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MEMO: One Year After Dobbs, Democratic Governors Remain on the Frontlines of Protecting Reproductive Freedom

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FROM: Meghan Meehan-Draper, DGA Executive Director

TO: Interested Parties

RE: One Year After Dobbs, Democratic Governors Remain on the Frontlines of Protecting Reproductive Freedom

One year ago this week, the Supreme Court overturned a half-century of settled law with its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and in doing so ensured that until Congress is able to take federal action to protect reproductive rights, the ultimate determinants of Americans’ most fundamental freedoms are the state in which you live and who your governor is.

Even before the Dobbs decision, Democratic governors were on the frontlines of the fight to protect abortion access — standing in the way of Republican-led legislation to restrict reproductive freedom and leading legal efforts to roll back restrictions on reproductive rights.

Now, with abortion access in the hands of the states, and Democratic governors going on offense in the fight to protect the ability of millions of women to make their own health care decisions, gubernatorial races have taken on a new prominence. In races across the country, the Democratic Governors Association has proven that protecting this critical right is not just the right thing to do, but also that holding Republicans accountable for their extreme agenda is a winning strategy.

Since Dobbs, here are some of the ways that Democratic governors — including those who won reelection in 2022 against Republican extremists — have taken aggressive action to safeguard abortion rights:

  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation repealing Michigan’s nearly 100-year old abortion ban.
  • Gov. Tim Walz signed a bill in the first month of the 2023 legislative session to strengthen abortion rights protections in Minnesota.
  • Gov. Tony Evers filed a lawsuit against the state of Wisconsin to repeal its 174-year old abortion ban.
  • Gov. Phil Murphy set aside millions of dollars to modernize and strengthen security at abortion clinics in New Jersey, to protect health care providers and make sure women seeking care are able to do so safely.
  • Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, Delaware Gov. John Carney, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan-Grisham, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed bills protecting abortion providers from criminal prosecution and out-of-state legal attacks.
  • Maine Gov. Janet Mills, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, and Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee issued executive orders protecting providers and preventing other states from taking action against women seeking abortion in their states.
  • Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed an extreme bill passed by Arizona Republicans that would have required providers to report demographic information, including marital status and education background, on all abortion patients to the state.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro unveiled new resources to help women safely access abortion care.
  • Govs. Newsom, Healey, Hochul, Kotek, and Inslee were among those who established stockpiles of abortion medications to ensure their citizens can access the care they need.
  • Democratic Governors in over twenty states formed a Reproductive Freedom Alliance to make it easier for all Americans, no matter where they live, to access safe abortion care.

This would not be possible without  significant investment — thanks to historic fundraising — from the DGA and allied organizations to elect governors committed to protecting abortion rights, and hold their extremist opponents accountable.

As Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman noted in the Washington Post, Democrats were already in the midst of a “broader awakening to the importance of the states” that gained a newfound urgency in the wake of the Dobbs decision. As the entire Democratic ecosystem — from grassroots donors and activists to major donors and progressive institutions — realized that we must do more to elect Democratic governors, the DGA saw an unprecedented uptick in fundraising at all levels. Our grassroots fundraising jumped 380%, from $8 million in the 2018 cycle to $39 million in the 2022 cycle; our major donor support increased 153% from last cycle, and our overall raise doubled over the same time, as we outraised the RGA for the first time in history.

As the longtime leader in promoting the importance of state-level elections, the DGA was well-positioned to put these resources to use. The DGA immediately established a dedicated eight-figure Protect Reproductive Rights Fund chaired by Gov. Kathy Hochul, and in total spent more than $170 million in 2022 to support Democratic candidates who would protect abortion rights and run ads holding Republican candidates accountable — often using their own words — for their extreme plans to ban abortion with no exception for victims of rape or incest. Watch those ads HERE.

These investments proved critical. After we invested more than $25 million to help reelect Govs. Gretchen Whitmer and Tim Walz, they worked with their newly-won Democratic majorities to pass landmark legislation protecting reproductive freedoms. In Wisconsin, where the DGA spent over $15 million, Gov. Tony Evers is leading a legal challenge to overturn Wisconsin’s 174-year old abortion ban, and in Arizona, where we invested nearly $10 million, Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed the extreme new abortion restrictions passed by the Republican legislature. Those are just a few key examples.

The fight is not over. Abortion remains a top issue in key battleground races as extreme Republicans work to curtail rights.

While abortion remains a state-by-state issue and requires a state-by-state strategy, North Carolina’s gubernatorial race in 2024 stands out as one of the biggest battlegrounds for abortion rights. Gov. Roy Cooper, who is termed out after next year, has been a committed champion for protecting reproductive freedom. The DGA has been proud to support him in his two successful candidacies, and America Works USA, an independent 501(c)4 organization allied with the DGA, worked with in-state partners to fund a six-figure ad campaign to support his veto of the state’s dangerous new abortion ban.

Now, with these extreme abortion restrictions on the books, the issue is more central than ever to next year’s election. Among the frontrunning Republicans in the race, Lt. Governor Mark Robinson has said that he would work to pass legislation to make sure women “can’t have an abortion in North Carolina for any reason,” and former Congressman Mark Walter believes “governments shouldn’t allow abortions under any circumstance” — stances and statements that are not just dangerous, but wildly out of line with an electorate that opposes North Carolina’s new abortion law by a two-to-one margin. The DGA remains eager to hold these candidates accountable, and to elect a governor who will carry on Gov. Cooper’s legacy of fighting to defend abortion access, among other key states where this will be an issue.

The fight over abortion rights transcends party lines, and is part of a broader threat to our fundamental freedoms from MAGA Republicans.

While support for protecting abortion rights continues to grow, Republicans are demonstrating that their attacks on reproductive freedom are just one frontier of a large-scale assault on our most fundamental freedoms. In the last year, MAGA extremists have sought to dictate how Americans live their lives, what kinds of health care they can seek, and even what books they should read. And at nearly every turn in competitive gubernatorial races in 2022, voters rejected this dangerous, extreme agenda in favor of Democratic executives who have pledged to protect their rights and focus on fixing actual problems impacting their lives.

The data bears this out: Democrats saw a net gain of two governorships last year, defying conventional wisdom and historical trends. In their victories at the polls and their leadership since, Democratic governors have proven that not only are they are prepared to stand on the side of freedom, and in the words of DGA Chair Phil Murphy, “to reclaim the mantle of core American values — freedom, patriotism, rights,” but that when they do so, they win.