Activists Gear Up Fight Over Abortion In Kentucky And Virginia In 2019 In Virginia and Kentucky, activists on both sides of the abortion debate are working to elect candidates at the state level with the power to affect abortion policy.
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In Key 2019 Races, Activists Gear Up For Big Fight Over Abortion

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In Key 2019 Races, Activists Gear Up For Big Fight Over Abortion

In Key 2019 Races, Activists Gear Up For Big Fight Over Abortion

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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So if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, states would have even more power to prohibit abortion. And that means governors and state lawmakers could have the final say. Activists on both sides of the issue are making that point to voters ahead of some key elections tomorrow. As NPR's Sarah McCammon reports, those races might offer a preview of how abortion will play in the 2020 elections.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: On a recent cloudy fall afternoon, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin stood on the steps of the governor's mansion in Frankfort flanked by a couple dozen activists wearing blue T-shirts and holding matching signs that read, I vote pro-life.


MATT BEVIN: It took me a while to figure out why I keep seeing these blue T-shirts. I wasn't sure who you were. But I'm just grateful to you.

MCCAMMON: Bevin, a Republican, was surrounded by activists who've been door-knocking across Kentucky on his behalf with a goal of reaching 200,000 voters by Election Day tomorrow. They've been organized by a major national anti-abortion rights group, the Susan B. Anthony List. The organization has worked to elect conservative U.S. senators and helped push through the confirmation of President Trump's Supreme Court nominees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said she was there to endorse Bevin and other Republicans running for statewide office.

MARJORIE DANNENFELSER: Who we know will lead Kentucky into this next chapter of the pro-life movement, which is the most important chapter of the pro-life movement since Roe v. Wade.

MCCAMMON: For the first time in decades, the Supreme Court may be on the verge of substantially rolling back the guarantee of a right to an abortion. And now activists like Dannenfelser are looking to state officials like Bevin to support new abortion restrictions. Bevin has been a consistent and vocal opponent of abortion rights in Kentucky, signing a law this year that bans the procedure as soon as cardiac activity can be detected. That law is currently tied up in litigation, but Bevin told supporters he'd like to go further.


BEVIN: Here's the thing, it wouldn't bother me one lick if there wasn't an abortion provider in the state - it wouldn't.

MCCAMMON: Bevin may need the support from anti-abortion rights activists as he runs for reelection. He's one of the least popular governors in the country, known for an abrasive style and for clashing with teachers' unions over their pensions. Bevin is facing a formidable challenge from Democratic state Attorney General Andy Beshear. Beshear has been endorsed by some prominent Republicans in Kentucky. Against that backdrop, activists are trying to help Bevin stay in office.

PATRICK HALL: Hey, how you doing?


HALL: My name is Patrick Hall. I'm with the Susan B. Anthony List. We're a pro-life organization.

MCCAMMON: The SBA List is spending three quarters of a million dollars to support Bevin and other Kentucky Republicans through digital ads and mailers and teams of door-to-door canvassers. On a recent Saturday, one door they knock on belongs to Mark Randle, a pastor of a church in Lexington. Randall says he thinks Bevin has made, quote, "a million mistakes," including his fight with teachers, but he still supports him - in part because of his views on abortion.

MARK RANDLE: I'm the son of a public school teacher. Don't mess with teachers - of all things, don't do that. I mean, we got to fix the budget, but don't mess with teachers.

MCCAMMON: But you're still voting for him.

RANDLE: Yeah, I'm going to vote for him.

MCCAMMON: What do you agree with him on?

RANDLE: Certainly the abortion issue, without question.

MCCAMMON: Meanwhile, the abortion rights group NARAL has announced its own five-figure digital ad campaign telling Kentucky voters that Bevin supports, quote, "punishing women by criminalizing abortion." Sam Newton, with Democrat Andy Beshear's campaign, says focusing on abortion is a last-ditch effort for Bevin and his supporters.

SAM NEWTON: Matt Bevin is going to try to bring this up a hundred different ways because after four years, he's failed. He's failed Kentucky, and he knows he's extremely unpopular

MCCAMMON: In Virginia, a similar fight is playing out in another off-year election for control of the state legislature. Republicans narrowly outnumber Democrats in a state that's trending increasingly blue. SBA List has sent out mailers and released digital ads attacking half a dozen Democrats for supporting a failed proposal earlier this year to remove some restrictions on third trimester abortion. And abortion rights advocates are fighting back, like in this digital ad from Planned Parenthood's PAC on behalf of a Democratic candidate for Virginia state Senate.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: She'll stand up to extreme politicians in Virginia who have attacked access to reproductive health care, including safe legal abortion.

MCCAMMON: Planned Parenthood is investing more than a million dollars in Virginia legislative races this year. Emily's List, another group that backs candidates who support abortion rights, is spending about 2 million. Marjorie Dannenfelser with the anti-abortion SBA List says as the battle over abortion rights intensifies in the states, advocates on both sides will have to pay more attention to these kinds of races.

DANNENFELSER: We're hoping and planning that there's going to be a shift where governors have more say with their legislatures over what abortion law is. So the left knows that, we know that. Everyone's focusing who cares about this issue on governorships and state legislatures for exactly the same reason.

MCCAMMON: Abortion rights will be among the key issues at stake as voters in a handful of states head to the polls tomorrow - and in many more races in 2020. Sarah McCammon, NPR News.

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