“It turns out women enjoy having human rights, and we vote.” Hillary Clinton’s tweet last week reacting to the results of Tuesday’s election results went viral. There is little doubt that issues like abortion and democracy weighed heavily on voters’ minds. There will be much more data collected in the weeks to come that will be dissected in every way to answer why the pundits’ prediction of a red wave did not come to pass. But on one thing there is no doubt – women and young people voted and they broke heavily for Democrats. Turns out that voters can care about the economy and inflation, and still want to protect access to the ballot and abortion.
In the aftermath of the 2021 elections in New Jersey, where Democrats lost key races and legislative seats, many blamed the losses on support for the Reproductive Freedom Act that had been introduced in the legislature to expand access to abortion, claiming the bill was too progressive for the state. Even after the overturn of Roe v. Wade this summer, doubt was cast on whether abortion as an issue would drive turnout. Polling data and results in all the hotly contested congressional races where every Democrat outperformed polling and expectations, show otherwise.
The power of women as a voting bloc continues to be discounted and written off. In January of 2017 during the first Women’s March, we saw the largest gathering of crowds that the nation had ever seen, made up of women who were enraged that the first female candidate for President was denied in favor of a sexist, racist, and now election-denying, serial-assaulter. Yet the media and politicos were skeptical on whether this energy would translate to the ballot box. In New Jersey, we saw those women organize and form groups to deliver huge victories for candidates across the state in places like my neighboring town of Westfield where they flipped four Council seats and the Mayorship that year. In Atlantic County, Ashley Bennet, who came back from DC and ran for office, beat a county commissioner who had mocked the marchers on social media. In 2018, those same groups, most notably NJ 11th for Change, helped flip four congressional districts, districts that had been purposely drawn to lean Republican.
There is a pro-choice majority in New Jersey and Democrats running for legislative seats and their party leaders should take heed. As we look to next year’s statewide elections, lets remove all ambiguity about how voters in New Jersey feel about women’s rights and access to safe abortion. In 2020, we allowed voters to have their say on marijuana legalization, let’s give them the chance to speak on reproductive health access. Last week, California, Michigan and Vermont had ballot measures to amend their constitutions to enshrine abortion access and New Jersey should be next. In 2023, we must have a ballot measure to amend New Jersey’s constitution to protect the right to abortion. Women vote on issues that matter to them and they will turn out to elect candidates that support their policies.
Anjali Mehrotra is a fierce feminist, activist and former legislative candidate. She is on the board of the National Organization for Women and a cabinet member of Emerge NJ. Anjali was a key voice in protecting abortion access in New Jersey and continues to fight to expand access.