Why many Dems in the South back the new anti-abortion laws

MAYSVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky state Rep. John Sims is a Democrat. He also voted for the state’s recent heartbeat bill, which bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
In a country where Democrats are viewed as overwhelmingly pro-choice, Sims seems like an oddity.

Blue states like New York are increasingly expanding a woman’s right to choose. In January, Democratic Gov. Cuomo passed a law permitting late-term abortions when the mother’s life is in danger and ordered the spire of the World Trade Center to be lit up pink to “shine a bright light forward for the rest of the nation to follow.”

But Sims doesn’t see himself as strange.

“It is not unusual at all in my book to be both a Democrat and pro-life; it’s just the way I was raised in the church,” said Sims from the back of the Dairy Queen his family has owned for 66 years.

Life means life “from conception until death,” he said.

This year, five states — Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, Ohio and Georgia — have enacted abortion bans at six weeks of gestation, while Missouri passed a law prohibiting terminations at eight weeks. Alabama approved a near-total abortion ban, in which a doctor caught performing abortions in the state would face up to 99 years in prison — even if the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. None of these laws are currently in effect.

Mostly, Republicans have been behind the legislation, but in Louisiana, the governor who signed his state’s bill last month — John Bel Edwards — is a Democrat. This year, there are three gubernatorial races happening in the US, all in southern states: Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana. But the heartbeat bills will mostly be a non-issue for candidates from both parties, with the exception of Kentucky where the Democratic front-runner is pro-choice.

While Democrats nationwide are outraged over the bills, which aim to reach the Supreme Court in the hopes of overturning Roe v. Wade, southern Democrats aren’t as clear cut on the issue.

A recent Pew poll shows that six out of 10 people nationally support abortion in the first trimester. But in Kentucky, 57 percent of people believe abortion should be flat-out illegal, according to a different Pew poll, from 2014. And voters in Mississippi and Louisiana hold stronger pro-life views than the national average, according to a recent regional survey conducted by Republican pollster Wes Anderson.

When Anderson asked voters in Louisiana if they considered themselves pro-life or pro-choice, 64 percent said pro-life. Meanwhile, 40 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of independents and 88 percent of Republicans in the state said they consider themselves pro-life.

In Mississippi, 60 percent of voters said they were pro-life, with 29 percent of Democrats, 55 percent of independents and 83 percent of Republicans making that claim.

And here’s a fact that might surprise people north of the Mason-Dixon Line — 58 percent of the pro-life Democrats in Louisiana are black. In Mississippi, that number jumps to 73 percent. “The point is … Democrats who call themselves pro-life … in most states are black,” said Anderson. (Full disclosure: Anderson is a partner at OnMessage Inc. with Brad Todd, co-author of my book, “The Great Revolt.”)

“It’s a little fact that’s been around for a long, long time that the Democrats just conveniently ignore,” he added. “The place where Republicans get pro-life Democrat support is a subset of black Democrats.”

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