Your Voice Your Vote 2024

Planned Parenthood CEO reflects on abortion ballot election results

"I think abortion may have saved democracy in some way."

November 17, 2022, 3:28 PM

Abortion rights groups claimed victory after the majority of voters in three states, California, Vermont and Michigan, passed ballot measures that protected a woman's reproductive rights while a majority of voters in Kentucky and Montana rejected a plan to restrict abortion access.

Alexis McGill Johnson, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, spoke with "GMA 3" Thursday about those election results and the future of reproductive rights under a new Congress.

GMA 3: Could it have gone any better given what was on the ballot during the midterms?

ALEXIS MCGILL JOHNSON: Well, on the ballot in those in the midterms, certainly it was an extraordinary moment and victory, right. That when abortion is on the ballot, people vote for freedom. But we also saw it as abortion made many races across the country competitive-- governor's races, holding the Senate to [having] a pro freedom majority. You know, I think that there are many ways in which this midterm could have been a lot different.

But the fact [is] that the Dobbs decision actually made it competitive in a different way.

Planned Parenthood Action Fund Alexis McGill Johnson speaks with GMA 3 about the election results.
ABC News

GMA 3: Could is there any better outcome that you could have hoped for, given those five initiatives that I mentioned?

JOHNSON: Not with the ballot initiatives. I mean, obviously, had we won the House which was also very close, considering we would have a Senate majority and a House majority where we could codify Roe with federal legislation. And that's what the Biden administration had committed to. So we obviously still have work to do state by state. But I think really what we saw was that abortion rights voters showed up.

Gen Z voters showed up in ways that really demonstrated how outraged and frustrated they were. It was the first time they actually had the opportunity to express their outrage since the abortion decision.

GMA 3: Was there a miscalculation made by Republicans who thought there was so much talk leading up to the midterms that Democrats had made a mistake focusing on abortion rights so much? It was the economy. It was inflation. But it seemed you talk about the voters [and] about abortion rights showed up because there was a passion for it there.

Was there a miscalculation and a misjudgment by maybe Republicans thinking that abortion rights advocates and supporters were we're not going to show up the way we did?

JOHNSON: Look, I think they don't understand how people make decisions about abortion rights. The economy is made up by of people who make millions of decisions about when is the right time to pursue their education, when is the right time to go for a promotion, when is the right time to change jobs and when you have the right to control when and if you were going to become pregnant and start a family complete your family.

Those are the decisions that people understand, that abortion and the economy are actually very connected with the way people act. And so I think that it was just a false decision that people were trying to pit them against each other when voters actually understand that rights and the economy actually go hand in hand.

GMA 3: And when you talk about voters and rights to health care, this is not we've said it before. This is not just a women's health issue. Men showed up to vote on these initiatives as well. And men have been affected in the six months since the reversal of Roe v. Wade.

So because Planned Parenthood provides general health care to women and men and a small percentage of what Planned Parenthood does is actually abortion care, what type of ripple effect have you seen in things like diabetes screening or general primary care appointment availability in every state, regardless of the color since that decision came out?

JOHNSON: Well, look what we've seen just over the last year, as we talked about the last time I was here. The impact when you have to send patients out of state. We've had a 550% increase in Texas patients going across the country. What that has done is it's challenged the ability [and] the availability of appointments in the state. So if you now live in Arizona or New Mexico, it means that you have to travel maybe to California or Oregon. And the way we have managed that is by engaging in telehealth just like the rest of the world.

And we were able to invest differently into things like PGP Direct, an app where you can get your birth control, [and] your STI testing. So all of that kind of reproductive care continues to be available for patients in states and in various ways. We've also seen an increase in things like vasectomies after the Dobbs decision for men. Across the board.

And so look, I think that Planned Parenthood continues to be in the community. The Dobbs decision obviously impacted [the] ability of providers to provide the care. But Planned Parenthood affiliates are still continuing to provide care and community.

PHOTO: Rally attendees wearing shirts and displaying signs emphasizing abortion rights as an election issue before a televised debate in Fort Pierce, Fla., on Oct. 24, 2022.
Supporters of Democratic candidate for Florida governor Charlie Crist line the street outside the Sunrise Theatre wearing shirts and displaying signs emphasizing abortion rights as an election issue before a televised debate against Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in Fort Pierce, Fla., on Oct. 24, 2022.
South Florida Sun Sentinel via Getty Images

GMA 3: What do you make of what we saw in Kentucky, where they have almost a full ban on abortions there? But when you ask the voters about it, they said no to making it a part of their constitution. What does that tell you?

JOHNSON: I think it tells us what we've actually already known it. What it did was actually tell the rest of America what we've already known, that these bans are deeply unpopular. The majority of people believe that they should be making these decisions with their provider. There is no space to have a politician in the exam room with you, and consistently they continue to say that over and over again.

Whether it's a blue state or red state, purple state, you know, they continue to vote for freedom. Where I think this is going right is we will see additional states try to come back into state legislative sessions in January and introduce more restrictive bans. But they will be more cautious now because they know the voters are not with them.

A Planned Parenthood sign is held at a march in support of abortion rights on Washington Street in Phoenix, Oct. 8, 2022.
Arizona Republic via USA Today Network, FILE

GMA 3: You've spoken to us before and when you've been in here, you didn't sound hopeful. You talked about having tears in your eyes and cried over this plenty after the midterms. Is there a better sign of hope for you moving forward now, given what the voters decided?

JOHNSON: Well, I keep meditating on this Alice Walker quote, which is "Hope is a woman who lost her fear." And what I saw on Election Day was incredible. Hordes of women, of young people, of Gen Z voters, of folks who really just firmly believe that these decisions should be theirs and that they continue to be with us.

And they understand the connection of what happens when you lose a federal protection, when you lose a constitutional right, and how it impacts their lives [and] when some states can essentially hold you hostage and other states can keep you free. So I think abortion may have saved democracy in some way.