How a Virginia special election became the next abortion battleground

Youngkin doesn’t yet have the votes to enact that ban, but Democrats’ narrow majority in the state Senate has put this special election between Virginia Beach councilman and former NFL safety Aaron Rouse, a Democrat, and the Navy veteran Kevin Adams, Republican. . , in the national spotlight.

The frenzy for the state Senate seat, which covers parts of Virginia Beach and Norfolk and was won by Kiggans by 511 votes in 2019, reveals just how far pro- and anti-abortion rights groups are reaching in the post-Roe era, and is “another proof point that the fight for the future of abortion rights and abortion access is at the state level,” said Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health.

“These statewide races and, I would argue, increasingly municipal races, will really determine people’s ability to make decisions about their reproductive lives,” Miller said. “That’s going to be our future, especially in these swing states, where there’s a back and forth going on all the time.”

While groups on both sides of the abortion debate often invest in state legislative races, these special elections have attracted unusually high sums of money for a single legislative special election, groups on the ground say.

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia’s PAC is spending nearly $100,000 on the race, in what the organization’s executive director, Jamie Lockhart, described as “by far the largest investment we’ve ever made in a special election in the three years I’ve been with the PAC.”

And Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which has historically focused on federal races, is spending $30,000 to reach 10,000 households by phone, email and digital ads in line with its recent expansion to races at the state level.

“If a pro-abortion candidate wins this race, we don’t have a path forward for the next session and babies will continue to feel the pain of late-term abortions,” said Stephen Billy, vice president of state affairs for SBA Pro – Life America “If we’re successful in Senate District 7 and a pro-life champion emerges as a senator there, we have an opportunity to advance pain-capable protections and get them to the governor’s desk.”

Rouse, the Democratic candidate, is betting that an abortion-focused message will carry him to victory in the state Senate race, mimicking a strategy that propelled other Democrats to victory in close races during the midterm elections.

“Listen, I’m not getting into the weeds of what a woman should talk to her health care professional about. I support Virginia’s current law as it stands and will fiercely advocate against any legislation that bans abortion in our state , our community,” Rouse said in an interview. “This seat is critical to ensuring that we can protect women’s reproductive health care rights.”

And while Adams, the Republican, publicly supports a 15-week abortion bill, even listing it as one of his platforms on his campaign website, he isn’t campaigning on it .

“Kevin Adams’ campaign is focused on the critical issues facing our community: lowering taxes for working families, creating jobs and keeping our neighborhoods safe,” said Kendyl Parker, campaign director for ‘Adams.

Some Republicans and anti-abortion groups argue that Democrats are using the prospect of a statewide abortion ban as a scare tactic to win special legislative elections.

“It’s manipulative of the Democratic nominee to suggest that this is what the Republican nominee might do if he were in the Senate. It’s not, because that’s not going to happen in front of him,” said Olivia Gans Turner, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life, an anti-abortion group. “That kind of legislation is definitely not on the table right now in Virginia.”

Even so, the group still plans to convert its members to support Adams.

“We can’t lose any seats,” Gans Turner said. “There’s a razor-thin margin. Losing a pro-life vote in the Senate right now is not good.”

Meanwhile, Democrats say the future of abortion access is at stake, and say the race is even more critical after the Virginia state senator. Jennifer McClellan, a staunch advocate of abortion rights, won the Democratic nomination to fill the seat vacated by the congressman’s death. Donald McEachin (D-Va.).

McClellan’s primary victory all but guarantees that he will win McEachin’s largely Democratic district in February, narrowing the Democratic margin in the state Senate from three seats to two and possibly positioning the state senator. Joe Morrissey, an anti-abortion Democrat, as a crucial vote.

If Democrats win the state Senate special election in January, even after McClellan is gone they will have a 21-18 majority and Morrissey will become a problem for the pro-abortion rights side; But if Republicans win — and Democrats hold a 20-19 majority — abortion rights groups worry that Youngkin could use creative legislative maneuvering to push an anti-abortion bill through the Senate, where Morrissey could be the deciding vote.

“We are one seat away from the anti-abortion measures that will be implemented in the state of Virginia,” Rouse said.

An aide to Morrissey did not respond to requests for comment.

Planned Parenthood advocates from Lockhart, Virginia described Morrissey as a “real wild card.” Morrissey, known for breaking with his party on key votes, voted against a 2020 bill that rolled back several restrictions on abortion and has said he would consider banning abortion after 20 weeks. pregnancy

“For us, it’s making sure we have the seat so it’s not a concern,” Lockhart said. “If Aaron Rouse wins, and we know we have an abortion rights champion, this change of seat is enough to safeguard our rights and ensure that no abortion ban reaches the desk of the governor”.

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