UPDATE, May 1, 1:52 p.m.: Dr. Joan Perry advanced to a two-person runoff in the special election in North Carolina’s 3rd District, CBS reports. The runoff is scheduled for July 9.
An anti-choice organization is lining up behind one of the most vociferous opponents of abortion rights in an upcoming congressional special election in North Carolina.
Women Speak Out PAC, a partner of anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List, has donated $75,000 to Dr. Joan Perry, a Republican candidate in North Carolina’s 3rd District special election, with primaries slated for April 30. Pro-choice advocates see this as a sign of abortion rights foes’ local election strategy across the United States: throw funding behind anti-choice candidates who use inflammatory rhetoric that’s becoming common in mainstream politics.
According to a press release from Susan B. Anthony List, “The $75,000 campaign consists of voter mail, phone calls, as well as digital ads aimed at turning out pro-life primary voters to vote early beginning April 10 or on election day, April 30th.”
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The general election—or primary runoffs, if necessary—to fill the vacated seat in the U.S. House of Representatives will be held July 9.
Twenty-six candidates are running in the April 30 primary—six Democrats, two libertarians, and 17 Republicans, including Perry. Though there is no clear frontrunner in the election, according to Politico, Perry is third in fundraising, having raised $154,345. The top fundraiser, state Rep. Gregory Murphy (R), who is against abortion rights, has raised almost twice that, with $317,994. Murphy is followed by Democratic candidate and former Greenville mayor Allen Thomas, who has raised $255,390, according to Federal Election Commission data.
Perry describes herself as a “pro-life pediatrician who’s dedicated my life to serving God and loving my neighbors,” according to the New Bern Sun Journal. She supports President Trump’s border wall, the discriminatory Hyde Amendment, defunding Planned Parenthood, and passing the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” she told the Journal. Perry, who said she’s running for office because state lawmakers in New York and Virginia have tried to safeguard abortion rights, erroneously credited the president for restoring the Hyde Amendment, an annual budget rider.
Heidi Sieck, co-founder and CEO of #VOTEPROCHOICE, an advocacy group that helps pro-choice candidates, told Rewire.News that the district’s special election is an example of the “anti-choice minority[‘s]” strategy “to gain power where possible, knowing that they’re up against” the majority of people in the United States who support abortion rights.
In North Carolina’s 3rd District, Sieck said, “you’ve got all of these Republican candidates who are running,” and “the anti-choice minority throws money behind the most staunchly anti-choice candidate,” who happens to be Perry.
Though the district is rated strongly Republican by the Cook Partisan Voter Index, EQV Analytics notes that registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in the district, 50.1 to 49.9 percent. Tara Romano, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, told Rewire.News that the trend extends across the state—there are more registered Democrats, which is why Republican dominance in the special election field, and across the state, doesn’t reflect North Carolinians and “how they feel about abortion access.”
North Carolina has 13 congressional districts, with two seats now vacant. Romano noted that when they were all full, ten were occupied by Republicans and three by Democrats. And though support for abortion doesn’t always fall along party lines, it does in North Carolina, where Romano said all of the top Republicans running for election in North Carolina’s 3rd District special election are opposed to abortion rights.
“When you have gerrymandered districts, you don’t have a government that represents the will of the people and … the things that are important to them,” Romano said. A plurality of North Carolinians, regardless of their personal beliefs about abortion, don’t think it should be illegal, and that’s “not reflected in our general assembly and the state, and it’s certainly not reflected in the congressional delegation that is in the House.”
Romano said low voter turnout in this year’s special election is a major concern for pro-choice activists. Consultant William Busa told Politico that Democratic turnout has been low so far in the 3rd District, likely because GOP Rep. Walter Jones, who died in February, never faced a serious challenger. EQV Analytics, founded by Busa, noted, “In order to have any hope of winning the general election in July, Democrats will need to launch a massive get-out-the-vote ground game in NC03.”
Pro-choice advocates and Democrats in the district are facing off against inflammatory language meant to energize anti-choice voters. One of Perry’s ads, which was featured in Susan B. Anthony List’s press release about her, says, “Late-term abortion and infanticide are not North Carolina values.”
That language is not based in medical science, but rather an anti-choice myth that is routinely cited by Republicans at every level of government, including the White House. The story in North Carolina’s 3rd District is “a story that’s been happening over and over again throughout the country for decades,” Sieck said. In 2017, 19 states adopted 63 new restrictions on abortion rights and access—the most restrictions enacted in a year since 2013, according to the Guttmacher Institute. So far this year, fifteen states have introduced bans on abortion at six weeks, which is before most women know they’re pregnant (and four states this year have passed them).
What’s happening in North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District, especially if Perry or Murphy are elected, is another example of “the tiny little things that … have chipped away at our rights since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973,” Sieck said.
Even with two of North Carolina’s congressional seats vacant, lawmakers haven’t stopped furthering the misleading narratives championed by anti-choice groups. State lawmakers introduced the “Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” which was inspired by a failed bill in the U.S. Senate that sought to protect infants who “survived” failed abortions. One of the bill’s sponsors, state Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth), admitted there’s no evidence regarding
how often infants are “born alive” after abortion attempts, according to the News & Observer. Indeed, “born alive” legislation stems from anti-choice propaganda spread by organizations that oppose abortion rights.
Though the bill didn’t actually put any restrictions on people trying to access abortion care, Romano said it is “trying to intimidate doctors from providing the care that is needed, particularly when you get to, like, emergency situations and complex medical situations.” Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vetoed the myth-based legislation last week. Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser characterized him as “siding with extremists against innocent children.”
But Sieck said the anti-choice strategy “has nothing to do with medical care or saving babies … it’s about control and power and manipulation.” Anti-choice groups have stepped up their rhetoric, even in small elections like North Carolina’s 3rd District, in response to voter mobilization in the 2018 midterms that delivered a U.S. House majority to Democrats, along with state-level victories that ended a decade of GOP dominance.
“These [anti-choice groups] have been building a dam in a river that they know that the dam can’t hold back, and this is the last gasp effort,” Sieck said. “This anti-choice minority has been able to build the dam to this flowing river, and this is their last chance to get that power in place. It’s their last chance. They know it. … And our job as pro-choice majority is to try to break the levee before it’s too late, and we will try. We will keep at it.”