Turning out female voters who typically only vote in presidential races will be key to Democrats’ success in Iowa’s midterm elections, former Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards told a packed room in Des Moines of over 250 women on Thursday.
Speaking to the Polk County Democrats’ annual Women’s Event fundraiser, Richards congratulated Planned Parenthood of the Heartland for their recent Iowa Supreme Court victory on the 72-hour waiting period for abortion. But she reminded them that the November election could determine just how long-lasting those wins are.
“This battle to protect access to women’s healthcare and affordable healthcare in this state is far from over,” Richards said.
And while she noted that all the rallies, town hall forums and phone calls to Congress have been encouraging and impactful, the biggest challenge is getting everyone out to vote.
“Millions of women who even voted in the presidential election won’t go vote this November,” Richards said. “Thousands of them here in Iowa will stay home. Thousands would be enough to determine the governor’s race or a congressional seat or taking back state house and state senate seats. But we can change that. For all the TV ads, the social media and the candidate debates, the single most important reason people said they didn’t go out to vote is that no one asked them.”
She’s certainly right on the numbers. It’s always harder to get voters engaged in non-presidential years, but the drop-off has been particularly unfavorable to Democrats in recent years.
840,877 Iowa women voted in the 2012 presidential election, or 75% of the total registered. Only 593,649 did so in the 2014 midterm election two years later, which accounted for a 51% turnout.
Democratic women in particular saw a sharper decrease in turnout over those same two years than their female Republican counterparts. 307,000 registered female Democrats voted in 2012 (a 79% turnout), while 216,913 of them voted in 2014 (a 57% turnout). Meanwhile, 268,210 Republican women voted in 2012 (83% turnout), and 219,993 voted in 2014 (68% turnout). So, while female Democratic turnout dropped 22 points for the midterms, Republican women saw a smaller decrease of 15 points.
Richards is optimistic that women will be much more motivated to get out to vote this year in part due to Republicans’ attempts to roll back reproductive healthcare rights at the state and national level.
“This is going to be a motivating factor for women to go vote this November,” she said of the looming Supreme Court nomination fight.
And the potential for the U.S. Supreme Court to take a rightward shift with Brett Kavanaugh, including the potential for overturning Roe vs Wade, will shift attention to state politics all the more. Were abortion rights to be reversed or greatly limited at the national level, individual states could still decide to keep the practice legal. Last month’s ruling to reject the Legislature’s 72-hour waiting period suggested that abortion rights could be preserved in Iowa based on the state’s constitution and the Iowa Supreme Court’s interpretation of it.
“So many of these decisions get decided at a state level,” Richards told reporters after her speech. “It’s not a new thing [for Planned Parenthood] to be focused on the states, but in this era where women are concerned about so many things, recognizing that voting and who we elect really makes a huge difference particularly if you don’t have the backstop of a federal judiciary on fundamental rights. I think people are beginning the understand that a right that women have had in this country for more than 40 years is completely at risk.”
Still, Richards was hopeful that Kavanaugh’s success wasn’t a done deal just yet.
“There are thousands and thousands and thousands of pages of his writings,” Richards said. “They should take the time to do this right. There is no crisis. There is no reason why he needs to be voted on immediately. The only reason they would vote on him quickly would be political. The American people deserve a full vetting.”
Planned Parenthood also officially endorsed Fred Hubbell for governor yesterday when Richards happened to be in town.
by Pat Rynard