Abortion not a hot topic during Texas primaries

The March 1 primary will mark six months that clinics in Texas have operated under a law banning abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — As abortion rights in the United States come into question, one thing seemed clear at the start of 2022: the issue would dominate the United States midterm elections.

But in Texas — of all places — that wasn’t the case in the nation’s first primary.

The airwaves are not flooded with campaign ads focused on access to abortion. Candidates spend more time talking about COVID-19, immigration, and power grid reliability. Some rallies and events come and go without even mentioning that Texas has had the most restrictive abortion law in the nation for months now.

“It’s almost like we’ve gone numb,” said Democrat Ann Johnson, state representative in Houston.

With early voting already underway for the March 1 primary, the lack of abortion at the forefront of Texas races amounts to a sharp shift from last fall, when the law banning abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy went into effect and made headlines across the country. Republican lawmakers in other states rushed to offer copycat measures, and at the White House, President Joe Biden criticized the law as triggering “constitutional chaos.”

The change disappointed abortion-rights supporters who suspect months of court defeats have taken their toll at a time when a full press is still needed. Others worry that some candidates, especially Democrats, still don’t know how to campaign effectively on abortion, even after last fall’s uproar.

“It’s a community issue, it’s a public health issue and I think not talking about it is like super blind,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four clinics in Texas.

It shows that Democratic and Republican candidates in Texas have concluded that other issues are currently higher priorities for primary voters — the economy, schools and health care top among them.

Many believe that the issue of abortion will come to the fore again during the general election campaign, when candidates face the opposing party rather than like-minded competitors, and after the Supreme Court decides to weaken the landmark Roe v. Wade that guarantees the right to abortion. The court’s decision on a key abortion case is expected by June.

But as the 2022 campaign begins, the race in Texas has revealed fissures between the practical impact of Texas abortion rights law and the politics of the issue. Recent data confirmed that in the first month after the restrictions took effect, abortions in Texas dropped by 60%.

Outside San Antonio this month, a forum of candidates for a seat in the Texas House – where the law known as Senate Bill 8 was overwhelmingly passed a year ago – has drew a crowd of more than 100 people to mostly rural Kendall County.

None of the contestants on stage mentioned it, and no one in the audience asked the question.

“There were 45 minutes there where it could have happened, and it didn’t happen,” said Laura Bray, who chairs the local Democratic Party.

In his county, where President Donald Trump won 3-1 in 2020, Bray said Democrats deliberately avoid discussing abortion so as not to discourage Republican voters they are trying to win.

The campaigns in Texas that have focused the most on national surveys: Although Democratic voters increasingly support the protection of reproductive rights, a range of issues ranging from the economy to gun control are still more important, according to a December poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Business Research.

Across the country, Democrats have vowed to make abortion a cornerstone of the midterm elections, saying the issue can energize their base at a time when their narrow congressional majorities are under threat. The conventional wisdom is that abortion is more about motivation for Republicans. But even Gov. Greg Abbott’s first campaign for a third term also didn’t strongly encourage his signing of the law, which still seems to go too far for other GOP states where copycat measures have stalled.

“Abortion has never been a top issue for most voters,” said GOP pollster Whit Ayres. “He’s still overwhelmed by, these days, the pandemic and the economy.”

Polls show that relatively few Americans want to see Roe knocked down. The Texas law in particular, Ayres says, is “highly problematic” because it leaves enforcement only to suits brought by private citizens who can collect $10,000 or more – what critics have called a bounty.

“I can’t imagine a lot of Republicans lining up behind this,” he said.

Granted, the issue hasn’t been an afterthought in all of Texas racing. One of the biggest surrounds Democratic US Representative Henry Cuellar, one of his party’s most conservative members, who voted against abortion access. He is once again in a fight against progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros.

NARAL, one of the largest abortion rights groups in the country, has deployed personnel to the district in hopes of delivering what would be a major victory for advocates kicking off the 2022 election cycle.

But Cisneros, an immigration lawyer who sees health care and raising the minimum wage as two of her biggest issues, said she wasn’t sure if her stance on abortion rights could do anything. rock the race.

“We’re not a one-issue campaign,” she said during a break between knocking on doors in the southern district of Texas that stretches more than 150 miles from San Antonio to La frontier. “When we talk to voters, it’s not just that thing.”

Jessica C. Bell