Debbie Stabenow, one of three new women senators

Updated Friday, November 10, 2000, 2:30 p.m. EST

(WOMENSENEWS)–For the first time in six years, the U.S. Senate will have a pro-choice majority, thanks to women voters who also helped to elect a record number of women in both the Senate and House of Representatives. Both will remain under Republican control, as of this writing. However, at least three key congressional races remain in doubt.

Pro-choice forces also appear to have picked up a few seats in the House, according to Rosemary Dempsey, Washington director of policy and government relations at the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy. She sees the election as a clear mandate on reproductive choice.

“George W. Bush got as far as he did only by running away from the Republicans’ anti-choice platform–and we now have a clear pro-choice majority in the Senate,” she said in an interview on Wednesday. As for the 435-member House, Dempsey said the pro-choice ratio will be largely the same, “and we even think we may pick up a few seats.”

The next Senate will have 54 pro-choice and 46 anti-choice Senators, said Monica Hobbs, federal legislative analyst at the center. The current Senate has 50 pro-choice members, including 32 solidly pro-choice, 18 with mixed records and another 50 anti-choice, she said. It will be the first time since the 1994 elections, when Newt Gingrich swept in with his Contract With America. This count assumes that Democratic pro-choice Maria Cantwell defeats anti-choice Slade Gorton in Washington. One more wild card influences the count as well. If Al Gore is elected president, his running mate Joseph Lieberman will be forced to withdraw from the U.S. Senate and the Republican governor of Connecticut will name his replacement.

Slight Uptick in Number of Pro-Choice House Members

The next House will have at least 139 pro-choice members and 77 with a mixed record on choice, Hobbs said, adding that the mixed group includes 25 to 30 Republicans who vote to limit the right to abortion. The outcome of several races still were being awaited. That compares with the current makeup of 136 solidly pro-choice members and 82 mixed. “The fact that the number of mixed-record members has dropped is essential,” she said.

“Women made remarkable gains throughout the nation and they will be a strong force in the 107th Congress, said Roselyn O’Connell, president of the National Women’s Political Caucus. The Senate will have at least 12 women–nine Democrats and three Republicans, and possibly 13. The current total is nine.

The Senate additions include pro-choice Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Jean Carnahan of Missouri, widow of Gov. Mel Carnahan. In Washington State, pro-choice Democrat Maria Cantwell, a successful Internet executive, was still trying to unseat 73-year-old Slade Gorton.

The Center for Reproductive Law’s Dempsey also pointed to new pro-choice allies in the Senate: Republican Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Democrats Zell Miller in Georgia, Mark Dayton in Minnesota, Bill Nelson in Florida and Jon Corzine in New Jersey.

“Of all of them, Corzine has been the most progressive,” she said. “He’ll be a strong pro-choice leader.” In 2002, Dempsey observed, two-thirds of the Senate will be up for re-election–“and that’s our real chance for change.”

The future of mifepristone, the abortion-inducing drug, international family planning and the survival of Roe v. Wade are all issues that will be faced by pro-choice forces.

More Women in House and Statehouses As Well

The new House of 435 members will have 59 women–three more than the current membership. That will include 41 Democrats and 18 Republicans, plus two nonvoting members from the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The number of women governors increased from three to five, including newly elected Democrat Ruth Ann Minner in Delaware and Republican Judy Martz in Montana. They join Republican Jane Dee Hull in Arizona, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire and Republican Christine Todd Whitman in New Jersey.

In Michigan, Senator-elect Stabenow was supported by a grassroots multi-issue coalition that included union members, African-Americans and women determined to defeat abundantly financed incumbent Spencer Abraham who had a strong, anti-choice record.

O’Connell, president of the National Women’s Political Caucus, said every incumbent endorsed by the caucus, about 20, won reelection.

“The increased number of women in the Senate and governors’ mansions will bear fruit in years to come by expanding the pool of women who are poised to seek the presidency,” O’Connell said.

In Florida, which holds the key to the presidential election, a highly effective coalition of women and African-Americans got out the vote in favor of Vice President Al Gore. “We’ve done a lot of work leading up to this election,” said Toni Van Pelt, president of Florida NOW, adding that many women fulfilled their pledge to “arrive with five” to vote: Each person pledged to bring five additional voters to the polls.

“We feel that what’s happened in Florida is a backlash against Gov. Jeb Bush (George W. Bush’s brother) and his attempt to do away with affirmative action,” Van Pelt said. NOW, the NAACP and other groups had mounted protests against Jeb Bushís One Florida Plan undermining affirmative action statewide.

The Florida election was marred by numerous irregularities. Van Pelt charged that some African-American voters in St. Petersburg were denied permission to vote, although they had new voter identification cards. They were finally allowed to vote after Van Pelt and her colleagues intervened. In fact, a lawsuit has been filed challenging the ballot in Palm Beach County.

In fact, Florida state pro-choice Rep. Elaine Bloom’s race against incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw was too close to call.

Also, other races that Women’s Enews previously reported as defeats for pro-choice women are, in fact, still too close to call. Dianne Byrum running for the open congressional seat vacated by the now-elected U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow is within 500 votes of her opponent Mike Rogers. And in California, healthcare attorney Gerrie Schipske is refusing to admit defeat in her narrow lost to U.S. Rep. Steve Horn.