Oct 21, 2022 - Health

Senate debates zero in on abortion

Illustration of a caduceus over a divided red and blue background with elements of ballots.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Democrats are intent on making abortion a defining issue of the midterm election cycle and painting Republican opponents of the procedure as extremists. But it's unclear whether that intense focus will keep them in control of the Senate.

State of play: Polls show that since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Americans are more motivated to vote for candidates that support abortion access.

  • But a New York Times/Siena College poll this week found a dramatic shift among women who identify as independents — a group the Democrats have been intensely targeting but who cite the economy, not reproductive rights, as the biggest concern.

Driving the news: Abortion looms particularly large in Senate races in battleground states. If Republicans retake control of the chamber, they could bring up a nationwide 15-week ban on the procedure.

Arizona: Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) slammed Blake Masters (R) for referring to abortion as "demonic" and for saying at one point that he would support a federal personhood law, which would classify fetuses and embryos as people.

  • Masters said he would support a 15-week ban and asserted that Kelly supports legislation that would legalize abortion nationwide until the end of a pregnancy's third trimester.

Florida: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — the only senator up for reelection to co-sponsor Sen. Lindsay Graham's (R-S.C.) nationwide 15-week ban — recently accused Rep. Val Demings (D) of supporting abortion access until the "moment of life."

  • In response, Demings suggested that Rubio supports banning abortion without any sort of exceptions.

Georgia: Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) said that women should be the ones to choose over their own bodies and called the Supreme Court "extremist" for getting rid of Roe.

  • Warnock pointed to his opponent Herschel Walker (R) when asking if Georgians wished to support someone who "wanted to control your life." Walker suggested in response that Warnock, who is a pastor, did not wish to protect babies in the state.

North Carolina: Republican candidate Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) said that his opponent, Cheri Beasley (D), had extreme views on abortion, saying that she supports abortion "at any time, for any reason, all the way up ... until the moment of birth."

  • Beasley responded that she supports the "parameters outlined in Roe v. Wade" — until viability — and added that Budd, who has previously backed a six-week ban, "wants to be in between a woman and her doctor, and there is no place in the exam room for Congressman Budd."

Ohio: Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) said that his Republican challenger, JD Vance, "supports a national abortion ban in which he wants women to have to get a passport and go to Canada" to access the procedure.

  • Vance tried to cast Ryan as having an extremist view and said that if he cannot support Graham's 15-week ban, then he'd be making the U.S. "the most barbaric pro-abortion regime."

Wisconsin: Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) attacked Sen. Ron Johnson (R) for previously saying that if women do not support the state's pre-Roe ban, they could move to another state: "I can't think of a more callous, out of touch, or extreme position to take."

  • Johnson said in response that he would support a referendum asking voters to decide on the issue — which is actually not allowed under state law. He also said that Barnes supports "abortion right up to the moment of birth."

What they're saying: Major party committees are supporting their candidates' stances.

  • "Any voter watching these debates can see the clear threat Republicans pose to a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions," said Eli Cousin, spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
  • Democrats are pushing "for an on-demand, taxpayer-funded abortion agenda that a majority of voters disagree with," a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee told Axios.

Go deeper: Republicans' rocky attempt to change the abortion narrative

Go deeper