Abortion Issue Dogs Vinehout in Governor Race
Her past views against abortion and birth control haunt her campaign.
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 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.”
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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