Republicans have unlikely allies in their fight to restrict abortion at the state level: Democrats


He is “the extremist right’s trusted vote when it comes to attacking abortion access,” one abortion rights advocacy group in Texas proclaimed in 2021.

He is also a lifelong Democrat.

A CNN analysis of legislative records and reported party affiliations shows that the Republicans passing increasingly strict abortion bans around the country have been joined by scores of unlikely allies: Democrats.

All but one of the laws would have passed with Republican votes alone, and a few were passed without a single vote from a Democratic lawmaker. Republican legislators almost always voted in favor of the restrictions, which experts say shows how the issue has been much more of a litmus test for Republican state lawmakers than it has for Democrats.

See where abortion access is banned — and where it's still in limbo
The right to abortion had been guaranteed in the United States for nearly 50 years until the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in June. In its wake, the procedure has been outlawed or severely restricted thanks to state trigger bans and other anti-abortion laws passed between 2005 and today that are now taking effect. Most of these laws were passed in the last five years, though two of the state trigger bans were passed more than a decade ago in the hopes that Roe v. Wade would someday be overturned. In Mississippi, for example, a law that passed in 2007 received yes votes from more than 60 Democrats — some of whom have since crossed over to the Republican Party. In this case, the law would not have passed without that support from Democrats.
These strict abortion bans run contrary to public opinion, with more than 60% of Americans saying they disapprove of the recent Supreme Court decision in a July CNN poll. In August, voters in Kansas rejected a ballot measure that would have limited abortion rights in the state, while in upstate New York, a Democrat won a special election for a swing House district — a sign of the motivating power of abortion rights as an issue.
Texas State Senator Eddie Lucio Jr., a Democrat, spoke in favor of a controversial anti-abortion bill in 2021. He told CNN most of his constituents are "Christians whose upbringings taught them fundamental values of what is right and wrong."

Lucio told CNN that being an anti-abortion Democrat “feels lonely” at times, but that most of his constituents are “Christians whose upbringings taught them fundamental values of what is right and wrong.”

He said he doesn’t believe abortion is only a women’s issue, since both men and women are involved in conception, and that men “have shown that they have a natural instinct to protect the human race.”

“Many times, I believe, women would choose not to have an abortion if men would demonstrate a moral sense of responsibility,” he said.

More than 140 Democrats from eight of the roughly dozen states with the most restrictive abortion laws voted in favor of the bans.
The national Democratic Party’s stance on abortion is clear. “Like the majority of Americans, Democrats believe every woman should be able to access high-quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion,” its party platform states. “We oppose and will fight to overturn federal and state laws that create barriers to women’s reproductive health and rights…”

But that is not always the case for individual Democratic state legislators.

In Arkansas, four of the state’s 29 Democrats voted in 2019 to pass the trigger ban that criminalized abortion under nearly all circumstances. They were all men. That same year, 14 male and five female Democrats in Kentucky voted for a similar state ban, representing nearly 40% of all Democrats in the state legislature at the time. And in Mississippi, nine male Democratic lawmakers voted in 2018 to pass the 15-week abortion ban that ultimately led to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The laws received almost unanimous support from Republicans, except for a single no vote in Arkansas.

A 2022 bill strengthening Louisiana’s trigger ban, meanwhile, was passed with the help of 10 male and two female Democratic lawmakers and signed into law by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. “I am pro-life and have never hidden from that fact,” Edwards said in a statement in June, noting that he signed the bill despite his objection to the lack of exceptions for rape and incest victims. A spokesperson for Edwards told CNN that the governor intends to work with lawmakers to hopefully pass an exception for victims of rape and incest and noted that the bill he signed “sought to clarify” a ban passed in 2006 before he became governor.
"I am pro-life and have never hidden from that fact," said Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, who is a Democrat.
Former Kentucky Democratic state representative and gubernatorial candidate Rocky Adkins said in a 2019 radio interview that in addition to his personal beliefs, his votes represent the views of his constituents in a “very conservative district.” Bruce Maloch, who no longer serves in the state legislature, is one of the Arkansas Democrats who voted in favor of the state’s trigger ban. He was described as a “a deer-hunting, abortion-opposing local Baptist deacon” in a 2020 local newspaper column lamenting the Republican attack ads against him. Maloch and Adkins did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.
Also in Kentucky, former state Rep. Joe Graviss told a local newspaper in 2020 that he had tried to emphasize his “pro-life” beliefs throughout his campaign for state Senate but still lost. Graviss declined to discuss his anti-abortion votes with CNN, saying the issue is a “very personal” one for him, but also said he is frustrated with how local Democrats are painted as being the same as national Democrats, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which is not always the case. “You have people putting up big signs in their fields on major parkways saying if you vote for a Democrat you’re going to hell,” he said. “You have pastors telling their congregations who to vote for and putting the list tacked on church front doors with damning repercussions if they don’t vote that way.”
Former Kentucky representative Joe Graviss said he is frustrated with how local Democrats are painted as being the same as national Democrats.

In all, men represented more than 80% of the Democratic votes in state legislatures in favor of the bans.

CNN’s analysis of state Democrats echoes how gender has played a role in Congress as well. An analysis of abortion-related voting in the House of Representatives between 1993 and 2018 published last year by two Georgetown researchers found that Democratic men were more likely to vote in favor of bills restricting abortion than their female counterparts, which the researchers attributed to how female Democrats are often elected in more liberal districts.
Currently, the only two Democratic members of Congress to publicly oppose abortion are: Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, which was noted in a recent column about the “end of pro-life Democrats” at the federal level. Republican women in the House, meanwhile, have historically been more likely than Republican men to oppose anti-abortion legislation, the Georgetown researchers noted, but that gender gap has disappeared in recent years as more moderate candidates were replaced by “strongly pro-life women from the South and Midwest.”
At the same time, experts say framing abortion as a women’s issue may prevent men from taking up the abortion-rights side of the cause, whether as advocates or lawmakers — saying anti-abortion activists have strategically capitalized on the power men wield in politics and business. “Let’s be real: there’s a WHOLE lot of men whose lives, careers, and families have benefited from an abortion,” US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, tweeted in the wake of Roe’s reversal. “Men, we need you right now. You can get through in rooms others can’t. Your power matters.” Some abortion rights advocates also note that gender-based framing of the issue leaves out transgender and nonbinary people who could be affected.
Conservatives have pushed infant safe haven laws as an alternative to abortion. But few American women use them

Ziad Munson, a sociology professor at Lehigh University who specializes in the politics of abortion, said that “politicians often have easily identifiable political reasons for their stance on abortion,” saying that some Democrats may be voting for anti-abortion legislation more to maintain their seat in a conservative district than because it is a deeply-held personal belief.

Munson noted that the finding that Democratic state lawmakers have been more likely to cross party lines shows how abortion became much more of a core issue for the Republican Party, while Democrats have allowed “for more diversity of views for a longer period of time.” This has been particularly true in the South, he said, where Democrats have been historically more conservative.

That may be changing, however, as lawmakers adapt to a shifting political landscape. Munson said it will be telling to see how Democrats vote as Republicans push for even stricter bans in a post-Roe v. Wade world.

People protest in front of the U.S. Supreme Court after the overturning of the landmark 50-year-old Roe v. Wade case.
In Congress, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, who previously described himself as a “pro-life” Democrat, recently voted with his party on a bill that would have codified the federal right to abortion — though it did not receive enough votes to proceed. In a statement, Casey said he was motivated by reports that Republicans would attempt to pass a federal six-week abortion ban — an extreme restriction that he said he had never supported during his time in public office. Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, said in a June statement that he was “deeply disappointed” in the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe and that he supported exceptions for rape and incest, but he still voted against the bill, saying on CNN that he believed the congressional proposal went beyond codifying Roe and would expand abortion rights, which he could not support.
Some big-city district attorneys vow not to prosecute abortion cases, setting up legal clashes in red states
Former Tennessee state Rep. John DeBerry, meanwhile, had served as a Democrat for more than 20 years but was stripped from the primary ballot by the state Democratic party in 2020. The move came after DeBerry, who later ran as an independent, was targeted by attack ads from the political arm of Planned Parenthood, and party representatives reportedly said at the time that his votes for anti-abortion and school voucher bills, among others, didn’t align with the party’s values.
Planned Parenthood of Tennessee's political arm took out attack ads against Democrat John DeBerry after he voted in favor of strict anti-abortion legislation.
“Life has mattered my entire career,” he said in a 2020 interview with Christianity Today. “My principles have not changed, and I am not changing my principles because I have a D behind my name.”
And back in Texas, longtime Democratic state Rep. Ryan Guillen announced in November 2021 he would be officially switching his affiliation from Democrat to Republican. Like Lucio in the Senate, Guillen had voted in favor of both the state’s trigger ban and controversial six-week ban enforced through civil litigation. “Rep. Guillen has been a friend for many years,” the state Republican Party chairman said in a statement. “I am proud to welcome him to the Republican Party.” Guillen did not respond to requests for comment.
Days earlier, Lucio had announced he would not seek reelection after more than 30 years in the state legislature. He told CNN he is proud that he rose “above partisan politics” during his time in office and proclaimed that he was never the extreme right’s trusted vote, as critics said, but “God’s trusted vote.”

What should we investigate next? Email us at watchdog@cnn.com.

CNN’s Clay Voytek and Casey Tolan contributed to this report.





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