With abortion rights under threat, Democrats hope to go on the offensive

VIRGINIA BEACH – Kenzie Smith is “not great at politics,” she said, and although she votes faithfully in the presidential elections, for Democrats she is less interested in off-year races, like these. seven weeks in Virginia for the governor and the legislature.

But the recent news that the Supreme Court had allowed Texas to ban most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest, caught her attention.

Fears that such a restrictive law, which she called “crazy”, could eventually come to Virginia if Republicans take power has sharpened her desire to participate on election day. “If there are laws like what’s happening in Texas coming here, I would be absolutely motivated to go to the polls on this,” said Ms. Smith, 33, a marketing consultant.

The Supreme Court’s decision on September 1 to let Texas enact the most restrictive abortion law in the country was a blow to abortion rights advocates, a long-awaited victory for opponents of the abortion and, for Democrats, a potential political opportunity.

As the party rallies for the midterms of next year, its first big test on the issue will take place in the Virginia election this fall. Democrats hope to win a close race for governor and keep control of the legislature in a state that has quickly moved to the left. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat running for his former post, has repeatedly pledged to be a “brick wall” against anti-abortion measures and defended the right to abortion in a debate on last week on the campaign. track and in fundraising appeals.

Democrats in Virginia and beyond are particularly focused on suburban women, who played an important role in electing President Biden, but whose broader loyalty to his party is uncertain. As Republicans smell blood in next year’s midterm election as Mr. Biden’s approval ratings drop and the economy faces a potential lockdown from the lingering pandemic, Democrats are looking for problems like abortion to overcome the complacency of their constituents now that Donald J. Trump has left office.

In more than two dozen interviews in the politically divided city of Virginia Beach, the state’s largest but essentially a patchwork of suburban neighborhoods, independent and Democratic-leaning voters have expressed fear and outrage at the fire. Supreme Court Green for Texas Law. Many have said this has intensified their desire to elect Democrats, although historically unique issues have not resulted in waves of turnout; the personalities of the candidates and the economy in general have.

Even a number of women who have said they support Republicans noted that they also support abortion rights – which may explain why GOP candidates in Virginia downplayed the issue, cleaning up comments. anti-abortion campaign websites and going back on some remarks.

In a debate Thursday between the gubernatorial candidates, Glenn Youngkin, the Republican, said: “I would not be signing the Texas bill today.” But he dodged when asked if he would sign a six-week abortion ban with exceptions for rape and incest. He claimed he supported a “pain threshold bill”, which generally bans abortion after 20 weeks.

Mr McAuliffe said he was “terrified” that “the Trump Supreme Court” could overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision granting a constitutional right to abortion. He said he supported “a woman’s right to make her own decision for a second trimester”. He misleadingly said that Mr. Youngkin “wants to ban abortions.”

At the start of the campaign, a Liberal activist recorded Mr Youngkin saying he had to downplay his anti-abortion views to win the independents, but if he got elected and the Republicans elected the House of Delegates, he would start to “to violate”. . “The McAuliffe campaign turned the recording into an attack ad.

Republicans describe Mr McAuliffe as favoring abortions until the time of birth, trying to tie him to a failed 2019 bill in the legislature that would have relaxed some restrictions on late abortions. Virginia law allows third trimester abortions if a woman’s life is in danger.

Abortion polls show Americans’ attitudes have remained stable for decades, with a majority of about 60 percent saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases. In Virginia, slightly fewer people, 55%, agree, according to the Pew Research Center.

However, in a contradiction that illustrates the moral complexities of the issue, national polls also show that majorities support abortion restrictions that are unacceptable under Roe, such as banning second trimester abortions in most. cases.

A Washington Post-Schar School poll in Virginia conducted this month, after the Supreme Court paved the way for Texas law, found abortion low on voters’ concerns, with just 9% of them claiming that this was their most important issue in the governor’s decision. race.

The harshness of the Texas ruling – and the prospect that the Supreme Court could overturn Roe next year in a case involving a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi – has compounded the problem.

Virginia Beach presents a test case of the heavy issue of abortion on the front lines of America’s changing electoral landscape. The large population of military families has long lent a conservative cast to local politics, but last year the city voted for a Democratic presidential candidate, Mr Biden, for the first time since Lyndon B. Johnson. Rep. Elaine Luria, a Democrat and former Navy commander whose congressional district includes Virginia Beach, is among Republicans’ top targets for 2022.

The town stretches from the saltwater taffy shops on touristy Atlantic beaches to the quiet streets of brick houses that line the region’s many bays. Outdoor conversations are interrupted by breathtaking military planes, which rarely catch a glance at the sky.

Ellen Robinson, a retired nurse who identifies as an independent politician, was “horrified” by the Texas law and said if the court overturned Roe, “I think it would be the start of fascism in it. country”.

Kathleen Moran, an engineering tech writer who favors Democrats, said the Supreme Court ruling on the Texas law had “scared her.”

“I have boys who will date women,” she said. “I have nieces. It goes back to the whole “white men have to make all the decisions about everything”.

Ms Moran said she was more determined to vote after the court refused to stop the Texas law, which the Biden administration is trying to block.

“We are in a really dangerous situation,” she said. “Obviously for abortion, we don’t want to become Texas, but on many issues we could lose what is now a Blue State. “

While many Republican women across Virginia would most likely support stricter abortion laws, few conservative-leaning women in suburban Virginia Beach have expressed support for a six-week abortion law or abortion law. a reversal of Roe v. Wade. Overall, although these women did not always embrace the “pro-choice” label, they agreed that women should be able to make their own reproductive decisions.

“I know Republicans have always been against abortion, but as a woman I think I should be able to choose for myself,” said Janis Cohen, 73, a retired government worker. Its lawn featured a parade of placards for GOP candidates. When it was reported that one of them, Winsome Sears, a candidate for lieutenant governor, had said that she would support a six-week abortion ban, Cohen hit back that the current governor , Democrat Ralph Northam, was what she considered an abortion extremist.

In 2019, the governor, a pediatric neurologist, appeared to suggest that a delivered baby could die if the mother requests an abortion during labor with a misshapen fetus that is unlikely to survive. Republicans across the country have seized the comments as sanctioning “infanticide.” Mr Northam’s office called the accusations a bad faith distortion of his opinions.

Virginia governor’s race polls have generally predicted a close race, including one by Emerson College last week with the candidates within the margin of error.

Nancy Guy, a Democratic state delegate who toppled a Republican-held seat in Virginia Beach by just 27 votes in 2019, said that before abortion became a problem in recent weeks, “most people were complacent and didn’t pay attention “.

Ms Guy’s opponent has promised that if elected he will donate his salary to a so-called crisis pregnancy center that keeps pregnant women away from abortion. The contrast could not be clearer for voters who are watching the issues. Still, Ms. Guy said, with the news constantly choppy, it’s unclear what will push voters in nearly two months to vote.

Virginia Democrats have made huge strides during Mr. Trump’s conflicted leadership, culminating in 2019, when the party took control of both the state Senate and the House of Delegates. But the Democratic majorities are slim, and Republicans think they have an anti-titular wind in their backs this year. Three statewide positions are on the ballot on Nov. 2 – governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general – along with all 100 seats in the House.

The Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia field director said that an average of 10 to 15 volunteers go door-to-door, up from 25 to 40 two years ago, a worrying sign for supporters of the right to the right to be. abortion.

Han Jones, political director of Planned Parenthood in Virginia, added, “People are exhausted from elections and exhausted by Donald Trump’s rhetoric and feel like they can take a break. We could easily turn red in this one election if Democratic voters who don’t feel so passionate or leaned over don’t vote. “

A team of Planned Parenthood canvassers who visited a townhouse neighborhood recently found general support for Democrats, but not much aware of the election or enthusiasm for it.

Voter Carly White said abortion was a touchy subject in her household. “I am for Planned Parenthood but my husband is not,” she said as she stepped out of a house with a small, precisely trimmed lawn. “I think the problem is he’s a man. He never grew a baby. I just can’t – I don’t like someone telling me what to do with my own body.

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