AG races focus on abortion

Nevada's Attorney General Aaron Ford speaks
Associated Press/John Locher
In this Dec. 14, 2018, file photo, Nevada’s Attorney General Aaron Ford speaks with The Associated Press in Las Vegas.

Democratic attorneys general and candidates are zeroing in on abortion access as a campaign issue after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and left decisions on abortion access to the states.Abortion bans went into effect in the GOP-leaning states of Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Dakota — though at least one has been temporarily blocked in court — while other states have pre-Roe bans on the procedure that Democratic governors and attorneys general are declining to enforce. 

As the top legal authority in their respective states, attorneys general are the figures who decide whether to enforce the ruling in their states. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) has said she will not enforce the law, while Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul (D) said his office will not be prosecuting abortions.  

Democrats say they view attorneys general as one of the last lines of defense in protecting abortion access in a post-Roe world — and candidates are campaigning on that very premise. 

“As the vice president said to me and others yesterday when we met, it’s important that voters know that they have power to elect attorneys general who are going to support what was, up until today, a constitutional right to an abortion,” Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford (D) said last week.  

On Monday, 22 Democratic attorneys general issued a statement reaffirming their commitment to abortion access in their states and vowing to use “all legal tools at our disposal” to fight for abortion rights.  

That message is being echoed among Democratic incumbent attorneys general and candidates on the campaign trail.  

“Whether we would intentionally want to make this front and center, it’s going to be,” Georgia attorney general candidate and state Sen. Jen Jordan (D) said on a press call Saturday.  

“I don’t think we’re going to have to put any money behind it because to be quite frank, it’s going to be on the front page of every newspaper in this state,” she continued.  

Democratic attorney general candidates are also echoing concerns over the precedent the decision could set for other civil rights fights.  

“It’s not just going to be abortion care,” said Texas attorney general candidate Rochelle Garza (D). “This is a civil right that impacts other civil rights. You take away this right, you can easily take away a bunch of other civil rights that we have fought for. So this is just the beginning.”  

Democrats argue the decision allows them to flip the script on Republicans, who have continuously painted them as radical on a number of cultural issues.  

“What’s radical is what each and every one of our opponents wants to do, which is to prosecute providers, and in some states, like mine, women who are seeking abortion care can also be prosecuted,” Nessel told reporters. 

“I don’t think we’re going to have to do much to highlight those differences,” she continued. “I think the public will know which side is radical and which side merely wants to preserve the rights that we’ve had in this country for 50 years now.”  

Polling conducted after the high court announced its decision appears to show Americans are against the decision. Fifty-six percent of Americans said they disagreed with the Supreme Court’s move to overturn Roe v. Wade, while 40 percent said they supported the decision, according to an NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist poll published Monday. Meanwhile, a CBS News-YouGov poll on Sunday showed 52 percent of voters said the decision was a “step backward,” while 31 percent said it was a “step forward.”  

Republican attorneys general and candidates have largely celebrated the decision, calling it a win for states’ rights.  

“The U.S. Supreme Court — the highest court in the land — has spoken. The elected representatives in the Legislature have passed the Georgia LIFE Act,” said Kara Richardson, a spokesperson for Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. “It is the duty of the Attorney General to defend the Constitution of the State of Georgia and the laws passed by the Legislature, and the Department of Law will continue its defense of the LIFE Act.” 

Other Republicans pointed to rising inflation, gas prices and crime as issues that will ultimately decide the election.  

“Unfortunately, Democrat AGs are beholden to Planned Parenthood and the industrial abortion complex instead of the Constitution,” said Peter Bisbee, executive director of the Republican Attorneys General Association. “So they continue to push an extreme agenda that is out of step with the majority of Americans. With rampant crime, record inflation, soaring gas prices, and a sinking economy, it’s easy to see why Democrat AGs want to focus the conversation on anything other than the Democrat policies that caused this mess, which they’ve supported and defended in court.”

Rodney Glassman, an Arizona Republican attorney general candidate, called illegal immigration the number one issue in his state, and said, “Democrats are interested in talking about social issues when Arizona families cannot afford to buy gas to get their kids to school and our illegal immigration numbers are the highest that they’ve been in our state’s history.”  

Sigal Chattah, a Republican running for attorney general in Nevada, echoed this view, calling Democrats’ moves to make abortion a major campaign issue “histrionic.”  

“The way I look at this is it was essentially a gift to them to pivot from any real issue like crime,” Chattah said. “Here’s the hysterical issue that’s now going to completely encompass their agenda.” 

Glassman still praised the high court’s ruling as “a great win for life and a great win for the restoration of states’ rights.” He also accused Arizona Democratic attorney general nominee Kris Mayes of “picking and choosing” the laws she wants to enforce in the state.  

Eric Toney, a Republican candidate running for Wisconsin attorney general, also praised the ruling and said the high court was right to make the issue one that falls under the jurisdiction of the states. However, Toney said his top priority as attorney general would still be rule of law.  

“I’m focused on enforcing the rule of law, standing with our cops, and fighting to end the historic violence, the homicides, and drug deaths that we’re seeing here in Wisconsin,” Toney said. “That should be the top priority of our attorney general and anybody running for attorney general.”  

Mayes expressed confidence in what she said was a strong “pro-choice” lean among Arizona voters of all stripes.  

“Arizona is overwhelmingly pro-choice,” Mayes said. “Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and Libertarians in my state overwhelmingly believe that a woman should have the right to determine what happens with her own body and her future.”  

Democrats argue the legal battles in the states that are set to follow the Supreme Court decision will keep it in the headlines — and in play as an issue in November.

“These elections are going to send a crystal clear message to elected officials across the country,” Kaul said. “We can send that message by electing pro-choice candidates.”

Tags Aaron Ford dana nessel Jen Jordan Josh Kaul Roe v. Wade

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