After years of setbacks in battles with conservative state legislatures, one women’s health group is going back on the offensive.
This month, NARAL, one of the country’s most prominent reproductive-rights groups, launched Tennessee Total Access, the first of a potential series of programs aimed at organising pockets of pro-choice support in deeply conservative states.
Earlier this month, NARAL dispatched national staffers to the state to help establish a network of potential members and supporters who can be called to action to support like-minded candidates or oppose candidates in the state whom the organisation sees as anti-abortion rights.
The group launched the project hoping to capitalise on a favourable ruling in Supreme Court’s Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision, which found that Texas’ laws requiring abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles placed an undue burden on abortion access. Tennessee has similar laws on the books that abortion-rights activists and groups like Planned Parenthood are looking to challenge.
Groups like NARAL are hoping that June’s high-court decision represented a sea change that will allow them to permanently roll back laws in conservative states that effectively limit the number of abortion providers across the country.
A heavily Republican state that easily passed a series of abortion restrictions between 2012 and 2014, Tennessee will serve as a laboratory for NARAL to test reproductive-health messaging in red states, where activists say conservative anti-abortion proponents have been able to overwhelm disorganized pockets of opposition.
It remains unclear whether the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Texas case will affect Tennessee. The Supreme Court ruled on Texas’ law, which mandates that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles. Similar Tennessee laws require that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges with hospitals within the county.
Still, NARAL hopes its efforts will help push states in its direction direction. NARAL’s effort will focus on expanding support in blue pockets in the state, primarily around large cities like Nashville and Memphis.
If the effort succeeds at broadening the organisation’s membership and exerting pressure on lawmakers, the organisation plans to use it as the model for organising in similar deep-red states.
In Tennessee, the program also aims to make an example of one lawmaker in particular: US Rep. Marsha Blackburn. The congresswoman enraged groups like NARAL as the chair of the House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, which was convened to investigate a series of videos by anti-abortion activists that purported to show Planned Parenthood officials profiting from the sale of tissue from aborted fetuses. No investigation has turned up any wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.
NARAL is paying for mobile billboards in her district and is running paid digital ads highlighting Blackburn’s opposition to equal pay legislation and
The organisation has no illusions about hampering Blackburn’s chances of reelection — the congresswoman won 70% of the vote in 2014, where her Democratic opponent garnered 26% of the district’s support. The plan is aimed more at making noise and organising statewide opposition to Blackburn’s positions.
“Marsha Blackburn is the perfect example of just how out of touch anti-choice members of Congress are with the majority of Americans on the issue of abortion access,” Kaylie Hanson Long, NARAL’s communications director, told Business Insider.
She added: “When we talk to Tennesseans and they become aware of just how out of step she is, the outrage is palpable, and frankly, inspires them to organise in support of abortion access. Our goal around Congressman Blackburn is to educate people about how extreme she is on the issue of abortion access and ultimately organise them in support of a reproductive freedom agenda.”
Blackburn’s office did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
Limited public polling in Tennessee shows most Tennesseans still disapprove of abortion. A poll released late last year by Middle Tennessee State University showed 56% of state residents believed that abortion should be illegal, while 36% of respondents said it should be legal in most cases.
NARAL disputes many public polls, which the organisation asserts do not adequately distinguish between between respondents beliefs about the morality and legality of abortion. A poll the group commissioned in 2014, for example, showed a significant percentage of Americans believe that abortion should be legal, despite the fact that many of the same respondents disapprove of the practice.
NARAL’s step into red states comes at a time when Democratic-aligned groups are using Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s middling support as an opportunity to lay the groundwork now for future elections. Groups like Emily’s List, which helps to elect pro-choice, female Democratic lawmakers, already have eyes on the 2018 midterm elections, when the map will be considerably more difficult for Democrats.
The Clinton campaign itself is involved in a multipronged campaign aimed at building off potential success in 2016 for future races.
Multiple Democratic campaign staffers involved in Clinton’s Arizona campaign have told Business Insider that while it may be difficult for the former secretary of state to win the state in 2016, her campaign’s recent investment in the state’s voter turnout efforts could prove valuable for 2018 midterm races, when Democrats are looking to hold on to House seats.
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