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Montana’s U.S. Senate Race Could Be Crucial for Abortion Rights: Campaign Week in Review

Dennis Carter

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) is taking on incumbent U.S. Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) as the Democratic Party aims to claim the Senate majority.

Join Rewire.News for a weekly look at how reproductive health, rights, and justice issues are popping up on the 2020 campaign trail.

Pro-Choice Montana Governor Challenges Anti-Abortion Senator

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D), who won two statewide elections while defending abortion rights and stymying Republicans’ anti-choice bills, entered the U.S. Senate race on Monday, aiming to unseat Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), one of the chamber’s most vociferous abortion rights opponents.

A victory for Bullock in November would boost Democrats’ chances of taking control of the Senate. The party needs to win three seats and the presidency—or four seats without the presidency—to claim the majority. That would allow Democrats to block President Donald Trump’s judicial appointments, which continue to put legal abortion in jeopardy. Bullock is term-limited as governor.

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Daines, founder and chair of the Senate Pro-Life Caucus, has used inflammatory language and anti-choice myths in criticizing state-level efforts to protect and expand abortion rights. In a January 2019 interview, Daines described the New York legislature’s Reproductive Health Act, which eliminated decades-old statues that criminalized abortion care, as an “evil overreach.” Daines erroneously said during the interview with a Catholic news network that his newborn grandchild would have been in danger because of New York Democrats’ pro-choice legislation.

Anti-choice organizations have rallied around Daines in his reelection campaign against Bullock. Susan B. Anthony List (SBL) announced this week that it would back Daines with “boots on the ground, voter contact mail, phone calls, and digital ads” as part of the organization’s $52 million effort to elect candidates opposed to abortion rights in 2020. SBL credited Daines with helping Trump’s takeover of the federal judiciary.

Daines has supported anti-choice legislation throughout his time in the Senate, including a bill based on the myth that abortion providers routinely commit infanticide after so-called failed abortions and a bill that would ban telemedicine abortion care across the country.

Bullock, who mounted a brief presidential campaign in 2019, has been a reliable backstop for anti-choice legislation passed by the Republican-majority Montana legislature. Bullock vetoed Republican bills in 2017 and 2019 that would have banned abortion care at 20 weeks’ post-fertilization. In 2015, Bullock vetoed legislation that would have outlawed abortion care via telemedicine.
Bullock has hedged on supporting abortion rights throughout pregnancy, telling CNN in 2019 that he believes “life begins at viability, but either way it’s not up to people like me to be making these decisions.” “It’s not what I think—it’s what does an individual woman need to do with her body and with her health care,” Bullock said. Abortion rights, he added, was settled with the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade.

Kiersten Iwai, executive director of Forward Montana, a group that advocates for young people to get involved in politics, said Bullock’s presence on the November ballot could be a motivating factor for younger voters.

“We’re excited for Steve Bullock to continue to be a champion for issues that young people care about, including climate change and student debt,” Iwai told Rewire.News, adding that all statewide offices in Montana are up for election this year, with open seats for four of those five positions. “Young people have an eye on races up and down the ballot, including the Senate seat.”

Fifty-two percent of Montanans support abortion “as a matter of choice,” according to 2016 polling analysis by Data for Progress, a left-leaning group. Eighty-four percent of respondents in the state said they oppose banning abortion.

What Else We’re Watching

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), one of the last remaining anti-choice congressional Democrats, faces progressive Marie Newman in Tuesday’s rematch of the 2018 Democratic primary in Illinois’ 3rd District. Newman, an abortion rights supporter, lost to Lipinksi by around 2,100 votes, or about 2 percentage points, two years ago. Lipinski has a record of voting against abortion rights, the Equality Act, the DREAM Act, and the Affordable Care Act. Voters in Arizona, Florida, and Ohio will also head to the polls Tuesday.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is criticizing former Vice President Joe Biden for his checkered history on abortion rights and LGBTQ rights, the Washington Post reported. Sanders has emphasized Biden’s support in the mid-1990s for the Defense of Marriage Act, which outlawed legal recognition of same-sex marriages.

Honolulu Civil Beat writes about “another presidential primary, another last-place finish for Tulsi Gabbard,” the U.S. representative for Hawaii’s 2nd District, noting her spending and how in some races she’s received fewer votes than candidates who have dropped out.

In Dame magazine, Robyn Powell, a disability rights attorney and a Rewire.News contributor, wonders how Sanders and Biden will fight for the disability community against an “appallingly ableist president.”

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