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POLITICS

What the result of the US election means for women

The 2018 midterms resulted in historic numbers of women being elected – but what does it all actually mean? Lily Peschardt explains

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By Lily Peschardt on

For the first time in two years, we woke up to some good news from America. The 2018 midterm elections, which many saw as a referendum on the Trump presidency, weren’t the complete indictment of Trumpism that many hoped for, but there are still plenty of reasons to celebrate.

What happened?

Democrats won the house, but Republicans managed to gain a bigger majority in the Senate.

Is that… good?

It’s about as good as could have been expected. Taking control of the Senate was an enormous long shot, purely because, of the 35 seats that were up for re-election, there weren’t that many places for Democrats to make gains, as they were in Republican strongholds. (See: the charismatic Beto O'Rourke losing to the spineless Ted Cruz, in Texas.)

Who got elected?

For the first time in history, more than 100 women were elected to serve in the House of Representatives. Sure, that still means that women make up less than 25% of the lower house, but this time last week, there were only 89. Plus, it’s 2018, and we’ve got to take all the good news we can get.

 

Resident girl-crush Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez officially became the youngest woman elected to Congress. In Michigan, Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib became the first-ever Muslim congresswoman. She was joined, a little while later, by Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, a Somali-born American who came to the US more than two decades ago as a refugee. Sharice Davids was the first Native American woman elected to Congress and, a few hours later, Deb Haaland became the second. At the time of writing, Stacey Abrams is still yet to concede the Governor’s race in Georgia. Backed by Oprah, Abrams was running against Brian Kemp, the current secretary of state in Georgia and the person responsible for overseeing an election with multiple reports of voter-suppression tactics, including three-hours lines and broken polling machines.

Elsewhere, Jared Polis became the first openly gay man to be elected governor, Jahana Hayes became the first black congresswoman from Conneticut, and Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garci were the first Latina congresswomen elected from Texas. And it was a record year for LGBTQ+ candidates. According to reports, at least 244 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender candidates ran for office on all levels of government this year. There were 21 LGBTQ+ candidates for Congress and four for governor.

What does this mean for abortion rights?

The unsatisfactory answer is: it depends. In Alabama, a constitutional amendment was passed that supports the "sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life", and eliminates constitutional protections for a woman’s right to an abortion. The good news is, this law will be largely unenforceable, because women are still protected by Roe v Wade, but, in the event that Roe is overturned (fuck you, Brett Kavanaugh), this amendment paves the way for abortion to become illegal in Alabama. A similar, but less sweeping, amendment was also passed in West Virginia, where, from today, abortions will no longer be covered by Medicaid, meaning that poor women will have to fork out hundreds of dollars to exercise their right to choose.

However, Democrats flipped seven Governor seats – which will become particularly important in the event that Roe v Wade is overturned and it falls to individual states to determine what abortion rights look like.

SO... YAY?

Yes, this is definitely a yay situation. While the results weren’t quite the “blue wave” that many were hoping for, winning control of the House of Representatives is a huge achievement. It also means that Democrats actually have the numbers to block laws, to protect the Mueller investigation, to subpoena Trump’s tax returns and potentially, at some point, move towards an impeachment of the president. 

But make no mistake, winning back the House was made possible because of women. Not only the women who ran in record numbers, but the women who knocked on doors and registered voters and organised fundraisers. After the election of Donald Trump in 2016, women felt powerless. But now, two years later, they showed the world just how powerful they can be.

@LilyPesch

Photo: Getty Images
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