Staunchly Anti-Choice Legislators Vie for Another Term, Higher Office

From a legislator who declared himself a "former fetus" to another who compared Planned Parenthood to ISIS, lawmakers instrumental in the passage of anti-choice laws will be on the ballot this Election Day.

Sen. Nancy Barto, chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, has compiled a staunchly anti-choice voting record, and has sponsored or co-sponsored several bills passed by the legislature that restrict reproductive rights. Arizona Capitol Television (Official) / YouTube

While the focus of the 2016 election has been on the presidential campaign, on November 8 voters will also determine their state representatives in 5,915 legislative seats in 86 legislative chambers across 44 states.

State legislatures have been at the center of a national movement seeking to pass laws that cut off access to abortion care. State-level lawmakers this year introduced 1,256 provisions related to sexual and reproductive health and rights, and 445 of those bills sought to restrict access to abortion services, according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute.

The Republican Party made significant gains in state legislatures during the 2010 midterm elections, and increased those gains in the 2014 midterm elections. States lawmakers have passed 334 anti-choice measures since 2010, which represents nearly a third of all the abortion restrictions enacted by states since the U.S. Supreme Court 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.

Reproductive rights advocates are organizing in some key states and attempting to shift the balance of power in a handful of legislatures. They are supporting candidates they hope will be part of pro-choice legislative majorities that will bolster access to abortion care and reverse some of the recent attacks on reproductive rights.

Some of the lawmakers who have been instrumental in the introduction and passage of anti-choice laws will be on the ballot on Election Day. These legislators have pushed copycat bills created by anti-choice legislation mills that have sought to ban certain abortion procedures and forced clinics to close with medically unnecessary building requirements, among other policies designed to end legal abortion care. 

Arizona State Sen. Nancy Barto  

Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix) was first elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 2006 and served two terms before being elected to the state Senate in 2010.

Barto, chair of the Senate Health and Human Services committee, has assembled a staunchly anti-choice voting record, and has sponsored or co-sponsored several bills restricting reproductive rights that have been passed by the state’s GOP-held legislature.

Barto sponsored a bill that prohibits the use of fetal tissue for research, and she sponsored another bill that increased inspection requirements for abortion clinics and reporting requirements for abortion providers.

Barto sponsored a bill that would restrict medication abortion, by requiring abortion providers adhere to outdated FDA protocols. After the law’s passage the FDA issued updated guidelines that rendered the law moot.

Barto is facing Democratic challenger Tonya MacBeth in the general election. MacBeth, who is endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, is opposed to the state legislature imposing “restrictions on our reproductive choices.”

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 won four out of the seven counties in Barto’s district. Romney defeated President Obama 54 to 44 in the state overall. The 2016 polls, however, show a close race in Arizona between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson

A rising star in the anti-choice movement, Louisiana state Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City) was elected to the state house in a 2015 special election after building a career as a lawyer championing socially conservative causes.

Johnson has set his eyes on the U.S. Congress and is one of eight candidates on the ballot for Louisiana’s 4th Congressional District.

Johnson served as Louisiana Right to Life’s legal counsel and as a contractor for Duncan PLLC, a Washington, D.C. law firm founded by the lawyer who represented Hobby Lobby in its case before the Supreme Court. In 2015, Johnson received a contract to represent the state as outside counsel in a case defending an anti-choice law passed by Louisiana lawmakers prior to his election.

Johnson was the primary sponsor of a bill that targeted the dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, commonly used in second-trimester abortions and in cases of miscarriage. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) in May signed the bill into law, and it took effect August 1.

Johnson, who has the endorsements of the Senate Conservatives Fund, Freedomworks, and the Club for Growth, also co-sponsored a measure that would prohibit a pregnant person from seeking an abortion if the fetus has been diagnosed with a genetic abnormality or the potential for a genetic abnormality.

He has supported another bill that would prohibit organizations that provide abortion care from receiving public funding—a legislative maneuver that has been deemed unconstitutional

In mid-October Donald Trump was polling at 52 percent in Louisiana’s 4th District, while Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Foster Campbell is polling at 28 percent in the district, leading all Senate candidates.

U.S. Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), now running for one of the state’s Senate seats, was elected to the 4th District with 75.3 percent of the vote in 2012.

South Dakota Rep. Isaac Latterell

South Dakota Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-Tea), who is up for re-election this month, has consistently voted for anti-choice legislation since winning election to the state house in 2012. He has sponsored or co-sponsored more than a dozen bills that seek to restrict reproductive rights.

Latterell has been an outspoken advocate for anti-choice laws and has used inflammatory rhetoric similar to that used by Trump. In 2015, Latterell wrote that Planned Parenthood is “worse than ISIS and lying about it.

Latterell in 2014 sponsored a bill that would have restricted abortion services in the state by targeting second-trimester abortions with never-before-used legislative language. While he failed to garner support for the measure, it would become the first of several bills introduced around the country to target the dilation and evacuation (D and E) abortion procedure.

Latterell sponsored a similar measure in 2015, and again it failed to pass. But bills targeting the D and E abortion procedure have been passed by lawmakers in five states, with three of those blocked by state and federal courts.

Latterell also co-sponsored bills that prohibit all abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, and prohibit an abortion if the physician has knowledge that the pregnant person is seeking the abortion due to the sex of the fetus. Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) signed both bills.

South Dakota voters will elect two lawmakers from each house district. Along with fellow Republican Rep. Herman Otten, Latterell faces Democratic challengers Kyle Rogers and Clara Hart in the 6th state house district. The district lies within Lincoln County, which Romney won with 62 percent of the vote in the 2012 election.

Texas Rep. Jonathan Stickland

After winning election to the state house in 2012, Texas Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) built a controversial reputation and a record of being virulently anti-choice. Stickland during the 2015 legislative session posted a sign on his state capitol building office declaring himself a “former fetus.”

Stickland co-sponsored a bill that would have further restricted minors’ access to abortion care. He also co-sponsored a bill that would have prohibited the coverage of abortion care in health insurance plans purchased through the Affordable Care Act exchanges.

Stickland was a co-sponsor of the omnibus anti-choice bill known as HB 2, which was passed by the Republican-majority legislature and signed into law in 2013. In June, the Supreme Court overturned two provisions of the law that had forced more than half of the state’s abortion clinics to close.

After the Court’s ruling, Stickland told the Texas Tribune that the decision was upsetting and that in response, lawmakers would introduce even more anti-choice legislation. “I would expect an absolute onslaught of pro-life legislation in the next session,” Stickland said. “I’ve never been this upset before, I mean just like truly upset.”

Stickland won election in 2012 with 81 percent of the vote and secured 64 percent of the vote in 2014. Stickland faces challengers from the Democratic, Libertarian, and Green parties in the general election.

West Virginia Del. Kelli Sobonya

Restricting reproductive rights has been a cornerstone of West Virginia Del. Kelli Sobonya’s (R-Cabell) time in the state legislature.

Sobonya, elected in 2012, sponsored a bill that would have made it illegal to transport a minor across state lines to obtain abortion care without written consent of both parents. Sobonya co-sponsored another bill that would have amended West Virginia’s parental notification law to permit the court to appoint a lawyer for the fetus of a pregnant minor. Neither bill was passed.

Sobonya sponsored a measure that bans abortions at 20 weeks post-fertilization unless a doctor deems the abortion necessary to avert the pregnant person’s death. The bill does not contain an exception for rape or incest. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) vetoed the bill, but state lawmakers voted to override the governor’s veto.

Sobonya faces Democratic challenger Billy Chaffin II on Election Day. Sobonya has defeated her Democrat opponent in two elections, drawing almost 70 percent of the vote in 2012 and more than 73 percent in 2014