Democrats look to turn races for governor into referendums on abortion

·Senior Writer
·7 min read

A looming Supreme Court ruling on abortion is already having an impact on a number of key gubernatorial races this fall.

On Monday evening, Politico reported that a draft ruling from the Supreme Court was set to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide, with the court later confirming that the draft was legitimate, although the ruling is not final.

If the conservative justices were to overturn Roe, millions of Americans would immediately lose access to abortion in dozens of states, with other Republican-controlled states potentially following suit.

In Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams said that her campaign will “absolutely lean into and lead” on the issue. Abrams is challenging Gov. Brian Kemp, who is facing a primary challenge from Trump-backed former Sen. David Perdue but has been leading him by wide margins in recent polling.

Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams speaks at a conference in Washington, D.C., in April.
Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams speaks at a conference in Washington, D.C., in April. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“Because if I want to be the governor of one Georgia, that means I’ve got to govern for the women of Georgia. And the women of Georgia by and large agree that their right to choose should not be stripped away from them,” Abrams told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, adding, “We should greet this news with rage and with absolute dismay, and we should be organizing ourselves to defend our people — to defend women and their rights to an abortion.”

Abrams narrowly lost to Kemp in 2018 and has trailed in early polling before a likely rematch this November. Her campaign announced it is temporarily pausing its fundraising efforts for the election to focus on raising money for the state’s pro-abortion-rights groups.

Kemp signed a bill banning abortion after six weeks — before many women know they are pregnant — in 2019, but it was struck down by the courts. Perdue, meanwhile, has said he would go further and attempt to “eliminate all abortion in the state of Georgia.”

Abrams, a skilled fundraiser who has been organizing in Georgia for years, could potentially benefit politically from a Roe repeal. A January poll conducted by theJournal-Constitution found that 68% of registered voters did not want Roe to be overturned, as opposed to 24% who did.

In Michigan, Democratic incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer filed suit last month in an attempt to overturn a 1931 law banning abortion that would take effect if Roe were overturned. Under that legislation, exceptions are made for the health of the mother but not for rape or incest.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks in Dearborn, Mich., last September.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks in Dearborn, Mich., last September. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

“No matter what happens to Roe, I am going to fight like hell and use all the tools I have as governor to ensure reproductive freedom is protected,” Whitmer said in April. “Today in court, I represent all those who deserve the freedom to choose their own future. That’s a fight worth having.”

Whitmer’s opponent won’t be decided until the GOP primary in August, but all the Republicans running for the office have described themselves as anti-abortion, with some expressing support for the ban set to go into effect should Roe fall. Michigan GOP candidates for attorney general and secretary of state have said they support keeping the 1931 law on the books.

Republican candidates for governor in Pennsylvania had outlined their plans to eliminate abortion in the state prior to the Politico story in a debate last week. Of the four candidates in attendance, two wanted a total ban with no exceptions for rape or incest, while two wanted a ban with those limited exceptions.

“Thanks to President Trump, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court is set to right this historic wrong,” state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who has led in a number of polls before the May 17 GOP primary, said in a statement following the leaked ruling. “Since I was elected to the Senate, there has been no more important issue to me than the right to life.”

Unlike 13 predominantly conservative states, Pennsylvania does not have a “trigger law” set to restrict abortion following a Roe repeal. But it also doesn’t have its own legal protections for abortion access, meaning the legality of the procedure could be decided by the next governor and state legislature.

Abortion-rights activists and supporters protest outside Philadelphia's federal courthouse on May 3 in response to the leak of a draft opinion on a potential Supreme Court vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Abortion-rights activists and supporters protest outside Philadelphia's federal courthouse on May 3 in response to the leak of a draft opinion on a potential Supreme Court vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. (Heather Khalifa/Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who is being term-limited out of office, has vetoed three abortion bans passed by the Republican-controlled legislature during his tenure. Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro is running unopposed in the gubernatorial primary and has issued a number of statements this week affirming his commitment to legal abortion.

“Our next Governor will decide if Pennsylvania women have the right to choose,” Shapiro said in one tweet. “It's as simple as that. Our Republican Legislature will send a bill to the next Governor's desk banning abortion — my opponent will sign it. I will veto it.”

In Texas, which already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, Democrat Beto O’Rourke has been attacking incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott on the issue since last year.

Last year, Abbott signed the six-week ban that has since been upheld by both state and federal courts. “Our creator endowed us with the right to life and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion,” he said at the time, adding that the legislature "worked together on a bipartisan basis to pass a bill … that ensures that the life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion.”

If Roe is indeed overturned by the Supreme Court, it would immediately result in abortion being banned in the state due to a trigger law. A University of Texas/Texas Politics Project Poll released Monday found O’Rourke trailing Abbott by 11 points.

“These extreme attacks on abortion have never been about life,” O’Rourke, a former congressman and candidate for president, tweeted Tuesday evening. “They have always been about control. I will fight for every woman’s freedom to control their own health care, their own body, their own future.”

Last month in Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill reducing the time period during which a woman can get an abortion from 24 weeks into a pregnancy to 15 weeks, without exceptions for rape and incest.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signs Florida's 15-week abortion ban into law in Kissimmee.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signs Florida's 15-week abortion ban into law in Kissimmee. (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“We are here today to protect life,” DeSantis said at the bill’s signing ceremony. “We are here today to defend those who can’t defend themselves.”

DeSantis has been leading his potential general election rivals in polling by comfortable margins, but the Democrats challenging him hope that the focus on abortion can reframe the race.

“This is going to be a monumental shift in the politics of our state,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, one of the Democrats running for governor, told the Tampa Bay Times. “This is our moment, and it also proves how important it is to get the right candidate into office. ... If we don’t flip our state, more and more of our rights are going to be encroached upon.”

“If true, the fight for a woman’s right to choose will be left up to each state to decide … and front and center in this fall’s election,” tweeted Rep. Charlie Crist, also running in the Democratic primary, with a link to the article. “We must defeat DeSantis."

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