Abortion proves winning strategy for Alabama Democrat

Marilyn Lands won a state House special election in a rare battleground race.

An Alabama Democrat who campaigned aggressively on abortion access won a special election in the state Legislature on Tuesday, sending a message that abortion remains a winning issue for Democrats, even in the deep South.

Marilyn Lands won a state House seat in a rare competitive race to represent a district that includes parts of Huntsville. Lands, a mental health professional, centered her bid on reproductive rights and criticized the state’s near-total abortion ban along with a recent state Supreme Court ruling that temporarily banned in vitro fertilization.

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“Today, Alabama women and families sent a clear message that will be heard in Montgomery and across the nation,” Lands said in a statement. “Our legislature must repeal Alabama’s no-exceptions abortion ban, fully restore access to IVF, and protect the right to contraception.”

Her opponent, Madison City Council member Teddy Powell, focused his campaign on economic development and infrastructure.

Lands spoke openly about her own abortion experience, when she had a nonviable pregnancy that ended in abortion two decades ago. Her campaign ran a television ad sharing that story.

“It’s shameful that today women have fewer freedoms than I had two decades ago,” Lands says in the ad.

Lands’ victory is a promising sign for Democrats who are working to chip away at the GOP’s dominance of state legislatures in the South. Alabama Democrats for years have pleaded with national groups to invest more resources into a slumping state party infrastructure that is far outspent by Republicans.

Party leaders are hoping that Lands’ successful bid proves that the right message — and financial support from deep-pocketed groups — makes the difference. She earned the endorsement of national organizations Planned Parenthood and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, an arm of the Democratic National Committee.

“This election today provides an opportunity for folks at the national level to pay close attention to the South and not just write us off,” said state Rep. Anthony Daniels, minority leader of the House Democratic Caucus, prior to the election.

District 10 makes up parts of Huntsville and Madison, a highly affluent and educated area in Northern Alabama. In 2020, former President Donald Trump narrowly carried the district and former Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, who is backing Lands, won it by around five points.

Lands ran for the seat in 2022 and lost by 7 points to Republican David Cole, who resigned last year after pleading guilty to voter fraud.

Yet her election hardly tips the scales in Montgomery: Republicans hold a supermajority in both chambers of the Legislature and use that power to pursue a conservative agenda backed by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and other GOP state officials.

When the state Supreme Court ruled last month that embryos are children under state law and suspended the practice of IVF, it set off a political firestorm that some Republicans fear could threaten their standing in the November elections. Republican leadership in the state legislature raced to pass a law granting immunity to IVF providers and patients in the days following the decision.

But Lands’ victory signals abortion can turn out voters even in a deep-red state.

Once in office, Lands said she wants to work to repeal the state’s abortion law, which is one of the strictest in the country. Alabama outlaws abortion at any stage of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest. The procedure is permitted in cases where the health of the pregnant person is in jeopardy.

“This special election is a harbinger of things to come – Republicans across the country have been put on notice that there are consequences to attacks on IVF – from the bluest blue state to the reddest red, voters are choosing to fight for their fundamental freedoms by electing Democrats across the country,” said DLCC President Heather Williams in a statement.