Watch CBS News

Pro-abortion rights activists claim major victories in Kentucky and Virginia

State elections could impact abortion rights
Election results' impact on abortion rights in Virginia and Kentucky 04:45

For Democrats, Tuesday's election was considered a major win, apparently ousting the Republican Governor of Kentucky and capturing all three branches of government in Virginia. But Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion rights activists say the election results in Kentucky and Virginia signaled something even bigger: voters across party lines support candidates that support abortion access.

"Voters made their voices heard loud and clear that when politicians fail to stand up for our rights — including abortion access — we will take that fight straight to the ballot box," Kelley Robinson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, said in a statement to CBS News on Wednesday. "The stakes for reproductive health care have never been higher, but these victories show that there is an unstoppable momentum for our cause and we have the wind at our backs."

Just this year, Kentucky passed four anti-abortion restrictions, including a so-called "heartbeat" ban, which outlaws the procedure after about six weeks into a woman's pregnancy. A federal judge blocked that law in March, but Governor Matt Bevin had said he would appeal the decision, the potential first steps in a multi-year journey to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

But Andy Beshear, Kentucky's attorney general, says he supports Roe v. Wade and has rejected the state's abortion restrictions, which are among the strictest in the country. Kentucky is home to just one abortion clinic, Louisville-based EMW Women's Surgical Center, a facility that's spent years in court to stay open.

Planned Parenthood took an active role in Kentucky's gubernatorial election. For the race, the state's political action group, Planned Parenthood Action Kentucky UCC, launched its first "direct voter contact program," an initiative that combined door-knocking, digital ads and direct mail — all highlighting Bevin's anti-abortion politics. Tamarra Wieder, public affairs and policy director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky, said it was the first time the organization had invested in the state's governor race.

"Kentuckians showed up to defend their reproductive freedom this election, reaffirming that the majority of people here want increased access to reproductive care, including abortion," Wieder said in a statement to CBS News on Tuesday.

Tuesday's success comes less than a month after Planned Parenthood announced its plan to spend at least $45 million ahead of the 2020 elections, the most it has ever spent during an election cycle.

"Yesterday's victories show that there is an unstoppable momentum for our cause, and we're confident we will carry this energy into more victories for reproductive health champions in  2020 and beyond," Robinson said.

With a newly conservative Supreme Court, access to abortion has come under fire across the South and Midwest, where state lawmakers have raced to pass laws that ban the procedure in hopes of overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that effectively legalized the procedure.

So far this year, state politicians have introduced 300 bills restricting access to abortion, according to data compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization. Twelve states, including Kentucky, have passed abortion bans, none of which are currently in effect.

In Virginia, Governor Northam came under fire earlier this year for comments describing third-term abortions. When asked what would be done in the event of a failed abortion, Northam said, "the infant would be resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother."

Northam later clarified that his comments were in reference to nonviable pregnancy or severe fetal abnormalities, but anti-abortion activists took the comments to mean he supported infanticide, sparking a national firestorm.

Regardless, Democrats were able to flip both the state's house and senate on Tuesday, winning all three branches of government for the first time in 25 years.

For some anti-abortion activists, "the election results in Virginia are disappointing for those who value life," Jeanne Mancini, President of March for Life, the biggest anti-abortion rights event in the country, told CBS News in a statement Wednesday.

Planned Parenthood Virginia PAC, the organization's state political arm, spent more than $1 million on the election, knocking on 68,000 doors to support candidates that supported abortion access.

"Tonight's results also make it clear that the misleading, fear-mongering attacks on abortion from Republicans in Kentucky and Virginia failed because voters overwhelmingly support the right for people to make their own health care decisions without politicians getting in the way," Robinson said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.