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Democratic congressional candidates focus on abortion in a bid to regain the House

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Fifty-one years ago today, the Supreme Court legalized national access to abortion in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. And two years ago, the Supreme Court overturned it with the Dobbs decision, throwing the deciding power back to individual states and allowing states to enact new restrictive abortion laws. Looking ahead to November, Democrats believe voter opposition to those laws will help deliver control of the House of Representatives. NPR political correspondent Susan Davis has more.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Arizona Democrat Kirsten Engel ran and lost a 2022 House race for a seat representing the Tucson area. She's seeking a rematch against now-incumbent Republican Juan Ciscomani. She thinks this time will be different.

KIRSTEN ENGEL: My opponent now has a voting record.

DAVIS: Engel points to things like Ciscomani's vote for a Republican bill that would roll back FDA rules enacted after the Dobbs decision that make it easier to access the abortion inducing drug mifepristone. She says abortion is a top-of-mind for voters in her district.

ENGEL: It doesn't matter if you're a Democrat, an independent or a Republican. Women feel very deeply about this issue, that their rights have been stripped away.

DAVIS: Across the country, Democrats are running congressional campaigns focused heavily on support for abortion rights. The issue is even more likely to resonate in states like Arizona if a proposed ballot initiative to protect abortion rights in the state's constitution is put to voters on November's ballot. Abortion rights advocates are working on a similar ballot initiative in Florida, where Republicans under Governor Ron DeSantis enacted a six-week abortion ban last year. Democratic candidate Whitney Fox says the issue will be a driving force of her campaign to oust freshman Republican Anna Paulina Luna from her Tampa-area seat. Luna is a vocal opponent to abortion rights and has referred to herself as a, quote, "pro-life extremist." Like Luna, Fox is the mother of young children, a factor that will not be lost in this race. Here's Fox.

WHITNEY FOX: And now that I've got two little girls of my own, they're growing up with fewer rights than I did. And as they get older, they deserve the freedom to make their own healthcare decisions without government overreach.

DAVIS: And in Texas, Democrats have just one opportunity to flip a Republican-held seat currently held by freshman Monica De La Cruz. The likely candidate, Michelle Vallejo, says the stories of Texas women denied abortion access under the state's new restrictive abortion law are roiling voters in her district that stretches from the outskirts of San Antonio down to the U.S.-Mexico border. Here's Vallejo.

MICHELLE VALLEJO: Right now what we're facing in Texas is that fight where women and families are being pushed out of the state, forced to leave to get lifesaving care that they desperately need.

DAVIS: North Carolina Republican Richard Hudson is running the party's campaign operation this year. Asked for comment, his spokesman pointed NPR to comments Hudson made this month to Punchbowl News, in which he said Republicans need to run more clearly on the issue because otherwise, voters think the GOP party position is, quote, "we'll throw you in jail if you get an abortion." The spokesman additionally told NPR that Republicans will focus on what he called clear and pathetic and mainstream positions. Facing sagging approval levels for President Biden and a generally sour national mood on the economy, abortion is one issue and maybe the only issue where Democrats see a clear advantage with swing voters. Susan Davis, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.