VIRGINIA BEACH – Kenzie Smith is “not big on politics,” she said, and while she votes loyally for the Democrats in presidential elections, she cares less about off-year races like the seven weeks in Virginia for the governor and legislature .
But 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 their attention.
Fears that such a restrictive bill, which she called “insane”, could come to Virginia if Republicans take power has heightened her desire to show up on election day. “If there are laws like the one in Texas coming here, I would be absolutely motivated to vote on them,” said Ms. Smith, 33, a marketing consultant.
The Supreme Court’s September 1 ruling to have Texas enact the most restrictive abortion law in the country was a blow to abortion rights advocates, a long-awaited victory for anti-abortionists, and a potential political opportunity for Democrats.
As the party rallies for next year’s midterm elections, its first major test on the subject will take place in the Virginia elections this fall. The Democrats are hoping to win a close race for governors and maintain control of the legislature in a state that has moved quickly to the left. Former Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat running for office, has repeatedly pledged to be a “brick wall” against anti-abortion measures and hyped his defense of the right to abortion in a campaign debate last week on trail and fundraising appeals .
Democrats in Virginia and beyond are particularly focusing on suburban women, who played a large role in the election of President Biden, but whose broader loyalty to his party is not guaranteed. With Republicans smelling blood in next year’s midterm election, as Mr Biden’s approval ratings plummet and the economy facing a potential stall due to the ongoing pandemic, Democrats are looking to issues like abortion to help overcome the complacency of their constituents, now, since Donald J. Trump is gone office.
In more than two dozen interviews in the politically divided city of Virginia Beach, the largest city in the state but essentially a patchwork of suburban neighborhoods, Democratic-minded and independent voters expressed fear and indignation at the Supreme Court’s green light for Texas law . Many said it had reinforced their desire to vote for Democrats, even though in the past individual issues had not sparked voter turnout; Have candidate personalities and the wider economy.
Even a number of women who said they favor Republicans noted they also supported the right to abortion – which might explain why GOP candidates in Virginia downplayed the issue, removed anti-abortion comments from campaign websites, and some Have rejected comments.
In a debate Thursday between candidates for governor, Republican Glenn Youngkin said, “I would not sign Texas law today.” When asked if he would sign a six-week ban on abortion, with the exception of rape and incest, he evaded. He affirmed that he supported a “pain threshold law” that generally bans abortion after 20 weeks.
Mr. McAuliffe said he was “shocked” that “the Trump Supreme Court” Roe v. Wade, could overturn the landmark 1973 decision granting a constitutional right to abortion. He said he supports “a woman’s right to make her own decision by the second trimester”. He misleadingly said that Mr. Youngkin “wants to ban abortion”.
At the beginning of the campaign, a liberal activist recorded Youngkin who said he had to downplay his anti-abortion views in order to win independents, but if he were elected and Republicans saw the House of Representatives he would start “going on the offensive” . . ”The McAuliffe campaign turned the recording into a notice of attack.
Republicans portray Mr. McAuliffe as a proponent of abortion right up to the moment of birth and are trying to bind him to a failed 2019 bill that would have eased some restrictions on late-term abortions. Virginia law allows third trimester abortions when a woman’s life is in danger.
Abortion polls show that American attitudes have remained stable for decades, with a majority of about 60 percent saying that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. In Virginia, slightly fewer people agree, 55 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.
However, in a contradiction that illustrates the moral complexities of the issue, national polls also show that majorities are in favor of abortion restrictions that are illegal under Roe, such as banning second-trimester abortions in most cases.
A poll by the Washington Post-Crowd School in Virginia this month after the Supreme Court paved the way for Texan law found abortion was a low-profile voter race.
The harshness of the Texas ruling – and the prospect that the Supreme Court could topple Roe next year on a 15-week abortion ban case in Mississippi – has exacerbated the issue.
Virginia Beach presents a test case of the tense abortion problem at the forefront of America’s changing electoral landscape. The large number of military families has long made local politics conservative, 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 commanding officer of the Navy, whose congressional district includes Virginia Beach, is one of Republicans’ top targets for 2022.
The city stretches from saltwater taffy shops on the touristy Atlantic beaches to quiet streets with brick houses that meander around the area’s many bays. Outdoor conversations are interrupted by deafening military jets that seldom look up at the sky.
Ellen Robinson, a retired nurse who identifies as politically independent, was “appalled” by Texan law and said that if the court overturned Roe, “it would be the beginning of fascism in this country.”
Kathleen Moran, an engineering technical writer who prefers Democrats, said the Supreme Court’s ruling on Texas law “terrified” her.
“I have guys who are going to date women,” she said. “I have nieces. This goes back to the whole ‘white men are allowed to make all decisions about anything’. “
Ms. Moran said she was more interested in the vote after the court refused to stop the Texan law attempting to block the Biden government.
“We are in a really dangerous situation,” she said. “Of course we don’t want to become Texas because of the abortion, but we could lose the now blue state on many issues.”
While many Republican women across Virginia would most likely support stricter abortion laws, few conservative-minded women in suburban Virginia Beach expressed support for a six-week abortion law or a Roe against Wade repeal. Although these women did not always adopt the “pro-choice” label, they agreed that women should be able to make their own reproductive choices.
“I know Republicans have always been against abortion, but as a woman, I think I should be able to choose myself,” said Janis Cohen, 73, a retired government employee. Their lawn featured a parade of signs for GOP candidates. When it was pointed out that one of them, Winsome Sears, who is running for lieutenant governor, said she would support a six-week abortion ban, Ms. Cohen fired back that the current governor, Democrat Ralph Northam, was who she was is considered an abortion extremist.
In 2019, the governor, a pediatric neurologist, appeared to be suggesting that a delivered baby could be allowed to die if the mother requested an abortion while in labor with a deformed fetus that was unlikely to survive. Republicans across the country took the comments as sanctions for “child murder”. Mr. Northam’s office called the allegations a malicious distortion of his views.
Polls on the Virginia Governor’s race have generally predicted a close race, including an Emerson College race last week where candidates are within the margin of error.
Nancy Guy, a Democratic state delegate who flipped a Republican-held Virginia Beach seat by just 27 votes in 2019, said that before abortions became an issue in recent weeks, “most people have been complacent and have not paid attention “.
Ms. Guy’s opponent has promised that if he chooses, he will donate his salary to a so-called crisis pregnancy center, which prevents pregnant women from having abortions. The contrast couldn’t be any clearer to voters following the issues. Still, Ms. Guy said, given the constantly churning news, it was difficult to know what will get voters to cast their votes in nearly two months.
The Virginia Democrats made great strides during Mr Trump’s divisive leadership that culminated in 2019 when the party took control of both the State Senate and the House of Representatives. But Democratic majorities are small, and Republicans believe they have an anti-incumbent wind on their backs this year. Three statewide positions are up for election on November 2 – governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general – along with all 100 seats in the House of Representatives.
The Virginia sales manager for Planned Parenthood Advocates said an average of 10 to 15 volunteers were on shifts, compared with 25 to 40 two years ago, a worrying sign for proponents of abortion law.
Han Jones, the political director of Planned Parenthood in Virginia, added, “People are weary of elections and weary of Donald Trump’s rhetoric and feel like they can take a break. We could easily blush in this election alone if Democratic voters who don’t feel so passionate or inclined don’t vote. “
A team of Planned Parenthood candidates visiting a neighborhood with adjoining townhouses recently encountered general support for the Democrats but not much election awareness or enthusiasm.
One voter, Carly White, said abortion was a sensitive issue in her household. “I’m in favor of planned parenting, but my husband isn’t,” she said, stepping out of a house with a small, precisely trimmed lawn. “I think the problem is he’s a man. He’s never had a baby. I just can’t – I don’t like it when someone tells me what I can do with my own body. “