Election 2023: Even in Southern States, Abortion is a Top Issue

The 2022 repeal of Roe sent shockwaves throughout the U.S. political landscape. Decided in 1973, Roe had for half a century guaranteed an effectively unfettered right to abortion throughout the United States until the Supreme Court struck it down last June.

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null (photo: Stephen Velsaso / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0))

Off-year elections in two Southern states are set to take place next week, with big money being spent by pro-abortion lobbies in traditionally Republican strongholds and candidates sparring with each other over abortion more than a year after Roe v. Wade was repealed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 2022 repeal of Roe sent shockwaves throughout the U.S. political landscape. Decided in 1973, Roe had for half a century guaranteed an effectively unfettered right to abortion throughout the United States until the Supreme Court struck it down last June. 

In both Kentucky and Mississippi’s gubernatorial races, abortion has arisen as a significant issue in the campaigns there, with Democrats and Republicans defending their records and policies on the matter.

Kentucky

In Kentucky, Democratic incumbent Gov. Andy Beshear is running against Republican state Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Beshear is supportive of abortion rights, though in the past he modulated his support. He told an interviewer in 2019 that he supports “reasonable restrictions” on abortion, “especially on late-term procedures.” 

Polling has shown broad support for pro-life policies in Kentucky, though voters there last year rejected a pro-life amendment to the state’s constitution.

A particular issue in the 2023 race is the state’s abortion ban, which went into effect following Roe’s repeal. In a debate last month, Beshear said he would “continue to fight” for exemptions to the state’s ban. The governor’s campaign recently ran an ad arguing that “women and girls need to have options” regarding abortions in the state. 

Cameron at last month’s debate also said he was supportive of some exceptions to the ban. “I’m the pro-life candidate, and I’ve said that Andy Beshear is the abortion candidate,” he said. “I’ve also said that if the Legislature were to give me a bill with exceptions in it, I would certainly sign it.”

Pro-abortion forces, meanwhile, have been pouring money into the state throughout the election season, running ads attacking Cameron for his earlier stances on abortion. Planned Parenthood in September said it was launching a “historic six-figure ad campaign” to fight for abortion rights in the state.

Beshear in 2019 received the backing of the pro-abortion group NARAL Pro-Choice America, which hailed his victory as “a massive win for reproductive freedom in Kentucky and across the country.”

Mississippi

The gubernatorial race in Mississippi is playing out in a similar way to that of Kentucky’s. Democratic candidate Brandon Presley has affirmed what he says are his pro-life beliefs.

“My faith teaches me to be pro-life, and I support exceptions in our law for rape, incest, and life of the mother,” Presley said during a recent debate with Republican incumbent Gov. Tate Reeves. “I’m pro-life, and I have been forever.”

Nevertheless, Presley has received financial support from at least one notable pro-abortion partisan. Donor filings show tens of thousands of dollars in support from Karla Jurvetson, the vice chair of the board of directors of Emily’s List, a group that supports pro-abortion politicians around the country.

Presley has denied that campaign donations could influence his policy positions. “I’m not going to sell my soul for $20 for campaign money,” he said during the debate. “So if somebody donates to my campaign, it doesn’t change my beliefs for one second.”

The Democratic candidate has gone out of his way to emphasize his position on abortion, stating in a campaign spot earlier this year that he is “pro-life.” 

Though Presley’s position on abortion is contrasted with that of the national Democratic platform — which is broadly in favor of abortion rights — he has still received considerable support from official Democratic channels. The Democratic Governors Association has invested nearly $4 million into his campaign.

Abortion is the Focus in Other States as Well

Outside of the deep South, abortion politics are in full swing in some states as the election season nears its end. In Virginia, Republicans are hoping to retain control of the state House of Delegates and flip control of the state Senate to give the GOP a trifecta with Gov. Glenn Youngkin. 

Republicans have floated the possible passage of a 15-week abortion ban in the state, a looser limit compared with some other states. The state Republican Party said in September that state Democrats “have fought to make unlimited, unrestricted, taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand up until the moment of birth the new standard under Virginia law. They are the abortion extremists.”

Pro-abortion spending has been heavy in the state, meanwhile, with the ACLU alone spending $1 million to advocate for pro-abortion politicians. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee also reportedly pumped at least $2 million into state races in Virginia this year. 

In Ohio, voters are set to decide on Election Day whether or not to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution via a state ballot initiative. Pro-life activists have been working to counteract pro-abortion advocates there, though abortion supporters have significantly outraised pro-life efforts in the lead-up to the election.

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