Wouldn’t that be the ultimate irony if a few votes determined the rights of women?
These words came from Eleanor Smeal the day after Election Day, at the beginning of the long drawn-out recount drama that has mesmerized the nation. “Whoever wins, we have to remember—women’s voices were clear. And the majority of voters voted for choice.”
The results, even in this practically evenly split Congress and Senate, are impressive. More women will serve in the 107th Congress than ever before; on the crucial issue of reproductive choice, both the Senate and the House saw an increase in abortion rights supporters. Two new women Senators will help make up a new pro-choice majority in the Senate, and a third woman is considered a swing vote on the issue. Advocates also saw a slight increase in solid pro-choice voters in the House. It’s too early yet to know the breakdown on other issues crucial to women, like affirmative action and welfare reform.
What we can gather is a quick snapshot on choice, women’s percentages, and the gender gap.
WOMEN’S GAINS IN CONGRESS
At least three, and possibly four, new women will join the Senate as a result of this election. Hillary Rodham Clinton won her high-profile bid for a New York Senate seat. Debbie Stabenow in Michigan, who drove senior citizens across the border to Canada to illustrate the high cost of prescription drugs in the U.S., surged past the anti-choice Spencer Abraham, elected in 1994 as part of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract for America.” And Jean Carnahan was appointed senator after her late husband, popular Missouri governor Mel Carnahan, won the election. As recounts drag on in this historic election, we still don’t know the victor in Washington state, where Internet millionaire Maria Cantwell has spent nearly $6 million of her own funds in her bid to defeat conservative opponent Slade Gorton.
These new Senate women will join the nine women currently serving and—with a former First Lady among them—set a record in more ways than one.
All women running for re-election to the House won, and will be joined in the 107th Congress by at least seven newcomers. Democrats Hilda Solis (California) and Betty McCollum (Minnesota) won open seats. Susan Davis (California) beat incumbent Brian Bilbray, who is not a strong supporter of abortion rights, and Jane Harman was elected to the California congressional seat she lost when she ran for governor in 1998.
Republican women also made gains in open seats, from Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who was endorsed by the WISH List for pro-choice Republican women, to the anti-choice Melissa Hart in Pennsylvania and Jo Ann Davis in Virginia.
These number could change, however; as of November 20, we’re still awaiting recounts for Dianne Byrum in Michigan, who hopes to assume the seat being vacated by Debbie Stabenow, her longtime colleague and Michigan’s new Senator.
A PRO-CHOICE SENATE, WITH SOME GAINS IN THE HOUSE
Assuming the solidly pro-choice Maria Cantwell loses her still-undetermined race in Washington state, the next Senate will have 36 pro-choice, 16 mixed and 48 anti-choice Senators, according to Monica Hobbs, federal legislative counsel at the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy(CRLP). This is an increase of 2 solidly pro-choice members—the current Senate has 50 pro-choice members, including 34 solidly pro-choice, 16 with mixed records and another 50 anti-choice.
The current House, according to Hobbs, has 136 members who vote solidly pro-choice, 82 with mixed pro-choice records, and the rest being anti-choice. In this next session, the picture is slightly improved, with 140 pro-choice representatives and 78 with mixed records. “The fact that the ‘mixed’ group has shrunk is essential,” says Hobbs. “That includes the 25-35 Repub