Elections 2022Statewide NewsRolling the Dice on Abortion: Statewide Democrats Place Campaign Spotlight on Texas Restrictions

After the ball finally dropped on Roe v. Wade, Texas Democrats have made abortion a feature, if not the feature, of their campaigns.
August 31, 2022
One after another, the Democrats at the top of the ticket in Texas castigated their GOP opponents over the activation of Texas’ abortion trigger ban that took effect last week, 30 days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s judgment in Dobbs v. Jackson was released.

Democrat Beto O’Rourke — the minority party’s candidate for governor, who’s declined to support any legal restriction on abortion — made the issue the focus of his first two general election ads. He said when announcing the television spots, “The only way to overcome the most extreme abortion ban in America is to defeat the man who signed it, win political power and fight to restore a woman’s freedom to make her own decisions about her own body, health care and future.”

Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor Mike Collier and for attorney general Rochelle Garza released a joint ad condemning the policy.

Collier, who’s branded his campaign around the power grid more than any other issue, said that as lieutenant governor he pledges to “restore funding to Planned Parenthood, safeguard access to contraception, and write into the books of law the liberties afforded under Roe v. Wade.”

“I’ll have constitutional powers to protect Texans against this extreme abortion ban,” Garza added. “I’ll make sure that doctors can continue saving lives without risking prison or losing their medical license. I’ll partner with district attorneys across the state to ensure we are protecting reproductive rights in state courts. And I won’t stop fighting until abortion access is restored in Texas.”

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The U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey overturned the previously conjured constitutional right to abortion across all 50 states — a maneuver in 1973 that abolished any state abortion restriction, whether restrictive or lax.

Texas now has three abortion restrictions in effect: the Heartbeat Act passed last year, which bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat and sets enforcement through civil lawsuits by the public; the Human Life Protection Act also passed in 2021, known as the “trigger ban,” which was triggered by Roe’s reversal and outlaws abortion from conception except in instances to save the life or prevent major bodily impairment of the mother; and the pre-Roe statutes never repealed by the state legislature, which accomplish essentially the same ban as the trigger law but lays out different penalties.

Under each law, the mother cannot be punished for obtaining an abortion.

The frenzy with which Texas Democrats have rushed to not only register their opposition to the law but make it the feature of their campaigns, at least for the moment, shows their confidence in the issue’s salience as a wedge between them and their opponents.

Even some on the second tier of statewide candidates have gotten in on the action. Candidate for agriculture commissioner Susan Hays and for comptroller Janet Dudding both joined the chorus. And Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa echoed the statements of his candidates, saying, “Today is a gut-wrenchingly sad day for our great state.”

“The extremist Republicans leading Texas are finally able to see the poisoned fruit of their labor: a state where a doctor can be criminally prosecuted with a life sentence in prison for providing care to their patients.”

O’Rourke himself benefitted from a large post-Dobbs fundraising boon, much of which came from out of state.

Where the appeal of Democrats’ messaging on the power grid contains some crossover appeal — as it’s not inherently a partisan issue, despite becoming one during this cycle — abortion doesn’t fit that bill.

Yet, these Democrats are banking significant campaign airtime on it.

One possible explanation for this gamble is the attitude of new voters. Since the 2020 election, 1.1. million new voters have registered in Texas, more than the number of registered voters in eight other states.

A poll released this week by the Defend Texas Liberty PAC — run by former state Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) — showed that Republicans are favored by 59 percent of those newly registered voters compared to the Democrats’ 41 percent.

However, the poll indicates that on abortion, 69 percent of those newly registered voters agree more with Democrats, while 16 percent side with Republicans. A June poll from the Texas Politics Project indicated that 52 percent of respondents favored a more unencumbered abortion policy than Texas law currently provides, and only 15 percent said that abortion should never be permitted.

The gamble comes in banking on both the sentiments in those polls being representative of this year’s midterm voters and that the abortion issue has enough sway to drown out concerns on other issues.

For example, that same poll by Defend Texas Liberty shows Republicans have an advantage over Democrats on border security (90 percent), election integrity (69 percent), gun rights (51 percent), property taxes (56 percent), and education (39 percent).

For their part, Republicans haven’t been on point with their abortion messaging at every step. When asked last September about the Heartbeat Act’s lack of an exception for rape or incest, Abbott fumbled his response, saying first that the bill provides “at least six weeks” to obtain an abortion and second that Texas aims to eliminate crimes of rape by “aggressively arresting them and prosecuting them and getting [rapists] off the streets.”

This response landed poorly on the ears of legacy media and Democrats alike, who jumped on the opportunity to hammer the governor for the clumsy response.

While Republicans are betting on the border — that the conditions on the state’s southern border will drive traditionally Democratic Hispanics in South Texas toward the GOP — Democrats are putting more eggs in the abortion basket.

For a party that hasn’t won a statewide race since 1994, facing down an unfriendly midterm in which their party occupies the White House and Congress during an economic downturn, a lot must fall into place for the tables to turn.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.