Skip to Content

Democrats are counting on abortion politics to help deliver wins in key races across the country this week

By Gregory Krieg, CNN

(CNN) — In the 16 months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, six states have held direct votes on the future of abortion rights within their borders. And on six occasions, the pro-abortion rights side has prevailed — including in traditionally conservative states like Kentucky.

This calculus will be tested again on Tuesday, when voters in Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania have their say in races that, to varying degrees, have been defined by the prospect of a future with limited or severely restricted abortion rights.

Abortion has been an influential factor in campaigns for elective office up and down the ballot. The GOP’s failure to meet expectations in the 2022 midterm elections, when Democrats retained control of the US Senate and only narrowly lost the House of Representatives, raised the prospect that the high court’s decision could alter the political landscape for years to come.

“There’s not like a referendum question on the ballot, but it is on the ballot,” Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine told CNN after a backyard rally for Democratic state legislative candidates in September.

Though Virginia is now reliably blue in presidential races, its local races are a fierce battleground. A year after voting for Joe Biden over Donald Trump by a 10-point margin, the Commonwealth elected Republican Glenn Youngkin its new governor, defeating Democrat Terry McAuliffe by 2 points. Now Virginians will decide whether to give Youngkin, who is rumored to be weighing a late entry into the GOP presidential primary, the backing that would allow him to move forward with new abortion restrictions.

Virginia’s off-off-year local elections – held a year after federal midterm elections and featuring no statewide contests – are famously difficult to predict. But the throughline this fall is clear: Should the GOP flip control of the state Senate and keep its majority in the House of Delegates, Youngkin will be free to pursue legislation to place a 15-week limit on abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.

Understanding the potency of the issue across party lines, Virginia Republicans, led by the governor, have either downplayed the issue or argued that unified GOP control would not put the state on a path to an outright abortion ban. Youngkin’s political action committee spent more than $1 million last month on a television ad attempting to undermine Democrats’ warnings. The House GOP caucus has also spent to send a similar message.

But abortion rights advocates are crying foul, insisting that the 15-week plan is a stepping stone to harsher restrictions.

“Whatever the GOP wants to call it, a ban is a ban, and they will pass one into law in Virginia if given the chance,” said Mini Timmaraju, the president of Reproductive Freedom for All, formerly NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a statement days before the polls opened.

Ohio’s Issue 1

The stakes in Ohio are less open to interpretation or spin.

Voters in the increasingly conservative Midwestern state will on Tuesday decide “Issue 1,” a referendum that could stamp abortion rights into the state constitution and wipe away a six-week ban that would otherwise be headed to the state supreme court for review.

Defeat in Ohio, which voted for Trump twice as it’s gone from bellwether to conservative stronghold, would continue a worrisome trend for Republicans and give Democrats some hope of clawing back – or maintaining – some of their power in the state.

Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is preparing for a tough reelection fight in 2024, has been pushing the “Yes on Issue 1” line. In a video last month, he talked up his bona fides as a supporter of legal abortion rights and said, “I trust Ohioans to make the decisions best for themselves, best for their families.”

That argument – which places personal freedom and independence from government overreach, messaging tools usually associated with conservatives, at the forefront – mirrors similar arguments successfully made by Democrats across the country in 2022.

Top Ohio Republicans, like their counterparts in Virginia, have sought to downplay the implications of the vote. Gov. Mike DeWine, who signed a six-week “heartbeat bill” that did not include exceptions for rape and incest in 2019, while Roe was still in place, insists that Republicans would not interpret Issue 1’s potential failure as carte blanche for tougher bans.

“If we can defeat this amendment, which I certainly hope we can, it will give us the opportunity in Ohio to try to come up with something that the majority of Ohioans can support,” DeWine told CNN last month. He added that future legislation should include exceptions for rape and incest and said the 6-week timeline is “certainly something to be discussed.”

DeWine continued along those lines a in a recent ad, saying, “I know Ohioans are divided on the issue of abortion, but whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice issue, Issue 1 is just not right for Ohio.”

Ohioans for Reproductive Rights, the main group on the side supporting the amendment, has also sought to win over conflicted voters. In a recent ad, it argued that the Ohio “government’s life-threatening abortion ban ties the hands of doctors, putting women at risk when complications arise later in pregnancy.”

But the spot also seeks to appeal to voters with mixed feelings, saying that “’Yes’ (on Issue 1) keeps sensible restrictions on abortion later in pregnancy.”

Democrats and abortion rights advocates have reason for optimism. Just this summer, Ohio voters rejected a Republican-led effort to raise the threshold for amending the state constitution from a simple majority to 60% of voters.

The failed referendum was seen as a clear rebuke of what opponents described as a bald-faced attempt to tip the scales ahead of the November vote.

Biden celebrated the result from Washington, slamming Ohio Republicans’ “blatant attempt to weaken voters’ voices and further erode the freedom of women to make their own health care decisions.”

Kentucky’s gubernatorial race

The governor’s race in Kentucky, where Democrat Andy Beshear is seeking a second term in the Commonwealth’s top office, is expected to go down to the wire, with recent polling showing Beshear and GOP challenger Daniel Cameron in a tight contest.

Like Democratic leaders in so many other red states, Beshear has consistently pushed Cameron on his abortion stance, saying it’s more hardcore than the Republican wants voters to know.

In 2022, Kentucky voters rejected a ballot measure aimed at denying any constitutional protections for abortion. Still, the state currently has a pair of laws, passed in 2019 and signed by then-Gov. Matt Bevin, that amount to a near-total ban, with the only exception being for the health of the mother.

Cameron has said he would support legislation broadening exceptions if it were put before him by lawmakers, but Beshear in a debate noted that Cameron had signed a Kentucky Right to Life survey saying he opposed exceptions.

“What you couldn’t and didn’t hear (Cameron) say is that he supports, personally, exceptions for victims of rape and incest,” Beshear said during a recent debate.

Cameron, in turn, has criticized Beshear for vetoing a 15-week ban back in the spring of 2022, months before the Supreme Court ruling, arguing Beshear is out of step with Kentucky voters and beholden to groups like Planned Parenthood.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court race

In addition to these high-profile contests, abortion rights advocates have also set their sights on an otherwise little-noted state supreme court race in Pennsylvania, which will on Tuesday elect a new state supreme court justice following the death last year of Chief Justice Max Baer, a Democrat.

The winner of this unusually expensive race will serve 10 years on the bench before coming up for re-election. Democrats currently hold a 4-2 advantage, but some hot-button cases have split the court 3-3, and liberals are warning that a dent in their majority, with some abortion-related cases pending, could undermine the state’s otherwise robust protections.

Republican candidate Judge Carolyn Carluccio, after winning her primary in May, removed from her campaign website a resume that highlighted her anti-abortion stance, calling her a defender of “all life under the law,” according to a report in liberal-backed news outlet The Keystone. Carluccio has said she will adhere to the state law, which is in line with the Roe standard of roughly 24 weeks.

Carluccio has also received significant support from a group with ties to billionaire Jeffrey Yass, a Pennsylvania-based financier and major Republican donor. Planned Parenthood Votes, the abortion rights group, launched an ad campaign against her over the summer.

“Carolyn Carluccio ran on being an anti-abortion judge in the Republican primary but now she’s trying to hide her anti-abortion views,” PPV spokesperson Breana Ross said. “She cannot be trusted to respect Pennsylvanians’ constitutional rights.”

Judge Daniel McCaffery, the Democratic nominee, has the endorsement of the Philadelphia Inquirer and nearly all major liberal Pennsylvania groups and leaders. The energy behind his candidacy is due in part to what lies beyond November, looking to 2025, when all three Democratic justices now on the bench come up for reelection.

While Carluccio has attempted to downplay the issue during the campaign, McCaffrey has been unequivocal and, like other Democrats, has used the language of “personal freedom” to describe his support for abortion rights.

“Our freedoms are under attack: Workers’ rights. Women’s reproductive rights. The right to vote,” McCaffrey said in a recent ad that, in a nod to the broad coalition he is hoping to win over, touted his support from “police, Planned Parenthood and labor unions.”

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Simone Pathe, Arit John and Eric Bradner contributed to this story.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

Jump to comments ↓

Author Profile Photo

CNN Newsource


KIFI Local News 8 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content