With Abortion Rights Below Menace, Democrats Hope to Go on Offense

VIRGINIA BEACH — Kenzie Smith is “not massive into politics,” she stated, and whereas she votes faithfully in presidential elections, for Democrats, she is much less fascinated by off-year races, equivalent to these seven weeks away in Virginia for governor and the legislature.

However the current information that the Supreme Court docket had allowed Texas to ban most abortions after about six weeks of being pregnant, with no exceptions for rape or incest, grabbed her consideration.

The worry that such a restrictive legislation, which she referred to as “insane,” may conceivably come to Virginia if Republicans take energy has sharpened her need to end up on Election Day. “If there are legal guidelines like what’s occurring in Texas coming right here, I’d completely be motivated to go to the polls over that,” stated Ms. Smith, 33, a advertising and marketing marketing consultant.

The Supreme Court docket’s determination on Sept. 1 to let Texas enact the nation’s most restrictive abortion legislation got here as a grievous blow to abortion rights advocates, a long-sought victory for abortion opponents and, for Democrats, a possible political alternative.

Because the get together mobilizes for subsequent yr’s midterms, its first massive check on the difficulty will come within the Virginia elections this fall. Democrats are hoping to win a decent governor’s race and preserve management of the legislature in a state that has moved quickly to the left. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat who’s operating for his outdated workplace, has repeatedly promised to be a “brick wall” in opposition to anti-abortion measures, and has played up his defense of abortion rights at a debate last week, on the campaign trail and in fund-raising appeals.

Democrats in Virginia and beyond are focusing in particular on suburban women, who played a large role in electing President Biden, but whose broader loyalty to his party is not assured. With Republicans smelling blood in next year’s midterm elections as Mr. Biden’s approval ratings slip and the economy faces a potential stall over the lingering pandemic, Democrats are looking for issues like abortion to overcome their voters’ complacency now that Donald J. Trump is gone from office.

In more than two dozen interviews in the politically divided city of Virginia Beach, the largest in the state but essentially a patchwork of suburban neighborhoods, Democratic-leaning and independent female voters expressed fear and outrage over the Supreme Court’s green light for the Texas law. Many said it intensified their desire to elect Democrats, although historically, single issues have not driven turnout waves; candidate personalities and the overall economy have.

Even a number of women who said they favored Republicans noted that they also supported abortion rights — which may explain why G.O.P. candidates in Virginia have played down the issue, scrubbing anti-abortion comments from campaign websites and walking back some remarks.

In a debate on Thursday between candidates for governor, Glenn Youngkin, the Republican, said, “I would not sign the Texas bill today.” But he dodged when asked if he would sign a six-week abortion ban with exceptions for rape and incest. He affirmed that he supported a “pain-threshold bill,” which generally outlaws abortion after 20 weeks.

The starkness of the Texas decision — and the prospect that the Supreme Court could overturn Roe next year in a case involving a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi — has sharpened the issue.

Virginia Beach presents a test case of the fraught abortion issue on the front lines of America’s shifting electoral landscape. The large population of military families has long lent a conservative cast to local politics, but last year the city voted for a Democratic presidential candidate, Mr. Biden, for the first time since Lyndon B. Johnson. Representative Elaine Luria, a Democrat and former Navy commander whose congressional district includes Virginia Beach, is among Republicans’ top targets for 2022.

The city stretches from saltwater taffy shops on the touristy Atlantic beaches to quiet streets of brick homes that lace around the area’s many bays. Outdoor conversations are interrupted by earsplitting military jets, which rarely draw a glance skyward.

Ellen Robinson, a retired nurse, who identifies as a political independent, was “horrified” by the Texas law and said that if the court overturned Roe, “I think it would be the beginning of fascism in this country.”

Kathleen Moran, a technical editor in the engineering field, who favors Democrats, said the Supreme Court’s decision on the Texas law “scared” her.

“I have boys who will be dating women,” she said. “I have nieces. This goes back to the whole ‘white men get to make all the decisions about everything.’”

Ms. Moran said she was more intent on voting after the court declined to halt the Texas law, which the Biden administration is trying to block.

“We are in a really dangerous situation,” she said. “Obviously for abortion, we don’t want to become Texas, but on a lot of issues we could lose what is now a blue state.”

While many Republican women across Virginia would most likely support stricter abortion laws, few conservative-leaning women in suburban Virginia Beach expressed support for a six-week abortion law or a reversal of Roe v. Wade. Overall, while these women didn’t always embrace the “pro-choice” label, they agreed that women should be able to make their own reproductive decisions.

Democrats in Virginia made huge strides during Mr. Trump’s divisive leadership, culminating in 2019, when the party took control of both the State Senate and House of Delegates. But Democrats’ majorities are slim, and Republicans believe they have an anti-incumbent wind at their backs this year. Three statewide positions are on the ballot on Nov. 2 — governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general — along with all 100 seats in the House.

The field director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia said that on average, 10 to 15 volunteers were on door-knocking shifts, compared with 25 to 40 two years ago, a worrying sign for supporters of abortion rights.

Han Jones, Planned Parenthood’s political director in Virginia, added: “People are exhausted with elections and exhausted with Donald Trump’s rhetoric and feel like they can take a break. We could easily go red in this election alone if Democratic voters who are not feeling as passionate or leaned in don’t turn out to vote.”

A team of Planned Parenthood canvassers who visited a neighborhood of attached town homes recently encountered general support for Democrats, but not much awareness of the election or enthusiasm for it.

One voter, Carly White, said abortion was a touchy subject in her household. “I’m for Planned Parenthood but my husband is not,” she said, stepping outside a home with a small, precisely trimmed lawn. “I think the issue is, he’s a man. He’s never grown a baby. I just can’t — I don’t like somebody telling me what I can do with my own body.”

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