Courts

Beto O'Rourke Leads Texas Democrats' Blitz to Protect Abortion Rights

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke is running hard against the recent Supreme Court decision ending women's constitutional right to abortion.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke is running hard against the recent Supreme Court decision ending women's constitutional right to abortion. Carly May
Beto O’Rourke has made reproductive rights a central campaign issue, promising to repeal the state’s abortion ban if he wins the governor’s mansion. Some political experts say the move could help his chances.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 landmark ruling Roe v. Wade, which enshrined the constitutional right to abortion. Since then, O’Rourke and Mike Collier, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, have unleashed a battery of social media posts bashing the high court’s decision.

Democratic political strategist Colin Strother pointed out that Texas’ abortion ban doesn’t provide exceptions for victims of rape or incest, a fact that he called “sickening.” But people may not be thinking about the law’s practical implications, so Democrats need to help break down why the ruling matters.

“Even though '22 is looking like a wave year for Republicans, this may have saved the Democrats’ bacon,” Strother said.
By and large, a small segment from one political party is driving the abortion decision: middle-aged white males, he said. The Texas GOP’s elected officials are on the “extreme of the extreme right wing” when it comes to the procedure and don’t align with many of the state’s conservative voters.

Recent polling indicates that the vast majority of Texas voters, 78%, believe that abortion in some form should be permitted. The University of Texas/Texas Politics Project survey found that less than a quarter of Texas Republicans think abortion should never be allowed.

O’Rourke’s popularity has recently climbed in the polls. After last month’s Uvalde school massacre, which left 19 students and two teachers dead, the Democrat took his opponent to task over the state’s lax gun laws. Since Uvalde, Abbott’s lead has plummeted by 10 points.

“Now they have a reason to vote Democrat.” – Dr. Chris Macaulay, West Texas A&M University

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Strother noted that Texas is already home to one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the nation. He said the state does a poor job with sex education: Instead of promoting preventative measures like condoms, leadership continuously preaches abstinence.

Democrats should make abortion a central component of their campaigns, Strother argued. It’s the first time in his career, spanning more than two decades, that he’s advocating for Democrats “to lead with abortion in every single corner of Texas.”

“Because you know what? The hardcore evangelical anti-abortion people who agree with Greg Abbott, they’re not going to vote for us anyway,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if we moderate our position. It doesn’t matter if we include exceptions. They will never vote for us.”

Chris Macaulay, an assistant professor of political science at West Texas A&M University, agrees that it’s a good focal point for the state’s Democrats. By removing the abortion protection under Roe, “Republicans have effectively gotten everything they wanted,” he said.

President Joe Biden isn’t very popular at the moment, so this year’s election was already going to witness stronger enthusiasm for conservative candidates, he added. There’s usually a rebellion against the incumbent during the midterms.

“I think this is a smart move on behalf of the Democrats because it’s a good motivating force to try and get liberal … voters out there,” Macaulay said. “Now they have something to be outraged about. Now they have a reason to vote Democrat.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter