“Pro-Choice” Candidate for Missouri Governor Has Mixed Record on Abortion

Pamela Merritt

Do pro-choice voters in Missouri have an opportunity to elect a protective veto into the Governor's mansion in November? Only if the Democratic nominee really does support abortion rights.

As former Speaker of the House
Thomas "Tip" O’Neill once said, "All politics is local."
That is certainly the case when it comes to reproductive justice.
While some states are blessed with pro-choice politicians, other states are controlled by anti-choice
politicians many of whom were elected to roll back any gains made in
the fight for reproductive justice. In addition to self-identified
anti-choice politicians, some pro-choice politicians may hold a different
definition of what pro-choice is and what requires defense. So, while
it may feel as if defending reproductive freedom is as simple as pulling
the lever for a self identified pro-choice candidate, not all pro-choice
candidates are the same.

Here in Missouri, anti-choice Governor
Matt Blunt is not seeking a second term, and the gubernatorial race is
wide open. While the Republican candidates debate who is more
anti-choice heading into their primary, the lone Democratic candidate,
Attorney General Jay Nixon, is campaigning for a win in November. The
Missouri House and Senate are currently under Republican control and
have produced anti-choice legislation with daunting regularity,
all of which our anti-choice governor has signed into law with glee.
So, pro-choice voters in Missouri have a huge opportunity
this year to elect a protective veto into the Governor’s mansion in

But nothing is ever as simple
as it first appears to be. Missouri’s social conservatism bleeds over into Democratic politics just as it fuels
Republican politics. It’s not unusual to hear a Democratic politician
referred to as a "pro-life Dem" or to see disappointing votes
show up in his or her record. Just because a candidate self-identifies
as pro-choice — and even if they take political heat for it — doesn’t
mean that a voter can assume he or she will defend choice once elected
to office.

Like any modern voter, I took
to the Internet to research Attorney General Jay Nixon’s stance on choice, hoping to find
an endorsement or two by a pro-choice advocacy group. But none
were to be found. When I did a search for news regarding Nixon
and choice, I found some alarming items
about his defense of anti-choice laws as Attorney General
; for instance, while serving in the Missouri Senate in the 1980s, Nixon supported
a woman’s right to choose only in cases of rape or incest. A year ago, when defending himself against an attack ad,
the Nixon campaign responded by firmly stating the Attorney General’s
support of Roe v. Wade and his commitment to work with family planning
programs to promote sex education and contraception.  But, as Attorney General, Nixon has also defended
Missouri anti-choice laws
, such as parental consent and the infamous House Bill 1055 ambulatory surgical center law that would restrict a woman’s access to reproductive healthcare.

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Nixon has also recently issued
a statement regarding the California same-sex marriage ruling
stating his support of Missouri’s
2004 ban on same-sex marriage. Though support of LGBT equality
and support of reproductive justice do not always go hand in hand, his
enthusiastic public statements against same-sex marriage made this Missouri
voter wonder just what kind of Democrat we’re dealing with in the
Governor’s race.

NARAL Pro-Choice
Missouri Executive Director Pamela Sumners offers some clarification
on the race. Sumners shares that, although he did oppose abortion
except in cases of rape or incest in the 1980s, Nixon has been classified as pro-choice by NARAL since 1994. Sumners allows that Nixon’s
defense of anti-choice laws in his role as Attorney General does confuse
the issue and that we don’t exactly have a good barometer on him,
but added, "I can’t speak for Nixon’s campaign but I believe that
he would defend choice and I wouldn’t be prepared to vote for him
if I didn’t believe that."

And that quote sums
up where pro-choice voters are here in Missouri and throughout the country.
Unlike more liberal states where political support of choice is a given,
many states have conservative or moderate Democrats running for office
and those candidates may or may not be pro-choice. Even if they
are pro-choice they, like Attorney General Nixon, may have a political
track record that speaks to an evolution on the issue and raises concerns
about whether their position on choice depends on what the polls show.

If a pro-choice voter is lucky, she will be able to look to the endorsements by pro-choice groups who
vet and interview candidates to better understand their political position.
In the case of Attorney General Nixon, he has not formally sought the
endorsement of pro-choice groups. So this pro-choice voter is
left with little choice other than to vote for the candidate who may
or may not still have shades of gray regarding choice — or risk the possibility
of four more years of a guaranteed signature on anti-choice legislation
residing in the Governor’s mansion.

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