When Dr. Jessica Klemens thinks about the stakes of this year’s election in Pennsylvania, she imagines being summoned to the emergency room at the hospital where she works in Montgomery County and being presented with a patient bleeding heavily from the beginnings of a miscarriage. “If I go down there, and she’s hemorrhaging, but there’s still a fetal heartbeat” — and, if Klemens treats that patient as she’s been trained to as an OB-GYN — “based on this [proposed] legislation, I would be committing a crime.” She thinks about ectopic pregnancies, about patients she’s seen whose water broke at 16 or 18 weeks and who, if left untreated, would develop infections that would spread from their uteruses to their bloodstreams.
Right now in Pennsylvania, the only thing standing between Klemens and decisions like those is a term-limited Democratic governor’s veto threat. Republicans, with a commanding majority in both chambers of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly, have already proposed an amendment that would strip the right to an abortion out of the state constitution. Under a new Republican administration, there is little doubt that they would restrict the practice as soon as they could. Klemens is one of dozens of doctors who have organized in Pennsylvania in support of Democratic candidates. She’s even persuaded her mother — an evangelical Christian, former Republican, and self-described “single-issue voter on abortion” — not just to vote for Democrats in Pennsylvania this year, but to appear in a digital ad for Senate candidate John Fetterman.
Every Democratic candidate running in 2022 seems to have a story about a Republican voter who has told them they’re crossing party lines this November because of the GOP’s extreme position on abortion. Rep. Val Demings, running for Senate in Florida against Marco Rubio, recalls a middle-aged woman who approached her at an event for gold-star mothers. “She says, ‘I’m a Republican. I’ve volunteered at an abortion clinic; I will work for you. I will make calls for you; I will do whatever you need me to do so you win this race,’” Demings tells Rolling Stone. Rep. Pat Ryan, who won a special election in upstate New York this summer, tells of an 80-year-old man who had never voted Democrat in his life, until casting his ballot for Ryan “specifically because of my position in standing up for abortion rights.”
After being stung by polling errors in 2016 and 2020 (and with some analysts cautioning that “warning signs are flashing again” in many of the same areas), Democrats are searching the tea leaves for any indication — campaign trail anecdotes, spikes in grassroots fundraising, increases volunteer interest, requests for lawn signs, new voter registrations, anything at all — to confirm their suspicion that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn federal protection for abortion is truly motivating voters to turn out this year.
A trio of post-Dobbs triumphs — in Kansas, Alaska, and Ryan’s special election in New York’s swing-y 19th District — have boosted Democratic spirits, but each has come with its own set of caveats. Deep-red Kansas has a complicated and nuanced history when it comes to reproductive rights. A new ranked-choice voting system and a widely reviled Republican opponent (Sarah Palin) may have helped propel Democrat Mary Pelota to victory in Alaska. And the once-rural Republican enclave where Ryan won has experienced significant demographic shifts in the past two years, as city dwellers fled the pandemic.
Ryan, for his part, doesn’t think pandemic-related migration meaningfully impacted his race. “I actually just think we’re on the morally right side of the issue,” he tells Rolling Stone. “And it just so happens that more and more people are realizing that reproductive health decisions and abortion rights are widely shared American values — not just here, but in Kansas and Alaska and, I think, across the country.”
The congressman points to the fact that fundraising in the week directly after the Dobbs decision was so strong, it ended up accounting for more than a third of his campaign’s total haul. At the same time, he notes, “we had an immediate huge bump in volunteers.” The campaign made lawn signs that declared “Choice Is on the Ballot,” and “we literally could not keep those signs in stock,” Ryan says. When the election returns came in, he adds, “where we had huge turnout in Ulster and Columbia counties, that was where we saw a really high density of [lawn] signs.”
Republicans in tightening races seem to be taking notes: In Nevada, GOP Senate candidate Adam Laxalt tweeted and deleted a photo of himself attending a Nevada Right to Life event just days after a draft of the Dobbs decision leaked to the public. The former attorney general for Nevada has been endorsed by Nevada Right to Life and National Right to Life, but both are conspicuously absent from the endorsements page of his website. That’s perhaps not surprising given Nevadans’ views on the issue: A recent poll found that 90 percent of voters polled believed abortion should be legal in all or some circumstances. (Laxalt “has spent his whole career trying to restrict women’s rights,” his opponent Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto said in a statement, “which puts him far out-of-step with the people of Nevada.”)
During the GOP primary in Arizona, Republican Senate nominee Blake Masters equated abortion with “human sacrifice” and declared the need for a constitutional amendment “that recognizes that unborn babies are human beings that may not be killed.” Now, he says he supports “common-sense regulation around abortion.”
TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz — running for Senate in Pennsylvania against John Fetterman — has been in damage control mode in recent weeks, attempting to walk back his past comments that abortion is “murder” at any stage of pregnancy by insisting he would actually support extremely limited exceptions to abortion. A representative for Fetterman — who has been outspoken on the need for reproductive freedom — says his campaign saw a 258 percent spike in donations the week after Dobbs.
Pennsylvania is one of several states, alongside Kansas, Idaho, Wisconsin, Louisiana, and Alaska, where new voter registrations by women are heavily outpacing new registrations by men. In North Carolina, women are outregistering men by seven percent. But Rep. Ted Budd, the Republican candidate for Senate in the Tar Heel State, has not softened his hard-line stance on abortion. Budd, who has previously voiced support for a ban on abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the mother’s life, is also a co-sponsor of legislation in the House that would ban abortion nationwide at 15 weeks. An internal poll conducted on behalf of his opponent, former chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court, Cheri Beasley, indicates that could be an advantage for her. The poll, conducted by Global Strategy Group, found that Budd’s hard-line views on abortion “raised doubts” in the minds of 70 percent of North Carolina voters who were polled. (Only seven percent of voters shared Budd’s view that abortion should be illegal with no exceptions, the same poll found.) Public polls show that race, once considered a long shot for Democrats, is now a dead heat.
“People are outraged,” Beasley tells Rolling Stone. “We all have to feel a sense of urgency around this election, because the reality is women with ectopic pregnancies, septic uteruses, miscarriages that don’t pass, [they] need this procedure of an abortion to save their lives. And if this national ban goes into effect, women will die.”
Much like Ted Budd, Rubio, who is up for reelection in Florida, opposes abortion, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or human trafficking — a position shared by just 12 percent of Florida voters. Demings, a former police detective who worked in the crimes against children unit and handled cases involving young girls impregnated by their rapists, says her opponent’s position “really pisses people off.” Rubio is still leading his opponent by a comfortable margin, but in recent weeks, his lead over Demings has been cut in half. If it ends up being a truly competitive race, Demings will be as surprised as anyone. “I did not fully understand the impact that it would have, actually, on the ground back in Florida,” she tells Rolling Stone of the day Roe was overturned, “but it scares the hell out of people.”