Last November, Christy Smith lost one of the closest Congressional races in the nation by 333 votes to Mike Garcia — a Navy veteran and former Raytheon employee who’s since gone onto parrot the Big Lie and vote against the formation of a House committee to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection. Despite Garcia’s victory last year, Democrats narrowly clinched the House, but experts and pollsters are uncertain about the party’s chances to hold onto its majority come 2022.
Smith, a former California Assembly member and, before that, a member of her local school board, thinks California’s 25th Congressional district could decide the fate of the House. Though she lost to Garcia, Smith won 36,000 more votes than any other Democrat who’s run in the critical swing district, which was briefly flipped from red-to-blue by Katie Hill in 2018. Today, with everything on the line for Democrats in the House, Smith is making reproductive health and rights a top focus of her campaign.
“Reproductive care is health care, part of infrastructure,” Smith told Jezebel. “We have a lot of room to grow in creating infrastructure that supports marginalized communities, and close our reproductive care and health care deserts. My district, for example, has just one very small Planned Parenthood, and those are the kind of challenges people face, not just for abortion but even contraception and all care.”
In a new ad released this week, Smith shares a personal story of her experience making a difficult pregnancy-related decision. After her first pregnancy came with severe health risks that threatened her life in 1996, during her second pregnancy in 1999, Smith considered an abortion, but ultimately chose to move forward with the pregnancy and give birth to her second daughter.
“I will be damned if I nearly died having both of [my daughters], only to have them see the day where they would become second-class citizens, where their rights to their own health care, freedom, and reproductive choice is decided by people who see this as a political narrative, more about control than freedom,” Smith says in a speech from a recent abortion rights march featured in the ad.
This election cycle, Smith’s district could be a deciding factor in not just who holds the House majority, but also the future of reproductive rights in the US. Two major cases are currently at the Supreme Court — Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, a case on a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi, and a case on Texas’ near-total abortion ban, SB8 — could both result in the 6-3 anti-abortion majority on the court overturning Roe v. Wade. This year alone, state legislatures enacted over 100 abortion restrictions—the most ever in a year since 1973. Nearly half of state anti-abortion laws since 1973 have been passed in the last decade, per Guttmacher.
Representing CA-25, one of Rep. Garcia’s first moves in office was to support the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, a non-sensical, stigmatizing anti-abortion law that targets people who experience complications later in pregnancy. Garcia has gone on to vote against measures ranging from a resolution to condemn forced sterilizations, to the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, and the Equal Access to Contraception for Veterans Act. He also voted against the Build Back Better package, which invests in Medicaid and expanding the workforce of reproductive health providers.
Smith may not have gone through with having an abortion, herself, but she closely relates her terrifying, complicated experiences with pregnancy to the greater fight for reproductive rights and freedom, which includes abortion. “This goes beyond health and health care decisions, to liberty, economic self-reliance,” Smith said. “Certainly, we know with the COVID economy, predominantly, the economic losses were felt by women, and this is part of that.”
In contrast with Garcia, Smith supports the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill that would enshrine abortion rights on the federal level and protect providers and patients’ abilities to give and receive abortion care without medically unnecessary restrictions. A Democratic, pro-abortion majority in the House is also essential to passing a budget bill without the Hyde Amendment, a budget rider that’s prohibited federal coverage of abortion care since 1976.
This is why Smith thinks any voter who sees reproductive freedom and health care as top priorities should pay attention to her district, as she aims to center this issue in her campaign. It’s a notable decision at a time when political media seems to be exclusively in a frenzy about gas prices and inflation, while abortion and reproductive care remain written off as “women’s issues.”
But it’s precisely because reproductive health and rights directly affect pregnant people and families that Smith focuses on the issue. “The people who are still behind in the COVID recovery are women who left the workforce, so this is the most important time to be talking about how women can regain their economic power — and a big part of that is family planning, reproductive care,” she said.
Smith drew inspiration to share the story of her pregnancies from the courage of other women in politics, like her friend in the California state Assembly, Buffy Wicks, who told the story of her abortion on the Assembly floor in 2019 and brought her infant daughter to the floor last year. Smith also recalls being in awe of Reps. Cori Bush, Pramila Jayapal, and Barbara Lee, as they made history sharing their abortion stories as Congresswomen of color in October. She believes it’s stories like this, and electing representatives with a range of lived experiences, that create change.
“In my 52 years, I’ve held the hand of a woman who had to give a child up for adoption, and the hand of a close family member who had suffered through a bad pregnancy outcome,” Smith said. “These are experiences that many women or a loved one have gone through, and we owe it to ourselves as a community to talk about it, to keep those personal stories front and center, because there is humanity behind these harsh, cruel, draconian measures.”
As California’s 25th district emerges as one of the most important of the election cycle, some might recall when it was flipped by Hill, who ousted supposedly “moderate” Republican incumbent Steve Knight in 2018. Hill resigned from Congress the following year amid allegations that she’d had inappropriate relationships with staffers, which she denies. She was also subjected to cyber sexual abuse when a barrage of nude photos of Hill were published without her consent online.
Following Hill’s departure from Congress in 2019, Smith and Garcia faced off in a special election in May 2020 and the regular election in November for the seat. Smith believes the narrow losses can be attributed to her 2020 campaign’s decision “not to put our volunteers in harm’s way by having them do door-to-door canvassing and risk COVID infection,” and that her 2022 campaign will use in-person outreach.
In running for Congress again, Smith says her goal is “to get to a point in this country where young people like my daughters don’t have to litigate again and again their own health care,” and reproductive care is wholly accessible to all. “I want to be able to move on to things that really are pro-life, like maternal care, child care, making sure our public schools are serving everyone — it’s really time to turn the corner on this issue.”