After unexpected election results, US women's groups Thursday were bracing for a fight over abortion rights and gender equality with the new conservative majority in Congress.
"We now face an anti-choice majority and a new speaker of the House who will threaten to roll back hard-fought progress for women," said Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), the largest women's group in the United States.
AdvertisementRepublicans by Wednesday had picked up 60 seats in the 435-seat House of Representatives, well more than the 39 they needed for a majority.
At least 49 of the newcomers to the House are opposed to women having the right to choose to have an abortion, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Republicans also grabbed six more seats in the 100-member Senate but failed to win a majority.
Pro-choice senators still have a slim majority, with two races -- one of which includes a pro-choice woman candidate -- yet to be decided.
O'Neill predicted that the new Republican leadership in the House will take moves that would compromise women's rights.
"They will try to repeal the health care reform law, privatize or cut Social Security, cut funding for family-planning programs, undermine equal marriage initiatives, and try to weaken Roe v. Wade," the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in the United States.
O'Neill warned that soon-to-be speaker of the House, John Boehner, "has made it no secret that he is anti-choice and anti-equal marriage," but vowed to fight him and his conservative phalanx in the House with the help of progressive lawmakers who managed to survive the midterm election bloodbath.
Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the midterm elections -- in which President Barack Obama has said his Democratic Party took a "shellacking" -- shifted the US political landscape "significantly, with anti-choice forces increasing their strength."
"There are already members of Congress who would use any means to block access to abortion, and they just got a slew of new allies," Northup said.
"We face the reality that many of these new officeholders will promote laws that jeopardize women's health, dignity and equality," she said, warning that the new leadership in the House would "aggressively attempt to push through anti-choice measures."
Northup and O'Neill pledged to fight to keep women's rights intact, with the help of pro-choice members of Congress and the courts.
"A substantial number of Democrats who lost were moderate or conservative, leaving a Democratic caucus that, while smaller, is more progressive," O'Neill said.
Northup urged women to not focus solely on attacks on their rights from Washington but to also keep an eye on assaults coming from the states.
In the past year alone, state lawmakers have introduced more than 600 bills aimed at restricting women's access to abortion, she said.
Some measures passed, others were blocked by pro-choice governors -- several of whom were voted out of office on Tuesday -- and the Center for Reproductive Rights has turned to the courts to fight others.
The group has filed 13 cases in nine states in the past two years to "beat back the unrelenting attacks" against a woman's right to choose, and has been successful at temporarily or permanently blocking those laws in eleven of those cases, she said.