Western Dems sense an opportunity on abortion

Democrats rallied for reproductive rights and healthcare at a May 11 event in Franklin. Cory Vaillancourt photo Democrats rallied for reproductive rights and healthcare at a May 11 event in Franklin. Cory Vaillancourt photo

It’s been just over two years since a leaked draft opinion suggested the U.S. Supreme Court would vote to overturn its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion ruling, and it’s now been nearly two years since that actually happened.

Many states rushed to reckon with the consequences, but it’s been nearly all bad news for Republicans since then. Democrats across the nation and across North Carolina are hoping to keep that losing streak going as voters head to the polls during the General Election this “Roevember.”

“I think, as a whole, the Republicans have bought something and I think that they may regret it,” said Mark Burrows, a Brevard Democrat running against Republican Rep. Mike Clampitt (R-Swain) in the 119th House District this fall.

Burrows and several other Democratic candidates gathered in Franklin’s Big Bear Park on May 11, speaking out in favor of a topic many of them think will be the defining issue of this election cycle.

“We understand what’s at stake here. I grew up when a woman didn’t have a choice, really. Her choice was either get married or her parents may send her off to live somewhere else,” said Nancy Curtis, former mayor of Andrews and Dem nominee for the 120th House District seat currently held by Rep. Karl Gillespie. “In some cases, some of these young women took their lives. Those are the days that I remember, and I don’t think those are real options.”

Curtis believes the issue will be “huge” for swing voters, especially young people who have lived their entire lives — until recently — with solid federal protections for abortion in place. Based on post-Dobbs election results, she and other Democrats may be onto something.

Related Items

According to decades of Gallup polling, as of May 2023 only 13% of Americans believe abortion should be illegal under all circumstances, down from an all-time high of 23% in May 2009. Conversely, 34% of Americans think abortion should be legal in all circumstances and 51% think it should be legal under certain circumstances. A Pew Research poll released May 13 says 63% of Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with 36% saying it should be illegal in all or most cases.

In 2022, voters in the liberal states of California and Vermont established state constitutional protections on reproductive rights along with Michigan, a battleground state. Meanwhile, legislative efforts to restrict reproductive rights in the conservative states of Kansas, Kentucky and Montana failed.

Analysts speculated that the fight over reproductive rights led to disappointing results for Republicans in the 2022 election that saw predictions of a “red wave” fizzle out well short of Washington, D.C.

In 2023, voters in Ohio — also a red state — approved a constitutional amendment establishing various reproductive rights.

This year, Planned Parenthood’s pledge to invest an unprecedented $10 million in North Carolina races and a press release issued by President Joe Biden’s North Carolina campaign apparatus both seem to indicate a sense of optimism in a state Donald Trump won by 3.7 points and 1.3 points in 2016 and 2020, respectively.

“In North Carolina, we’re meeting voters where they are and building a winning coalition that is clear-eyed about the stakes in this election,” said Sophie Mestas, a spokesperson for the Democratic coordinated campaign in North Carolina. “By overturning Roe v. Wade, Trump has unleashed dangerous abortion bans in more than 20 states across the country, including in North Carolina. North Carolinians agree that reproductive health care decisions should be made between a woman and her doctor, yet Donald Trump would be ready to further rip away reproductive health care access in all 50 states, including in our state.”

Adam Tebrugge, a Jackson County attorney and Democrat challenging Sen. Kevin Corbin (R-Macon) this year, said he’s been receiving strong responses on reproductive rights from voters as he campaigns across the sprawling 50th Senate District, which encompasses much of the far west.

“Abortion is at the moment a state issue, because apparently they’re not going to recognize that as a constitutional right,” Tebrugge said. “I just believe that women are their own agents of their own health care, and they’re their own best decision makers, and I’m not going to try and make that decision for them.”

Tebrugge happens to be running in what can be called the epicenter of the debate over reproductive rights in North Carolina; Corbin, a popular incumbent who’s spent nearly his entire adult life in public service, had a major role in drafting Senate Bill 20, North Carolina’s post-Dobbs attempt to capitalize on the ruling. Currently, abortion is prohibited in the state beyond 12 weeks and six days, with limited exceptions. The bill was vetoed by outgoing Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper, but became law anyway.  

It would make sense that if anyone’s to pay a price at the polls for the state’s stance on abortion, it might be Corbin.

“If you’re talking about hardcore Republican voters, I’m not expecting to get too many of them, but I am open to their support,” Tebrugge said. “Now, undecided voters, who knows what issues they’re paying attention to? It’s a difficult demographic to get ahold of, honestly.”

To Corbin’s benefit, his district has performed at about 62% for Republicans from 2016 through the 2022 election, according to nonpartisan redistricting website, so absent a monumental revolt among unaffiliated and Republican voters, he’s probably safe from abortion-related fallout. Likewise, Rep. Gillespie’s district (72% red) will be a tough fight for Curtis just as Rep. Clampitt’s district (55% red) will be for Burrows.

For Democrats, complex dynamics in the General Assembly won’t become clear until after the election. With a high-stakes gubernatorial race underway between Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein and Republican Lieutenant Gov. Mark Robinson, the real focus is on the Republican supermajority in both chambers and whether Democrats can break it.

“If [Republicans] keep the supermajority, regardless of what happens in the governor’s race, they can do whatever they want, whenever they want,” said Sen. Julie Mayfield (D-Buncombe). “We do know that many members of the Republican caucus want to go farther. They alluded to that last year. And we know that within their party, this was very much a compromise bill. There were people who wanted a heartbeat bill, there were I think people who would have been fine to leave it where it was [generally around 20 weeks].”

That’s part of the reason Democrats have been, and will be, hammering the issue through November.

“If Democrats do their job right, every voter will go into the ballot box with Roe on their mind,” Mayfield said. “That is the issue for this election and to the degree that people don’t know that their rights have been reduced, that the freedom that women have to make their own decisions, to define their path in life, to decide what’s best for their families — to the degree that people don’t know that we have lost those things, they will know.”

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.