Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Abortion Issue Dogs Vinehout in Governor Race

Her past views against abortion and birth control haunt her campaign.

By - Mar 15th, 2018 11:27 am
Kathleen Vinehout. Photo from State of Wisconsin.

Kathleen Vinehout. Photo from State of Wisconsin.

Once upon a time there were as many as 100 anti-abortion Democrats in the House of Representatives. That was as recently as the 1990s, as a story in The Hill recently noted.

But today there are a handful of such Democrats in the House and one of them, Dan Lipinski of Illinois, faces a tough primary challenge from Marie Newman, a veteran Democratic activist who is contrasting her pro-choice views to Lipinski’s.

As Vice News reports, “Not a single anti-abortion Democratic candidate is running competitively in the 91 districts the party hopes to flip from red to blue this year, according to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.”

All of which raises questions about the gubernatorial candidacy of Kathleen Vinehout, the Democratic state senator from rural Alma. She has a prior history as a pro-life activist that was noted in a recent story by the Cap Times in Madison.

Vinehout was actually a board member of Democrats for Life before her first run for office, in the race for state senator in 2006, and she told the National Catholic Reporter she was worried those views could hurt her chances. “I’ve been told that if I run as a ‘pro-life Democrat’ that I won’t get any union money, Sierra Club money or environmental money,” she said.

Vinehout told the publication she planned to soft-peddle her stance when she runs for office and avoid the “pro-life Democrat” label.

The strategy apparently worked. In the 2006 campaign she earned the endorsement of Planned Parenthood, based on Vinehout’s “100% pro-choice candidate questionnaire,” as Nicole Safar, legal and policy adviser for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, told Isthmus in 2012.

But the group “made the unprecedented choice in 2009 to rescind its endorsement after she authored an amendment that would have allowed pharmacists to refuse to fill certain prescriptions, including contraceptives, based on their religious beliefs,” the Cap Times reports. “Vinehout was also the only Senate Democrat to vote in 2009 against confirming three pro-abortion rights appointees to the UW Hospital Board of Authority and the state Medical Examining Board.”

Vinehout has tried to retell this history, insisting her comments were taken out of context in the National Catholic Reporter story, and telling Isthmus the legislation she backed allowing pharmacists to refuse to dispense contraceptives was the same as a later law that passed in the 2009-2010 budget, which requires pharmacies to dispense birth control without delay.

In response, NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin issued a statement saying Vinehout’s claim was not true. And Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison), who was political director of Planned Parenthood while the bill was being deliberated, told Isthmus that Vinehout’s amendment “was the antithesis to what is current law,” and would have allowed pharmacies and pharmacists to refuse to dispense birth control on site.

Taylor added that Vinehout’s misrepresentation of her record raises questions about he truthfulness: “Can you trust this person to do what she says she will do?”

That’s a lot of baggage to carry into a Democratic primary for governor, where only a minority of voters are likely to be anti-abortion. Polling by Pew Research shows that 75 percent of Democrats say abortion should be legal in at least most cases and that rises to 91 percent for liberal Democrats.

On the other hand this is a primary that could have as many as 10 candidates. “In a highly fractured race like this,” says UW-Milwaukee Professor of Urban Planning and former state legislator Mordecai Lee, it’s possible the winning candidate could get as little as 15 percent to 20 percent of the vote.

“She’d have a chance of winning if she were to emphasize her pro-life record,” Lee suggests. “To assume that, say, 15 percent of Dem voters are pro-life is a reasonable assumption.”

But one Democratic strategist discounts Vinehout’s chances. “I think the issue is a real problem for her. There aren’t many Democrats left who are anti-abortion.”

Vinehout, moreover, wasn’t just anti-abortion but anti-birth control, the strategist notes, backing a measure that would have restricted women’s access to contraceptives.

Finally, rather than arguing her views have evolved over the years, she has tried to deny she ever was pro-life. “She looks disingenuous,” says the strategist.

That may turn out to be the toughest hurdle for Vinehout. Because businesswoman and former Democratic legislator Kelda Roys has declared herself “the only pro-choice woman in the race.” This has prompted Vinehout to insist she, too, is pro-choice, which will repeatedly resurrect the dueling claims about her past history.

Roys, meanwhile, has released a campaign ad that has gone viral, winning attention from publications like Cosmopolitan magazine, whose writer notes that “Roys discusses the dangers of the chemical BPA (commonly found in things made of plastic, like baby bottles), seamlessly takes her fussy daughter from her husband, and begins breast-feeding her without skipping a beat on a subject more complex than I could comprehend even without multitasking.” It may be the first American campaign ad in history where a candidate is shown breast feeding her baby.

It remains to be seen how this impacts Roys’ campaign. But one thing is clear: The ad connects the candidate and her views in a way that’s emotional and consistent, with none of the contradictions Vinehout has to keep explaining away.

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Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

15 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Abortion Issue Dogs Vinehout in Governor Race”

  1. Observer says: Her position seems pretty unambiguous. “One of my sisters almost died of a self-induced abortion. I have seen firsthand the horror of what happens when access is limited and needed medicine, medical procedures, or care is not available. That is why I have voted throughout my career to make abortion legal, safe, and accessible. I have voted to support women’s health and voted against bills that would hurt a woman’s right to make her own health decisions.
    President Trump’s recent roll back of the federal requirement that employers must include birth control coverage in their health insurance plans is an enormous step backwards for women’s health. Reducing access to contraceptives is wrong as well as misguided.
    The contraceptive coverage mandate gave 55 million women access to birth control without co-payments. The roll back will hurt the health of thousands of women without resources to purchase contraceptives. Sadly, it will also result in an increased number of abortions, which should be safe, legal, and available but also rare.”
    The timing of this article strikes me as strange as does the headline. I will not vote in the primary for anyone associated with either Madison and/or Milwaukee. I believe Wisconsin’s other citizens have such a fierce hatred for my two favorite cities that it would be an exercise in futility to have such a candidate.

  2. Zeb says:

    This piece is nothing but a thinly veiled ad for Ms. Roys, and highlights an issue which should not be central to this campaign. Rather, the Democratic nominee should be someone who has worked to expand access to healthcare across the state, who has fought for tuition free college, and who is committed to serious criminal justice reforms. Senator Vinehout has worked exceedingly hard on all three of those issues, and has fought for meaningful progressive change throughout her three terms (while representing a swing district). If any Democrat can beat Gov. Walker in the fall, it’s her.

  3. Jacqueline Boynton says:

    Women’s Choice, a state of WI Emily’s List endorsed Vinehout for her first run for the legislature, she was a disaster, we felt betrayed, I am sorry to say that I would not trust her on this issue. It was a learning experience for us- it is fine to want restrictions on reproductive rights if that is what you believe but to lead a group on that you are “pro-choice” is unconscionable when a local group of women are working to bring your profile up and raise money for you.

  4. Troll says:

    Bernie Sanders is PRO-NRA and he was not haunted by that in 2016. Only Hillary rigging the election kept him from the White house. We may have had better candidates running for office in 2018, yet 800,000 abortions a year may have thinned the talent pool.

  5. Timothy J Haering says:

    Nice analysis, Bruce. But since nobody at this moment can beat Walker, it is much ado about VInehout’s denied virtues. The rooster has not crowed to toll Peter’s shame.

  6. Rita says:

    I agree with Zab. I am pro-choice, and I support Vinehout for her intelligence, hard work, and fact informed well reasoned proposals for the common good of the people of Wisconsin. I am tired of these red herring issues entering races. They are generally pushed by those who do not have better arguments, platforms, solutions.

  7. Steve says:

    The Senator’s position on choice may not be her biggest hurdle to getting elected state wide. Very few will ever learn of her position because she can’t raise the money she needs to get any message she may have out. She does not have a large volunteer base and isn’t known in SE WI. She won’t raise or be able to raise money because she doesn’t believe in raising money and really isn’t a serious contender.

  8. Rita says:

    I think people have had it with the status quo of big money influence on elections and scads of irritating ads and mailings. It is time for substance and some power to flow to the people who can’t afford big donations. Vinehout is that.

  9. Zeb says:

    It concerns me that some Democrats seem to care more about an ideological litmus test on this issue instead of focusing on building a broader coalition of voters. If choice is key issue of the race is choice, then Democrats should be ready to lose by 4 or 5 points. If the race is about the issues that Senator Vinehout has spent her career working on (increasing access to healthcare, affordable higher education, investing in infrastructure, and criminal justice reform) then Democrats will have a great chance to beat Governor Walker.

  10. GRNDPAKWH says:

    I would only only hope that the Democrats do not become like the Republicans and vote simply on one issue. Naral, Planned Parenthood, The NRA and all the other issue oriented organizations should not control an entire political party.

  11. Joanne Brown says:

    I think you’ve been played, Bruce, either by your political strategist friend or by a certain Democratic candidate named Kelda.

    Did you read the items under “Women’s Health” at the Vinehout website? Did you notice that 2006 letter, in the diocesan newsletter of all places, acknowledging the need for abortion (albeit rare) and calling for women to have access to the health care that prevents unplanned pregnancy? In 2006, as today, that healthcare was contraception. That is 12 years ago. Your strategist is simply wrong about Kathleen being anti-birth control. The amendment she supported– which never came to a vote, by the way–would have required pharmacies to fill birth control prescriptions even if an individual pharmacist declined to do so. This is clear from the Isthmus article. It is also clear from another item on a Vinehout’s website, a long letter she wrote to the Eau Claire Leader Telegram on the subject.

    I expect better from Bruce Murphy. All you did here was rehash Jessie Opoien’s article from the Cap Times. That was a strange article, too. Because instead of reporting on discussion at the WisPolitics luncheon, which I understand was wide-ranging and substantive, Ms. Opoien chose to editorialize on Senator Vinehout’s answer to a single question. Read the Cap Times article carefully. Someone asked Sen. Vinehout to respond to a claim from Kelda Roys that she was the only female pro-choice candidate; Sen. Vinehout said she was pro-choice, too.

    At that point, it is Ms. Opoien who calls the senator’s answer into question. Not an audience member. And now you, Bruce, are using the article to add to this point.

    Isn’t this the essence of fake news?

  12. Steve says:

    Rita, good luck with that.

  13. Troll says:

    Will Kathleen Vinehout refute the teaching of Minister Louis Farrakhan? Congresswomen Gwen Moore hasn’t. End Anti-Semitism and all racism in Wisconsin.

  14. Bill Kurtz says:

    Kelda Roys would be the worst possible candidate. It’s one thing to be pro-choice, and most people expect that from Democrats. But to make that the “calling card” issue is another matter. To beat Walker, Democrats need to attract centrist voters, not just pro-choice absolutists.

  15. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    Kelda Roys is a one-note candidate with no statewide appeal or image other than “Madison liberal woman.” And I live here and like Kelda, but she does not translate and could easily be demonized to low-info voters.

    If it’s about winning this very winnable election, Dems must look past superficial things and into coherence, toughness, and a lack of dealbreakers for voters.

    Vinehout was high on my list for those reasons, until she gave her incoherent and out-of-touch stance on guns this week (what does living in a rural area have to do with background checks or high-ammo magazines?)

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