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Tennessee Democrat Hoping to Flip U.S. House Seat Opposes Reproductive Rights (Updated)

Ally Boguhn

Dawn Barlow offered more specifics about her views on abortion, including her support for the discriminatory Hyde Amendment, in a statement to Rewire.News.

UPDATE, August 3, 9:02 a.m.: Dawn Barlow won Thursday’s Democratic primary for Tennessee’s Congressional District 6 with 54.6 percent of the vote.

Dawn Barlow, a Democrat running in Tennessee’s Congressional District 6 primary on August 2, makes no secret of her opposition to abortion rights.

Barlow is a doctor and the director of hospital medicine at Livingston Regional Hospital. She describes her political views as “moderate.” While her campaign platform includes several mainstream Democratic positions such as saving the Affordable Care Act (ACA), advocating for public education, raising the minimum wage, and supporting pay equality, she strays from much of the party—or at least its 2016 national platform—when it comes to reproductive rights.

Barlow’s campaign site does not highlight abortion as a key issue, but she is vocal on social media about being anti-choice. On Twitter, she has repeatedly said that she is a “pro-life Democrat, proudly endorsed by” the anti-choice group Democrats for Life of America (DFLA). Barlow shared a Facebook post from DFLA on June 20, adding “I’m not running away from my values—I’m running on them!”

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It’s a theme she hit on when announcing her campaign. “For far too long, common sense has taken a backseat to political hyperpartisanship,” she said in a statement, according to the Overton County News. “I am a pro-life democrat who values human life at all its stages and will fight for the well-being of all Tennesseans.”

Barlow offered specifics about her views in a statement to Rewire.News. “I oppose abortion except in cases of rape or life of the mother. I support the Hyde Amendment which prohibits federal funding of abortion. I also oppose physician assisted suicide,” she said. “Taking human life is fundamentally incompatible with the role of a healer. During my medical education, training and practice, I’ve cared for patients in all stages of life and in all stages of pregnancy.  I have a deep respect for human life in all its stages from the womb to the tomb. True reproductive justice will never be achieved as long as we refuse to acknowledge the basic fact that a human fetus is a human being.”

When it comes to policies she supports, Barlow pointed to the “Pregnant Women Support Act – Pregnancy Assistance Fund.” According to DFLA’s website, it is one of the organization’s “proudest accomplishments” and was introduced in Congress in hopes of reducing the number of abortions. Barlow said she would “work to improve the economic situation of women via support for raising the Federal Minimum Wage, support legislation for paid parental benefits, support Child Care For Working Families Act, support universal preK and support funding for before/after school programs.”

“Opposing abortion alone is simply not enough,” she said. “A whole life approach is necessary to save human life.  I spend my life caring for others and saving lives. I want to continue that fight of caring for others and saving lives in Congress.”

She did not directly answer questions about whether she would support funding for Planned Parenthood or if she would seek to restrict abortion access if elected.

One of the candidates Barlow faces in the Democratic primary is Merrilee Wineinger, an ordained United Methodist Church minister who has out-raised herWineinger “believes in protecting a woman’s right to safe, accessible, affordable and high-quality reproductive health care, or as she calls it, reproductive justice,” according to a post from Wineinger’s campaign manager on Daily Kos. 

Asked about Barlow’s DFLA endorsement, Wineinger said, “The organization seeks to achieve zero abortions, which is unrealistic. Should we all strive to make abortions a rare occurrence? Absolutely! However, should we make it more difficult for women to receive one? No.”

In another statement, Wineinger said: “Let me start out by declaring, No one is for abortion. I refuse to stand across the political divide screaming at each other. It gets us nowhere. Therefore, I declare that I am Pro-Reproductive Justice and will protect a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion.” She went on to define reproductive justice as “the right for women to care for their whole being, to have children or not, and the right to take care of her family by earning equal pay, by accessing affordable, quality healthcare, and by providing a secure home in a safe neighborhood.”

If elected, Wineinger said she “will work for comprehensive reproductive health and family planning services to prevent unplanned pregnancies. I will fight for better policies and funding for family planning and access to affordable, high-quality health care.”

Christopher Martin Finley and Peter Heffernan also qualified to appear on the Democratic primary ballot for the district. No public polling appears to be available for the race.

The winners in this week’s primary will compete in November’s general election to replace Republican Rep. Diane Black, who is running in the state’s gubernatorial race. Black, a vocal opponent of reproductive rights, has aligned with anti-choice activists.

The Republicans running in the District 6 primary have noted anti-choice views. Multiple GOP candidates in the district have pulled in more than $1 million in fundraising.

The Inside Elections with Nathan Gonzales/Roll Call ratings rank the seat as “solid Republican.” The district voted for Trump by a 49-point margin in the 2016 presidential election, according to the Cook Political Report‘s 2017 Partisan Voter Index. Black won the seat when Democrat Bart Gordon retired in 2010 after serving 13 terms in Congress.

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