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Democrats point to Texas abortion ban in bid to juice midterm turnout

Democrats and abortion activists are gearing up to go on the offensive ahead of the midterms, and they plan to use Texas's newly enacted all-but-total ban on abortions as Exhibit A in their quest to get voters to the ballot box.

The Texas legislation, known as S.B. 8, bans abortions after a heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks and is before many women know they are pregnant. The measure, which essentially leaves enforcement in the hands of Texas residents by allowing them to sue anyone suspected of aiding an abortion, went into effect at midnight Wednesday after the Supreme Court refused to block it.

The Supreme Court refused to block the law in a 5-4 ruling. The court's majority said abortion providers failed to make a persuasive argument for the court to intervene but said that the challengers had raised "serious questions" about the law's constitutionality.

Opponents of the Texas law, which puts the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in jeopardy, argue it's a prime example of state-level elections having consequences.

"Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land for a longtime, and so many voters took for granted that there was a constitutional right to abortion," said Kristin Ford, acting vice president of communications and research at NARAL Pro-Choice America. "With that in real jeopardy and this bill being able to go into effect in Texas really flies in the face of Roe v. Wade." 

Democratic Party committees on Wednesday blasted out a number of statements denouncing the move and vowing to galvanize voters to hit back at the ballot box. 

"We won't go back - and we'll be fighting from now until Election Day to make sure that the House Republicans who are coming for reproductive rights lose their seats in 2022," Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement. 

A number of Democratic candidates up and down the ballot also vowed to fight back. 

"The right to an abortion is non-negotiable. Reproductive freedom is sacred both in PA and in America," tweeted Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who is running for Senate in the state. "In PA, Governor Wolf + I will veto any bill that limits a person's reproductive freedom." 

The news comes after the Supreme Court agreed in May to review Mississippi's ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. That lawsuit was the culmination of a number of GOP-led states seeking to enact abortion bans that challenged Roe v. Wade.

Anti-abortion activists and many Republicans celebrated the news out of Texas on Wednesday as a victory in chipping away at the landmark decision that guaranteed the right to an abortion. 

"With the Dobbs case on the horizon, we hope that the Court is finally ready to let this debate move forward democratically, restoring the right of states to protect our most vulnerable brothers and sisters," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of conservative anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List.

But Democrats are using the abortion bans to paint their Republican opponents as extremists in a bid to both rally their base and appeal to moderate voters.

Abortion rights groups say they're already working to engage voters ahead of 2022 through canvassing and ad campaigns. Last week, NARAL released an ad, titled "The SB 8 Domino Effect," sounding the alarm over the abortion ban. 

"Our plan for the election cycle is registering voters, engaging with people now on the issues ... showing them that they have a part in this and that they can make a real difference," said Carisa Lopez, the political director of the Texas Freedom Network, a social justice and civil liberties organization. 

Virginia, which holds its statewide elections in November, could give a preview into how messaging on abortion will play in 2022. 

Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D) sent out a fundraising email reacting to the news of the ban on Wednesday, calling the legislation "draconian."

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe has pushed to elevate the issue of abortion, releasing two ads over the past week hitting his Republican opponent on the issue. 

"This dangerous Texas law is exactly what Glenn Youngkin has in mind when he says he wants to go 'on offense' to ban abortion in the Commonwealth," the former governor said in a statement on Wednesday. "We've seen these extreme right-wing attacks on reproductive health in Virginia before, and as governor I fought back against every single one." 

In July, a liberal news site surfaced footage of Youngkin saying he cannot risk openly talking about his abortion stance on the campaign trail in Virginia because it may turn off independent voters in the state but said he would go on offense as governor with a Republican majority in the House of Delegates, where all 100 seats are on the ballot in November. 

"These decisions really are made at the state level," said Virginia state Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D) during a call with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia on Wednesday. 

"We want to make sure that we support and ensure that we have abortion access champions that are either returning to their seats or that we are electing them to seats," she continued. "That is why this election is so critical." 

Youngkin's campaign said the video with his remarks was "deceptively recorded" and has hit back at McAuliffe's attacks with its own ad released last month, tying McAuliffe to efforts aimed at loosening restrictions on third-trimester abortions. 

When asked about the Texas abortion ban on Wednesday, Youngkin said McAuliffe would use the issue of abortion to divide Virginians. 

"My biggest concern when it comes to abortion in Virginia is my opponent's extreme views where he actually advocates for taxpayer abortion that would actually be available all the way up through and including birth," he said.

Youngkin, who was endorsed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in June, did not definitively say whether he would support similar legislation in Virginia. 

"I'm pro-life. I've said it from the beginning of this campaign," he said. "I believe in exceptions in the case of rape, in the case of incest and in the case where the mother's life is in jeopardy." 

The Texas law makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. 

Abortion has a contentious history in Virginia politics. 

Virginia Republicans for years have slammed Gov. Ralph Northam (D) for remarks he made in 2019 when asked about state legislation that would relax restrictions on third-trimester abortions, in which the Northam said that third-term abortions are rare and typically occur when an infant is severely deformed or unable to survive after birth. Virginia House Republicans ended up tabling the legislation.

Across the country, anti-abortion activists and a number of Republicans have also gone on the offense on abortion. 

Last month, the Susan B. Anthony List launched an ad campaign targeting 20 Democratic House and Senate lawmakers over their stances on abortion. The campaign zeroed in specifically on lawmakers who refused to support the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal programs such as Medicaid from covering the costs of abortion services. 

Anti-abortion activists maintain that their political base will be as fired up if not more than their counterparts on the issue, saying it will impact Republicans holding the same views at the ballot box. 

"It behooves the pro-life candidate to make the contrast very clear," said Susan B. Anthony List spokesperson Mallory Quigley. "More than ever before, the Republican Party and its platform are unified in terms of being pro life and seeing it not only as the morally right position but also politically smart, which is a change from 10, 15 years ago." 

But abortion rights activists and Democrats say public opinion is on their side and point to an unwillingness among a number of Republicans to talk about the issue. 

"We know it's a winning issue," said Jenny Lawson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes. "We know that Republicans like [former President] Trump, [former Vice President] Pence, Mitch McConnell, and other senators back in the end of 2020 were running away from their anti-abortion positions because they were unpopular." 

An NBC News poll released on Wednesday found that 52 percent of adults polled said abortion should be legal in "all or most cases." Another 42 percent said that the procedure should be illegal. 

"A lot of people thought this day would never come and now it's here," Lopez, of the Texas Freedom Network, said, referring to the ban. "Voters are paying attention."

Updated at 9:18 a.m.

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