The Abortion Policy Results of Election 2020
Watch John Gerardi’s quick election video summary here.
Every presidential election can have a major impact on abortion policy at the state and national levels, and 2020 was no exception. The differences between Joe Biden and Donald Trump on the abortion question could hardly have been more stark. How does the 2020 election impact abortion nationwide? The following is our analysis:
The Results as they stand now
As of this writing, some of the results of the 2020 election are still in dispute. While Joe Biden will likely become the next president, there is an extremely remote chance for a change in the results, should Donald Trump ultimately win Pennsylvania and two additional states through a combination of lawsuits alleging electoral fraud and audited recounts. Democrats will maintain control of the House of Representatives, but with an incredibly small majority and a caucus fractured between ultra-leftists and pragmatic liberals. Republicans will likely maintain control of the Senate following runoff elections on January 5th for the two Senate seats in Georgia, though it is possible that, if Democrats win both seats, they will attain a technical Senate majority in a 50-50 split with Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking vote. If Republicans win one seat, as is likely, they will have a 51-49 majority; if they win both, it will be 52-48. For the sake of this article, we will assume these outcomes: Joe Biden as president, narrow Democrat control of the House, narrow Republican control of the Senate.
Throughout the fall, most polling data indicated that Joe Biden would gain a dominant victory, and bring with him sweeping Democrat majorities in the House and Senate. Pro-lifers were concerned that, if those polls were accurate, a doomsday scenario of massive pro-abortion legislative victories could ensue.
Those polls were inaccurate. Mr. Biden’s win was, if anything, a narrow one, and he did not bring the kind of coattail support for down-ballot candidates one often sees from a dominant presidential victory. In fact, Republicans held their Senate majority and gained seats in the House, putting themselves in prime position to retake the House in the 2022 elections. As a result, none of the major abortion legislation favored by Democrats is likely to pass during the next four years of a Biden administration. Here are those legislative priorities:
- The Filibuster Stands: To accomplish any of their most ambitious legislative priorities for abortion policy or otherwise, Democrats first needed to abolish the filibuster rule in the Senate. The filibuster is a longstanding, internal Senate rule that requires 60 out of 100 votes to advance most non-budgetary pieces of legislation, rather than a simple majority. It has been in place for over a century, and both parties have utilized it aggressively to block sweeping legislation when in the minority. However, liberal activists eager for victories urged Senate Democrats throughout the fall to abolish the procedure in order to attain various policy goals without Republican interference.
It will be impossible for Democrats to eliminate this procedure. Republicans will likely hold the Senate majority, and will refuse to even consider a proposal to eliminate the filibuster. Even if the Democrats can achieve a 50-50 technical majority, at least two Democrats, Dianne Feinstein of California and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, are on the record opposing the abolition of the filibuster.
- No Federal Abortion Law: With the filibuster still intact, Democrats cannot achieve one of their major policy goals, a federal law codifying Roe v. Wade. Abortion is currently legal nationwide largely due to Supreme Court decisions like Roe v. Wade, Doe v. Bolton, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which purport to guarantee abortion as a right emanating from the Constitution. Pro-choice advocates are concerned, however, that those decisions could be overturned by a Supreme Court that currently has six Republican appointees, especially with Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett replacing known abortion supporters Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. If this happened, every state could decide on abortion’s legality for itself, with a number of states willing to restrict abortion drastically.
By passing a simple law to enact the major provisions of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton—with majorities in the House and Senate, and the president signing it—pro-choice advocates could guarantee legal abortion for all nine months of pregnancy and for any reason nationwide, rendering a Supreme Court overturning of Roe moot. Furthermore, such a statute could sweep away most of the pro-life laws that state legislatures have passed throughout the country since the early 1990’s, policies like parental notification or consent before a minor’s abortion, health and safety regulations on abortion clinics, 24-hour waiting periods, informed consent requirements prior to abortion such as ultrasounds, and more. Without the votes necessary for ending the Senate filibuster, this legislation will not pass. Even in the House, Democrats will be leery to vote for such controversial legislation with such a narrow and vulnerable majority.
- Federal Review of State Abortion Laws: During her run in the Democrat primary, Kamala Harris also floated a piece of federal legislation to prevent state governments from passing pro-life laws. Her proposal would give the federal Department of Justice the ability to “vet” a proposed state law to examine its constitutionality before it went into effect. This would give the federal government a kind of veto power over state legislation in a suffocating fashion. Again, without abolishing the filibuster or a Senate majority, this proposal will be impossible to pass.
- Packing the Courts: The most radical legislative proposal of the pro-choice side was the idea to “pack” the Supreme Court and lower federal courts. While the Supreme Court has had 9 seats for 150 years, this number is not dictated by the Constitution. A simple law passed by Congress and signed by the president could alter that number. “Packing” the court refers to the notion of expanding the number of seats in order to attain a certain ideological outcome. Various Democrats have proposed adding four seats to the Court and allowing Biden to fill all of them, giving Democrat appointees a 7-6 liberal majority, rather than the current 6-3 GOP-appointee majority. Kamala Harris and others have also endorsed the broader idea of “court reform,” as she calls it, creating new seats for the lower federal courts in order to allow Democrats to stack the federal judiciary with Biden appointees.
This proposal is doomed not only because of the filibuster, but also because more pragmatic Democrats may not vote for it. Both Senator Feinstein and Senator Manchin are on record opposing packing the Court, and other Democrats may feel similarly. Joe Biden himself campaigned against the proposal in 2019, and never unequivocally endorsed it at any point in the campaign. The very idea of court-packing is massively unpopular in national opinion polls. With their narrow majority in the House, Democrats will be afraid to vote for such radical proposals and jeopardize their members who could lose their seats in 2022, when Republicans could be poised to take the House.
- Hyde Survives: The Hyde Amendment is a rider that is attached to the federal budget every year. It specifies that no federal dollars may fund abortion directly in federal healthcare programs such as Medicaid. By restricting this funding, the Hyde Amendment has likely saved the lives of millions of unborn children since its original enactment in 1976. Democrats have made it a priority in their party platform to abolish the Hyde Amendment. Even Mr. Biden, who supported the Hyde Amendment for his entire career in the Senate and as Vice President, changed his position in 2019 to favor its abolition, at the behest of pro-choice activists. With Republicans holding the Senate, Biden and Pelosi will likely need to concede the Hyde Amendment in order to get Republican support to pass any federal budget.
There are various areas of executive action where, unfortunately, Mr. Biden is likely to achieve disastrous outcomes to fund and spread legalized abortion. In these areas, there is little that pro-life forces can do to stop him.
- Abortion funding: There are a number of ways in which a Biden administration can fund abortion. First, they can do so by reversing the Mexico City Policy. This policy was adopted by President Reagan and every subsequent GOP president, and it cuts off all federal funding for foreign NGOs that promote abortion for birth control purposes. One of the chief beneficiaries of this change will be Planned Parenthood International. Planned Parenthood could also see funding restored through the Title X program, reversing a Trump administration policy that cut off roughly $60 million per year to the abortion giant. Biden could also reinstate Obama-era policies funding research on fetal tissue samples derived from aborted fetuses. Unfortunately, President Trump never rescinded the Obama-era rules funding embryo-destructive stem cell research, so those policies will remain intact.
- Suing Nuns: After a Supreme Court decision gave them a brief reprieve last June, Mr. Biden promised to renew lawsuits against the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns, and other similarly-situated religious nonprofits who are resisting Obama-era HHS regulations requiring employers to cover abortifacient contraception in their employer-based health insurance plans. This attack on religious liberty will likely be held up in the Courts, and it will be interesting to see how the newly-formed Supreme Court with Amy Coney Barrett will address this problem.
- Deregulating “Medication” Abortion: Perhaps the most significant change Mr. Biden can make to the culture of legalized abortion in America will be through FDA deregulation of the abortion pill, otherwise known as mifepristone or RU-486. “Medication abortion” is fast becoming the most common method of performing abortions. It is a two-step process by which a woman within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy ingests mifepristone within the context of a clinic. This medication cuts off the fetus’ food supply, leading to the fetus’ death. A day or two later, the woman then takes a medication called misoprostol (usually at home) to start contractions and complete what is essentially an artificially-induced miscarriage. While there are serious possible side effects to this abortion method, it does not require a doctor to perform it, unlike a more conventional “surgical” abortion.
Abortion advocates are urging the FDA to loosen its regulations on the practice, particularly by expanding the 10-week window for utilizing it, and by allowing women to take mifepristone at home rather than in the clinical context. If this deregulation is accomplished, it could result in abortion being as accessible as an Amazon Prime shipment. Pregnant women can download a telemedicine app onto their phone, chat with a nurse practitioner, receive a prescription for abortion pills over their smartphone, and have the pills arrive within days. This method of abortion delivery could almost render abortion clinics obsolete, while making abortion enormously widespread and accessible.
California: Prop 14 Passes
On the California stage, we were deeply distressed to see Proposition 14 pass with a narrow vote. Proposition 14 is a $5.5 billion bond measure (which will cost the taxpayers $7.8 billion) to fund embryo-destructive stem cell research through the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. This is in spite of the fact that CIRM has burned through its initial $3 billion of funding, with zero FDA-approved treatments or cures to show for it. The legislation continues to prioritize human embryos for research in spite of the clear scientific evidence that embryonic stem cells are not particularly useful for medical research. This bill is a disastrous destruction of human life, and an astounding waste of money.
In summary, we cannot view the 2020 election as a victory. Mr. Biden’s likely executive actions will have a significant impact on abortion regulation and availability in a fashion that could lead to tens of thousands of additional deaths, and California’s situation remains bleak. However, the chief legislative goals of abortion advocates are stymied for the next four years, and, due to the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court prior to the election, the Court has a strong majority of originalist jurists who can stop pro-choice interference in religious liberty rights, and who can chip away at Roe and hand abortion regulation over to the states.
In Memoriam: Deborah Bone
We at Right to Life of Central California are deeply saddened to share the news of the death of Debby Bone, our beloved, longtime supporter. Debby passed away peacefully the morning of October 8, 2020.
Debby was more than just a friend to Right to Life. She was at various times an employee, volunteer, board member, donor, mentor, confidant, advisor, and more. She deeply loved Right to Life of Central California. Its staff, its work, its board, its events, and its activity were all close to her heart. Debby was a woman who loved deeply, and that love was extended to all of us in the broader Right to Life family. She brought so many people—friends, family, supporters, volunteers—into our organization, and our lives are all richer for having known her.
Right to Life will forever be marked by Debby’s imprint. As our Development Director, and later as a board member and volunteer, she was instrumental in helping build our Christmas Dinner and Auction into one of the largest and most spectacular charity auctions in the western United States. She constantly kept in front of herself and our staff the central purpose of our work: “It’s for the babies!” Particularly in the runup to the Christmas Auction, when staff members or volunteers would be nervous about finances or other concerns, she would remind everyone, “It’s God’s auction!” She trusted that God would faithfully provide for those engaged in His service, and her focus was always set on the goal of serving Him faithfully through our work.
Debby is survived by her loving husband, Tim; her children Tim, Mike, Mary Grace, and Stu, along with their spouses (respectively) Shelly, Leanne, Zak, and Deniz; and her grandchildren Allison, Izzy, Jack, Kathryn, Savannah, Blair, Adele, Gus, and Caleb. We wish them all of our love, prayers, and heartfelt condolences in this time of loss. We also extend particular condolences to our board member Larry Holody and his wife, Renae Holody, who is Debby’s sister.
Every year at our Auction, we present our honorees with a plaque inscribed with the following quote by the famous pro-life legislator, the late Congressman Henry Hyde. Debby was always so deeply moved by these words, and we believe they apply directly to her life of service in the cause of life:
“When the time comes, as it surely will, when we face that awesome moment, the final judgment, I’ve often thought, as Fulton Sheen wrote, that it is a terrible moment of loneliness. You have no advocates, you are there alone standing before God — and a terror will rip your soul like nothing you can imagine. But I really think that those in the pro-life movement will not be alone. I think there’ll be a chorus of voices that have never been heard in this world but are heard beautifully and clearly in the next world — and they will plead for everyone who has been in this movement. They will say to God, ‘Spare him, because he loved us!'”
Please join us in remembering our dear friend, Deborah Grace Belford Bone, who loved that chorus of heavenly voices so deeply. May her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
California’s Proposition 14 is a $5.5 billion bond measure that will appear before California voters in November. Its goal is to fund the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), which was created by 2004’s Proposition 71. In a time where the importance of public health has never been clearer, Proposition 14 deserves vehement opposition from anyone who cares about human life, research ethics, and responsible public spending.
In the early 2000’s, embryonic stem cell research was viewed as an untapped treasure trove for medical research. Because the first cells of the human organism’s development—stem cells—will duplicate into every part of the body, researchers hypothesized that such cells could be used to quickly grow different kinds of human tissue to treat various devastating illnesses.
Human cloning went hand-in-hand with stem cells. With stem cells derived from a patient’s clone, doctors could obtain tissues for treatment that the patient’s body would not reject as a foreign entity.
This was the rosy outlook of the early 2000’s, when many in the scientific community bewailed George W. Bush’s 2001 restrictions on federal funding for embryo-destructive stem cell research. In 2004, California aggressively decided to stand in the gap and fund this research with a $3 billion bond measure, Proposition 71.
With all of this promise, why shouldn’t the state continue funding such important-sounding research? Here’s why:
- Cheapening human life: Proposition 14 funds stem cell research that requires the creation (via cloning) and destruction of human embryos. These are human organisms with entirely unique sets of DNA never before seen in human history, who are not burdens on any existing mother’s autonomy. To create human life via cloning, solely to use that living being’s cells for research, instrumentalizes and devalues human life.
Furthermore, the use of such embryos is unnecessary. Adult stem cells (i.e., stem cells derived from sources other than embryos and which do not result in the destruction of a human organism) can now be brought to the same pluripotent state of embryonic stem cells, able to replicate and divide into almost any kind of human tissue. These are called Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, and they are the functional equivalent of embryonic stem cells, only they are cheaper and simpler to procure.
The obsessive focus on stem cells derived from cloned-and-destroyed human embryos has always hindered unified political support for such research. It turns the question of stem cell research into another front of our political and cultural fight over legalized abortion, when this is unnecessary.
- Spending responsibility: Embryonic stem cell proponents argued that the moral problems with embryo research were insignificant compared to the enormous potential for developing new cures and treatments. They claimed that the medical and financial yield in cures and treatments would far exceed the cost of a $3 billion bond investment. Those benefits have not materialized, to the embarrassment of Proposition 14’s supporters.
This is what the San Francisco Chronicle found when it reported on the question in 2018: “Not a single federally approved therapy has resulted from CIRM-funded science. The predicted financial windfall has not materialized. The bulk of CIRM grants have gone to basic research, training programs and building new laboratories, not to clinical trials testing the kinds of potential cures and therapies the billions of dollars were supposed to deliver.”
Why was it such a failure? CIRM backed the wrong horse: embryonic stem cell research. It turns out, when cells can turn into any part of the human organism, they will do so, uncontrollably. Embryonic stem cells are far more likely to cause cancerous tumors than to be suitable material for treatments.
By contrast, adult stem cells have swiftly become the gold standard for stem cell research, with tens of thousands receiving adult stem cell treatments each year and over 3,500 ongoing or completed clinical trials. Because of their more limited capacity for cell division, adult stem cells are more controllable and, therefore, useful. Even CIRM has been forced to conclude this by diverting more of its money to adult stem cell research.
In a world struggling through the Coronavirus pandemic, CIRM is clearly no longer deserving of public funding, unless it fundamentally shifts its focus away from all research that involves the creation and destruction of embryos, and exclusively turns its attention to adult stem cells and Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells. Anything else would be an immoral waste of money and human life. For all these reasons, Right to Life exhorts our supporters to vote NO on Proposition 14.
*Note: Right to Life of Central California is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that does not take positions on political candidates or parties. We legally may and do engage in limited advocacy on legislative proposals, including California ballot initiatives.*