BOSTON — A slew of recently enacted abortion bans has rekindled the divisive national debate over reproductive rights.
The laws are also providing a fundraising platform for congressional Democrats, some of whom are leveraging the controversy to help fuel their campaigns.
Last week, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law the most stringent abortion bill in the nation, making it a felony to perform an abortion. The move follows similar bans in Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia that prohibit abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in the sixth week of pregnancy.
Missouri’s Republican-led Senate voted Thursday to ban abortions at eight weeks, with no exceptions for rape or incest.
The restrictions were praised by conservatives but prompted a wave of protest from Democrats, including several 2020 presidential hopefuls.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Cambridge Democrat, fired off a email blast to her supporters last week touting her plans to “protect women’s reproductive rights” and soliciting donations.
“In Alabama, Missouri, and in states across the country, extremist Republican lawmakers are trying to turn back the clock, outlaw abortion, and deny women access to reproductive health care,” reads the email. “This is a dark moment. People are scared and angry. But this isn’t a moment to back down — it’s time to fight back.”
The email directs readers to another website where supporters can “add their name” to a list of those who believe “Congress should act to ensure access to reproductive care.” Registering your support takes you to Warren’s ActBlue site, where supporters can make contributions to her campaign.
California Sen. Kamala Harris is also trying to channel outrage over the restrictions into her campaign coffers, albeit with a slightly different approach.
On the same day that Ivey signed the Alabama ban, Harris sent an email message to supporters asking them to contribute to several women’s reproductive health groups, including the Boston-based National Network Of Abortion Funds.
One day later, the Democrat sent another email claiming her campaign helped raise $160,000 for the groups and asking for contributions to her presidential campaign.
“I’m asking you to take another step in this fight by making your very first contribution to our campaign for president,” Harris’ campaign fundraising email read. “Our country needs a leader in the White House who isn’t afraid to take on tough fights — including the fight to defend women’s health care.”
Other Democratic members of Congress are also trying to drum up contributions amid the simmering abortion rights battle.
In an email to supporters, Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Westford, blasted the abortion bans as an “all-out assault on a woman’s right to make her own decisions.”
“What’s happening in Alabama and Missouri is happening across the country as part of a sweeping anti-choice agenda,” Trahan’s May 17 fundraising email reads. “Republicans have made it clear that their end goal is overturning Roe v. Wade now that they’ve stacked the Supreme Court with conservative justices.”
The email directs supporters to register their outrage by making a donation to Trahan’s campaign ranging from $25 to $2,800, the per-election contribution limit.
“In our state and around the country — I look forward to continuing the fight for women’s access to reproductive healthcare,” Trahan writes.
‘It works on both ends’
The Alabama ban, which will go into effect in six months if it isn’t blocked by a court, would make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by 10 to 99 years in prison for the provider. There is no exception for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest.
Those restrictions prompted protests from abortion rights supporters across the country on Tuesday, including in Massachusetts, where several hundred demonstrators converged at the Statehouse.
“I really think we’re headed backwards as a country,” said Sara Clements, 23, of Boston, holding a hand-written sign the read “Get the hell out of my uterus.”
Anti-abortion groups are galvanized by Republican President Donald Trump and his appointments of conservatives Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Supporters of abortion bans say they expect the state legislation to be challenged in court, giving conservatives a shot to outlaw abortion nationwide.
Political observers say abortion rights will a key issue ahead of the 2020 presidential election, especially for the crowded field of 23 Democratic candidates.
“Pro-choice Democratic women are really mad,” said Erin O’Brien, chairwoman of the political science department at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. “So any 2020 hopeful in the Democratic primary that doesn’t move the discussion of abortion to the top is going to be in trouble.”
On the flip-side, the abortion battle is also likely to get conservative Trump supporters fired up and willing to open up their wallets to his reelection bid, she said.
“The fact that these bans are being passed during the Trump presidency motivates evangelicals who oppose abortion,” she said. “So it works on both ends.”
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.