News Politics

Anti-Choice Proponent of ‘Justifiable Homicide’ Vies for Spot on Democratic Council

Adele M. Stan

"When I filed for a seat on the county Democratic Central Committee ... I didn't imagine I'd be facing off against a Neo-Confederate theocrat," says Betsy Bury of her opponent, Rev. David Whitney.

When Betsy Bury agreed to run for a seat on the central committee of the Democratic Party in Maryland’s suburban Anne Arundel County, she expected to run unopposed for a job typically considered to be thankless among the offices of political parties. Then, on Monday, from seemingly out of nowhere, she attracted a challenger: Pastor David Whitney of the Cornerstone Evangelical Church in Pasadena, Maryland, a proponent of a “justifiable homicide” doctrine that could be understood to include a rationale for killing abortion doctors.

At the same time that Whitney stepped up to run for the county committee office in the Democratic Party, reports Frederick Clarkson of Political Research Associates (PRA), Michael Peroutka, Whitney’s business partner and ideological fellow traveler, threw in for a seat on the Anne Arundel County committee of the Republican Party.

And both men are running for seats on the county council, the governing body of county government.

While members of the theocratic Constitution Party, for which Peroutka served as the 2004 presidential candidate, both men belonged to a party, founded by the late Howard Phillips, that denounced both the Republicans and Democrats as corrupt, leaving Clarkson scratching his head when considering the intention of the two anti-choice activists.

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In an interview with Rewire, Whitney reiterated that denouncement of the parties, but added, “The reality is, we’re in a two-party system and the odds are stacked” against third parties such as the Constitution Party, on whose ticket Whitney ran in 2006 for a seat in the Maryland state legislature. Because of his third-party status, he said, he was excluded from debates “even in my own neighborhood.”

“So, if you’re gonna play in the game,” he said, “sometimes you’ve got to adopt their tactics.”

In addition to their anti-choice extremism, both Peroutka and Whitney are members of the League of the South, which advocates secession from the United States and is described as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Peroutka sits on the League’s board, and Whitney is chaplain of the Maryland chapter.

“They are the premier neo-Confederate organization, and have been for a long time,” Clarkson told Rewire, a group he says is made up of “people who identify with the Southern cause and think it was right, and think that Abraham Lincoln was a tyrant and a despot, and who, to this day, think [the South] got a raw deal, and it ought to rise again.”

The right to enslave people of African descent, of course, was an integral part of “the Southern cause” during the U.S. Civil War.

In a statement provided to Rewire by her campaign, Bury writes, “When I filed for a seat on the county Democratic Central Committee, to strengthen the party and promote progressive solutions to the problems facing our communities, I didn’t imagine I’d be facing off against a Neo-Confederate theocrat whose values are radically out of sync with the Democratic party.”

A recent graduate of the Emerge Maryland program that trains Democratic women to run for political office, Bury expected to follow the tried-and-true path of taking on the least glamorous and least controversial work of party politics before attempting to make a bid for public office. Now her race is emerging as a face-off between a progressive woman and a theocrat so far to the right that he has preached sermons advocating the formation of church-based Christian militias whose members should be prepared to take on the “tyranny” of the federal government.

I asked Whitney why, looking at both parties, he would choose the Democratic Party, and not the GOP.

“Well, I hope to see that the Democratic Party lives up to its motto, ‘We’re all-inclusive.’ You know, ‘We’re the party of diversity,’” Whitney said. “Well if that’s true, then they can tolerate somebody who may disagree with them on many different principles because, after all, they want everybody to have an opportunity to have their say.”

He said he hopes to push an agenda of smaller government, and reduced regulation and taxation. But Whitney’s anti-choice rhetoric veers to the extreme. So, I asked, wouldn’t that make the Republican Party a better fit for him?

“Well, there’s a significant number of pro-aborts in the Republican Party,” he said. When I said I couldn’t see many pro-choice members of the GOP through my lens, he replied, “Well, OK, from your lens, of course, but there are a significant number of pro-sodomites all over that party—Log Cabin Republicans and so on.”

He went on to describe a transgender rights bill that had passed in the Maryland Senate the day before our interview as a “bathroom bill” that will subject “young girls” to the sight of men in the ladies’ room.

In a sermon preached on June 2, Clarkson reports, Whitney lays out a case for the “justifiable homicide” of those who would “shed innocent life.”

In an audio clip from Whitney’s June sermon posted by PRA to YouTube, Whitney states, “We live in increasingly perilous times in America, and what is unthinkable today is likely to be tomorrow’s headlines. In such times as these, we need to understand that there is such a thing as Biblically justifiable homicide. It certainly never is to be taken lightly, but with deliberate and sober evaluation, based upon the Biblical principles of God’s word.”

In fact, Whitney contends that God demands the execution of anyone who kills a person in a “premeditated” fashion.

Although he never expressly mentions the word “abortion” in the sermon, earlier in the talk, which was framed in response to the Maryland legislature’s overturning of the state’s death penalty, Whitney uses the code words common to the anti-choice movement.

In his sermon, Whitney complains that even when the death penalty was on the state’s books, it was rarely used, having been invoked only five times since 1978, during which time Whitney asserts that thousands of murders had taken place in the state. “That means there’s a lot of innocent blood shed in this state,” he says. “Now that’s just talking about adults, and murder in that case—not to mention the millions of babies murdered as well.”

Since there have not been millions of babies murdered in Maryland, it is likely that Whitney is using the language of the anti-choice movement, in which fertilized ova, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses are all described as “babies.” In other words, Whitney appears to be talking about abortion.

When I raised the subject of his “justifiable homicide” sermon, before I could finish my question, Whitney interrupted.

“Well, let me ask you: Do you believe in a woman’s right to choose?” he asked.

“Oh, yes,” I replied.

“You think that a woman has a right to terminate the life of her baby as long as that baby is still in her womb?” he asked.

“I believe that she has a right to terminate a pregnancy; I do, yes,” I said.

“A baby,” he said. “Terminate a baby. Then you believe in justifiable homicide. You just say that the restrictions on justifiable homicide are in the womb, and the baby can be murdered.”

I steered the conversation back to his sermon, and he complained that Clarkson, in his PRA, article, had posted only a short clip. When I told Whitney that I had gone to his church website and listened to the whole thing (audio), he replied, “Good. Hopefully God’s word will make an impact on your life and lead you to repent and faith and salvation in Jesus Christ, so that when you die, which will happen to all of us, when you die, you will go to Heaven. So, I’ll pray for your soul that that would happen—that you would not leave this life not having placed your faith in Jesus Christ as the savior who can pay for the penalty that otherwise you will have to pay for your own sins.”

But is he saying that it’s justifiable to kill a doctor who performs abortions, I asked.

“No—I’m not saying that,” Whitney said. “I’m saying that there is a right of self-defense where you can use self-defense to defend yourself and those who you are obligated to defend. If you are in a position where you are obligated to defend people in your own family—”

I interrupted him. “So, if you had sired that fetus, would it mean that you would be justified in killing anyone who would would be performing an abortion [on the woman who was carrying it]?” I asked.

“I will not say that that’s the case,” Whitney replied. But he wouldn’t deny it, either.

Clarkson likens Whitney’s rhetoric to that of Paul Hill, who was executed in 2003 for the 1994 murders of Dr. John Britton, a physician who performed abortions, and Britton’s bodyguard, James Herman Barrett, in Pensacola, Florida.

“Paul Hill was the original public theorist of [the belief] that murdering doctors could be called justifiable homicide. He thought it was the idea of protecting innocent life from imminent death—the doctrine of what they call ‘interposition,’” said Clarkson.

It was Hill, said Clarkson, who, as a prominent anti-choice activist, promoted the “justifiable homicide” theory in defense of Michael Griffin, who in 1993, killed Dr. David Gunn, another Pensacola abortion provider.

Whitney is also known for his vocal opposition to equal rights for LGBTQ people, according to Clarkson.

Peroutka, too, is an anti-LGBTQ rights activist, to the point that he was one of the top three contributors to the Maryland Alliance for Marriage (MAM), a group that campaigned against the 2012 referendum that ultimately legalized marriage equality in the Old Line State. The Human Rights Campaign, in calling on MAM to return Peroutka’s $10,000 contribution, described him as “an active white supremacist and secessionist sympathizer.”

The Constitution Party, for which Peroutka served as the 2004 standard-bearer, has a platform derived from the Christian Reconstructionist ideas of Rousas John Rushdoony, which call for institution of Biblical law as the law of the land. The party platform is explicitly anti-abortion. In 2006, Whitney ran as a Constitution Party candidate for the Maryland state legislature.

The gambit being played by Peroutka and Whitney in the county committees of the Republican and Democratic Parties is vaguely reminiscent of the stealth takeover of the party apparatus of the Republican Party by more mainstream religious right outfits such as the Christian Coalition, in the 1990s. But there’s one major catch in the Peroutka-Whitney version.

“[The Christian Coalition was] an organization that was primarily building a Christian conservative movement that would be of benefit to the Republican Party,” Clarkson explained to Rewire. “These guys have no use for the Republican Party. They’ve both been in the Republican Party in the past and have held offices in the Republican Party, but as far as they’re concerned, there’s a plague on both houses; each party is [seen as] equally corrupt.”

“These guys are infiltrators,” Clarkson continued. “They have an agenda that is out of keeping with the Republican Party and the Democratic Party agendas, even in the broadest sense of either party. And it would be fair to say that even the most conservative Republicans and the most liberal Democrats have more in common with each other than either of them have to do with the theocratic vision of Peroutka and Whitney.”

When I asked Whitney why Peroutka, his close associate and member of his congregation, chose to run for a similar office but in the opposite party from the one Whitney chose, he simply said, “He’s chosen a different path than I have chosen. And I commend him, I appreciate him, but he and I have chosen different paths.”

However tempting it may be to write off the pair as too far on the fringe to warrant concern, Clarkson cautions against ignoring them.

“[T]hey are part of national networks of like-minded people,” Clarkson said. Some of those people, such as the pastor Michael Bray and the late Paul Hill, Clarkson notes, “have committed acts of terrorism against abortion facilities, assassinated doctors based on similar ideas that are theocratic in nature and the idea of taking vigilante action to advance God’s law as they understand it.”

In her statement, Bury noted that while “[i]t would be tempting to dismiss Pastor Whitney’s chances of winning election,” Peroutka, who has amassed some wealth through his work as a debt attorney, is also Whitney’s business partner. “These partners are also both running for Anne Arundel County Council. Their slate has access to substantial funds and both are experienced in running for office,” she writes, promising to run a hard race.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly noted that Pastor David Whitney filed on Wednesday to run for office, but it was actually Monday of that week. The description of Whitney also was updated following Stan’s interview with the pastor on Tuesday, March 4.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

Analysis Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats Employ ‘Dangerous,’ Contradictory Strategies

Ally Boguhn & Christine Grimaldi

Democrats for Life of America leaders, politicians, and rank-and-file supporters often contradict each other, and sometimes themselves, exposing a lack of coherent strategy at a time when the Democratic Party's platform is newly committed to increasing abortion access for all.

The national organization for anti-choice Democrats last month brought a litany of arguments against abortion to the party’s convention. As a few dozen supporters gathered for an event honoring anti-choice Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), the group ran into a consistent problem.

Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) leaders, politicians, and rank-and-file supporters often contradicted each other, and sometimes themselves, exposing a lack of coherent strategy at a time when the Democratic Party’s platform is newly committed to increasing access to abortion care for all.

DFLA leaders and politicians attempted to distance themselves from the traditionally Republican anti-choice movement, but repeatedly invoked conservative falsehoods and medically unsupported science to make their arguments against abortion. One state-level lawmaker said she routinely sought guidance from the National Right to Life, while another claimed the Republican-allied group left anti-choice Democrats in his state to fend for themselves.

Over the course of multiple interviews, Rewire discovered that while the organization demanded that Democrats “open the big tent” for anti-choice party members in order to win political office, especially in the South, it lacked a coordinated strategy for making that happen and accomplishing its policy goals.

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Take, for example, 20-week abortion bans, which the organization’s website lists as a key legislative issue. When asked about why the group backed cutting off abortion care at that point in a pregnancy, DFLA Executive Director Kristen Day admitted that she didn’t “know what the rationale was.”

Janet Robert, the president of the group’s executive board, was considerably more forthcoming.

“Well, the group of pro-life people who came up with the 20-week ban felt that at 20 weeks, it’s pretty well established that a child can feel pain,” Robert claimed during an interview with Rewire. Pointing to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, which protected the right to legal abortion care before the point of fetal viability, Rogers suggested that “more and more we’re seeing that children, prenatal children, are viable around 20 to 22 weeks” of pregnancy.

Medical consensus, however, has found it “unlikely” that a fetus can feel pain until the third trimester, which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. The doctors who testify otherwise in an effort to push through abortion restrictions are often discredited anti-choice activists. A 20-week fetus is “in no way shape or form” viable, according to Dr. Hal Lawrence, executive vice president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

When asked about scientific findings that fetuses do not feel pain at 20 weeks of pregnancy, Robert steadfastly claimed that “medical scientists do not agree on that issue.”

“There is clearly disagreement, and unfortunately, science has been manipulated by a lot of people to say one thing or another,” she continued.

While Robert parroted the very same medically unsupported fetal pain and viability lines often pushed by Republicans and anti-choice activists, she seemingly acknowledged that such restrictions were a way to work around the Supreme Court’s decision to make abortion legal.

“Now other legislatures are looking at 24 weeks—anything to get past the Supreme Court cut-off—because everybody know’s it’s a child … it’s all an arbitrary line,” she said, adding that “people use different rationales just to get around the stupid Supreme Court decision.”

Charles C. Camosy, a member of DFLA’s board, wrote in a May op-ed for the LA Times that a federal 20-week ban was “common-sense legislation.” Camosy encouraged Democratic lawmakers to help pass the abortion ban as “a carrot to get moderate Republicans on board” with paid family leave policies.

Robert also relied upon conservative talking points about fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, which routinely lie to patients to persuade them not to have an abortion. Robert said DFLA doesn’t often interact with women facing unplanned pregnancies, but the group nonetheless views such organizations as “absolutely fabulous [be]cause they help the women.”

Those who say such fake clinics provide patients with misinformation and falsehoods about abortion care are relying on “propaganda by Planned Parenthood,” Robert claimed, adding that the reproductive health-care provider simply doesn’t want patients seeking care at fake clinics and wants to take away those clinics’ funding.

Politicians echoed similar themes at DFLA’s convention event. Edwards’ award acceptance speech revealed his approach to governing, which, to date, includes support for restrictive abortion laws that disproportionately hurt people with low incomes, even as he has expanded Medicaid in Louisiana.

Also present at the event was Louisiana state Rep. Katrina Jackson (D), responsible for a restrictive admitting privileges law that former Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed into law in 2014. Jackson readily admitted to Rewire that she takes her legislative cues from the National Right to Life. She also name-checked Dorinda Bordlee, senior counsel of the Bioethics Defense Fund, an allied organization of the Alliance Defending Freedom.

“They don’t just draft bills for me,” Jackson told Rewire in an interview. “What we do is sit down and talk before every session and see what the pressing issues are in the area of supporting life.”

Despite what Jackson described as a commitment to the constitutionality of her laws, the Supreme Court in March blocked admitting privileges from taking effect in Louisiana. Louisiana’s law is also nearly identical to the Texas version that the Court struck down in June’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision.

Jackson did not acknowledge the setback, speaking instead about how such measures protect the health of pregnant people and fetuses. She did not mention any legal strategy—only that she’s “very prayerful” that admitting privileges will remain law in her state.

Jackson said her “rewarding” work with National Right to Life encompasses issues beyond abortion care—in her words, “how you’re going to care for the baby from the time you choose life.”

She claimed she’s not the only Democrat to seek out the group’s guidance.

“I have a lot of Democratic colleagues in my state, in other states, who work closely with [National] Right to Life,” Jackson said. “I think the common misconception is, you see a lot of party leaders saying they’re pro-abortion, pro-choice, and you just generally assume that a lot of the state legislators are. And that’s not true. An overwhelming majority of the Democrat state legislators in our state and others are pro-life. But, we say it like this: We care about them from the womb to the tomb.”

The relationship between anti-choice Democrats and anti-choice groups couldn’t be more different in South Dakota, said state house Rep. Ray Ring (D), a Hillary Clinton supporter at DFLA’s convention event.

Ring said South Dakota is home to a “small, not terribly active” chapter of DFLA. The “very Republican, very conservative” South Dakota Right to Life drives most of the state’s anti-choice activity and doesn’t collaborate with anti-choice Democrats in the legislature, regardless of their voting records on abortion.

Democrats hold a dozen of the 70 seats in South Dakota’s house and eight of the 35 in the state senate. Five of the Democratic legislators had a mixed record on choice and ten had a pro-choice record in the most recent legislative session, according to NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota Executive Director Samantha Spawn.

As a result, Ring and other anti-choice Democrats devote more of their legislative efforts toward policies such as Medicaid expansion, which they believe will reduce the number of pregnant people who seek abortion care. Ring acknowledged that restrictions on the procedure, such as a 20-week ban, “at best, make a very marginal difference”—a far cry not only from Republicans’ anti-choice playbook, but also DFLA’s position.

Ring and other anti-choice Democrats nevertheless tend to vote for Republican-sponsored abortion restrictions, falling in line with DFLA’s best practices. The group’s report, which it released at the event, implied that Democratic losses since 2008 are somehow tied to their party’s support for abortion rights, even though the turnover in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress can be attributed to a variety of factors, including gerrymandering to favor GOP victories.

Anecdotal evidence provides measured support for the inference.

Republican-leaning anti-choice groups targeted one of their own—Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC)—in her June primary for merely expressing concern that a congressional 20-week abortion ban would have required rape victims to formally report their assaults to the police in order to receive exemptions. Ellmers eventually voted last year for the U.S. House of Representatives’ “disgustingly cruel” ban, similarly onerous rape and incest exceptions included.

If anti-choice groups could prevail against such a consistent opponent of abortion rights, they could easily do the same against even vocal “Democrats for Life.”

Former Rep. Kathy Dalhkemper (D-PA) contends that’s what happened to her and other anti-choice Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, which resulted in Republicans wresting control of the House.

“I believe that pro-life Democrats are the biggest threat to the Republicans, and that’s why we were targeted—and I’ll say harshly targeted—in 2010,” Dahlkemper said in an interview.

She alleged that anti-choice groups, often funded by Republicans, attacked her for supporting the Affordable Care Act. A 2010 Politico story describes how the Susan B. Anthony List funneled millions of dollars into equating the vote with support for abortion access, even though President Obama signed an executive order in the vein of the Hyde Amendment’s prohibition on federal funds for abortion care.

Dalhkemper advocated for perhaps the clearest strategy to counter the narrative that anti-choice Democrats somehow aren’t really opposed to abortion.

“What we need is support from our party at large, and we also need to band together, and we also need to continue to talk about that consistent life message that I think the vast majority of us believe in,” she said.

Self-described pro-choice Georgia House Minority Leader Rep. Stacey Abrams (D) rejected the narratives spun by DFLA to supporters. In an interview with Rewire at the convention, Abrams called the organization’s claim that Democrats should work to elect anti-choice politicians from within their ranks in order to win in places like the South a “dangerous” strategy that assumes “that the South is the same static place it was 50 or 100 years ago.”

“I think what they’re reacting to is … a very strong religious current that runs throughout the South,” that pushes people to discuss their values when it comes to abortion, Abrams said. “But we are capable of complexity. And that’s the problem I have. [Its strategy] assumes and reduces Democrats to a single issue, but more importantly, it reduces the decision to one that is a binary decision—yes or no.”

That strategy also doesn’t take into account the intersectional identities of Southern voters and instead only focuses on appealing to the sensibilities of white men, noted Abrams.

“We are only successful when we acknowledge that I can be a Black woman who may be raised religiously pro-life but believe that other women have the right to make a choice,” she continued. “And the extent to which we think about ourselves only in terms of white men and trying to convince that very and increasingly narrow population to be our saviors in elections, that’s when we face the likelihood of being obsolete.”

Understanding that nuances exist among Southern voters—even those who are opposed to abortion personally—is instead the key to reaching them, Abrams said.

“Most of the women and most of the voters, we are used to having complex conversations about what happens,” she said. “And I do believe that it is both reductive and it’s self-defeating for us to say that you can only win if you’re a pro-life Democrat.”

To Abrams, being pro-choice means allowing people to “decide their path.”

“The use of reproductive choice is endemic to how we as women can be involved in society: how we can go to work, how we can raise families, make choices about who we are. And so while I am sympathetic to the concern that you have to … cut against the national narrative, being pro-choice means exactly that,” Abrams continued. “If their path is pro-life, fine. If their path is to decide to make other choices, to have an abortion, they can do so.”

“I’m a pro-choice woman who has strongly embraced the conversation and the option for women to choose whatever they want to choose,” Abrams said. “That is the best and, I think, most profound path we can take as legislators and as elected officials.”

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