The historic and decisive election of Barack Obama and Joe Biden as the next President and Vice President of the United States and the significant Democratic pick-ups in the House of Representatives and Senate are likely to have considerable implications for reproductive and sexual health and rights, including sexuality education.
President-elect Obama won by 365 electoral votes to Sen. John McCain’s 173. A portion of these came from hard-won states that hand long been solidly on the Republican side. Virginia’s win for Obama, for example, came after 44 years of that state voting for the Republican presidential candidate. Obama also took Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, all crucial to McCain’s bid. Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, and New Mexico, all states that voted for Bush in 2004, also went to Obama.
Going into the election, Democrats held 51 seats in the U.S. Senate. They now hold 58 seats, two short of the coveted three-fifths majority that enables a party to end filibusters on the floor. The Democratic pick-ups include New Hampshire where Gov. Jeanne Shaheen defeated Republican incumbent John Sununu; North Carolina where state Sen. Kay Hagan defeated Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole; and Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, and Virginia. With the addition of Shaheen and Hagan and the departure of Dole, there are now 17 women Senators in the U.S. Senate. That number may go up, depending on whom the governors of Illinois and Delaware pick to replace the new President- and Vice President-Elect.
Prior to the election, Democrats enjoyed a 236 to 199 majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. That majority increased to 255 with Democrats defeating Republican-controlled seats in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The Democrats lost seats in Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, and Texas.
“This election means that majorities in both chambers of the U.S. Congress now support prevention measures like comprehensive sexuality education,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). “Advocates of reproductive and sexual health and rights have been dismayed by the ideological assault on evidence-based prevention methods. The vast amounts of money spent on unproven abstinence-only-until-marriage programs is one example of this during the Bush administration’s reign in Washington. Young people will be the real winners as we return to evidence-based, proven, common sense approaches to prevention,” he concluded.
Advocates of comprehensive sexuality education will look to de-fund unproven abstinence-only-until-marriage programs by asking President-Elect Obama to submit a budget to Congress that ends the nearly $200 million funneled to these programs each year. Advocates will also ask President-Elect Obama to create the first-ever federal funding stream for comprehensive sexuality education. As a member of the Senate, Obama was a co-sponsor of the REAL (Responsible Education About Life) Act which sought to create this funding stream. The 2008 Democratic Party Platform also strongly supports “age-appropriate sex education which empower[s] people to make informed choices and live healthy lives” and “recognize[s] that such…education help[s] reduce the number of unintended pregnancies….”
“As the new President and Congress get to work, young people will be a big step closer to the empowerment necessary to make responsible decisions about their reproductive and sexual health,” Smith said.
The election, of course, also affects states. Of the 11 states electing governors this cycle, Missouri was the only one that saw a party change with the election of Democrat Jay Dixon. In the two races considered toss-ups, Washington State voted for Democrat Christine Gregory and North Carolina voted in Democrat Beverly Purdue, the state’s first female Governor. State legislative races are still being analyzed but some results are clear. Power shifted in New York, where the Democrats took control of the Senate after 40 years of Republican control. Democrats also took control of the Delaware House while Republicans gained majorities in the Tennessee and Oklahoma Senates and the Pennsylvania House.
“We will continue to work with our state colleagues and these new legislatures to improve state sexuality education policy,” said Smith. “In New York, for example, there is an important comprehensive sexuality education bill that may have new life now.”
 2008 Democratic Platform, accessed 9 September 2008 at <http://www.democrats.org/a/party/platform.html>.