is that health-care reform is central to many of their platforms.

Obviously, the fact that we’re about to have a record number of women in federal-level legislative positions is something to celebrate. But what makes it even more exciting is that health-care reform was central to many of these public servants’ platforms—and, in several cases, they defeated opponents whose views were quite the opposite.

For instance, new California representative and abortion-rights advocate Katie Hill unseated incumbent Steve Knight, whose voting record supports the defunding of Planned Parenthood. In Florida, Ecuadorian immigrant and health-care advocate Debbie Mucarsel-Powell defeated Carlos Curbelo, a representative who previously voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who made history as America’s youngest-ever Congressperson, took her New York district with a platform advocating single-payer health care, or “Medicare for all.” And then there’s Lauren Underwood—a nurse who served as a senior health advisor in the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services—who won over her Illinois constituents by defending the Affordable Care Act and speaking out for women’s reproductive health. Oh, and she’s also the first person of color and the first woman to represent her district. NBD.

There will be more checks and balances on health-care decisions

With Democrats taking control of the House, it’ll be more difficult—if impossible—for Republicans to push through their more controversial proposals. (Like overturning the Affordable Care Act, defunding Planned Parenthood, or restricting insurance coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, to name just a few.) That’s because both the House and Senate need to sign off on a bill before it can become law.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called this out during a speech on election night: “Today is more than about Democrats and Republicans. It’s about restoring the constitution’s checks and balances to the Trump administration. It’s about stopping the GOP and [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell’s assaults on Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, and the health care of 130 million Americans living with pre-existing medical conditions.” (Preach.)

The Supreme Court skews ultra-conservative, but the situation’s certainly a bit more balanced than it was a few days ago, when Republicans dominated all corners of government.

That said, the Senate is still ruled by Republicans, so Democrats will likely have a tough time making progress on their own initiatives. And let’s not forget that with Brett Kavanaugh confirmed, the Supreme Court’s skewing ultra-conservative. But the situation’s certainly a bit more balanced than it was a few days ago, when Republicans dominated all corners of government.

About 300,000 low-income people will now have access to health-care benefits

At the state level, Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah voters chose to expand Medicaid benefits to low-income, childless adults—about 300,000 people total. Backstory: Before Affordable Care Act came to be, Medicaid was mainly restricted to seniors, pregnant women, children, and the disabled. The ACA gave states the right to choose whether to extend the program to everyone, and 37 states have since signed on.

This is a win for childless, younger women living under the poverty line, who will now have better access to care than they likely would have before.

Abortion rights received a blow in Alabama and West Virginia—but they’re safe in Oregon

Alabama voters passed a constitutional amendment recognizing a fetus’ right to life—even if that fetus were the product of incest or rape, or if its mother’s life were at risk. Meanwhile, in West Virginia, a newly passed amendment proclaims “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.” While these amendments don’t have any impact right now, they’d clear the path for those states to swiftly ban abortion if the conservative-majority Supreme Court were ever to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

One state that’s remaining firmly pro-choice? Oregon. Its residents voted to keep allowing public funding for abortion, which means their current laws will remain unchanged.

Menstrual products are about to become cheaper in Nevada

Score one against the “tampon tax”: Nevada became the 10th state to take period supplies out of the “luxury products” category, making them exempt from sales tax. Now if only the other 40 states would follow suit…

Cannabis will soon be more accessible than ever

Those in Utah and North Dakota can now get their hands on cannabis for medical reasons, while marijuana’s now fully legal in Michigan. (If you needed any more proof of this midwestern state’s progressive cred, it also elected women to every state office on its ballot: governor, senator, attorney general, and secretary of state.) More states are likely to follow in its footsteps, with Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Wisconsin all set to swear in pro-cannabis governors in the new year.

Plus, two of the most vocal anti-marijuana figureheads in Washington are packing up their desks—Texas representative Pete Sessions, who lost his race to Colin Allred, and attorney general Jeff Sessions, who announced his resignation today. This will only help pave the way for looser regulations around cannabis and CBD in the future. (And if the insanity of the last two years has been any indication of what’s to come, something tells me we’re all gonna need it.)

And if the election left you stressed, Jonathan Van Ness’ relaxing yoga flow is here to help. After all, stress has been shown to compromise your memory.

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