Facing key races for governor and the U.S. Senate, Democratic candidates in Wisconsin hope that their support for abortion rights will overcome longstanding Republican-friendly midterm elections in the face of a Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade. against the wind. But their strategy may fail to mobilize one key group: black voters.
The issue is compounded by strong support from white Democrats in the black community, especially among churchgoers who hold more conservative views on abortion. The topic is so worrisome that most community organizers avoid bringing it up.
“In the black Baptist church alone, we’re split in two,” said David Linus, executive director of WISDOM, when asked why his organization wasn’t organized around abortion. Karen Royster, a spokeswoman for Milwaukee-based Soul of the Vote, called abortion “taboo” in church circles, making it difficult for faith leaders to do any work around it.
Angela Lang, executive director of the BLOC, said other groups, such as the Black Leaders Organizing Community, “do not raise this issue proactively” when conducting voter outreach, but will discuss it when it arises.
The issue is set to gain more attention after last week’s decisive statewide vote in Republican-dominated Kansas to protect abortion access, stoking Democrats’ hope that the issue could inspire voters elsewhere.
Overall, in the 2020 presidential election, black voters are more likely than white or Hispanic voters to believe that abortion should generally be legal, AP VoteCast shows. But among those who identify or lean toward the Democratic Party, things look different: White Democrats are more likely than black or Hispanic Democrats to think abortion should be legal in most or all circumstances, 88% respectively To 77% to 76%.
Valerie Langston, a 64-year-old black woman in Milwaukee, supports the Democratic Party and supports abortion rights. She said she was afraid to ask friends about it because she was occasionally surprised to find some of them opposed to abortion.
“Even if they disagree with abortion, they will still vote Democrat,” she said.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who won election four years ago by just over 1 percentage point, said he isn’t worried about voter enthusiasm. He noted that he has vetoed nine bills proposed by the Republican-controlled Legislature that would limit access to abortion . In a news conference, he expressed confidence that the issue would keep him re-elected.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any trouble,” Evers said when asked if he thought voters with different views on abortion might not be motivated to support him.
Physicians in Wisconsin have stopped offering abortions following a Supreme Court ruling due to a ban in 1849 that Republican lawmakers said they wanted updated. Anti-abortion groups say they will work to clarify the law to fend off challenges.
LaTonia Johnson, a black Democrat representing Milwaukee’s black-majority district, noted that many voters are concerned about the economy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said she has not seen groups going door-to-door talking about abortion rights, even though black women are more likely than any other group to have access.
Spokeswoman Iris Rees said the Wisconsin Democratic Party’s engagement team, which has perennially worked directly with voters of color, prefers to have a voter-led conversation. When it comes to abortion, “it’s not the only thing we’re talking about with voters, but we’re talking about it,” she said.
Shakya Cherry-Donaldson, executive director of 1000 Women Strong, a national group of political organizations focused on issues that matter to Black women, supports a more direct approach. The key, she said, is to focus on the idea that “we must gain autonomy from the state” — a message that resonates enough with historically marginalized communities to overcome personal and religious views on the ethics of abortion.
“Our message framework is that we can’t go back, we can only go forward. We all won civil rights,” Cherry Donaldson said.
But her team is out of Wisconsin this year, focusing instead on seven other states that can staff and fund its work.
Paru Shah, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee whose work focuses on race, ethnicity and politics, said Democrats are better off making sure they have a message on issues like crime and voting rights, rather than focusing on one specific issue , such as miscarriage.
“There’s not a lot of single-issue voting among Democrats in general, but especially among black women who have been the backbone of Democratic turnout for at least the past 10 years,” Shah said.
The GOP strategy and message to abortion black voters in the midterms will be the same as it has been for decades.
Gerard Randall, chairman of the Wisconsin Republican African-American Committee, said: “What we’re trying to do is explain an over- — I would say even uneven — right to abortion for African-American women .”
“They’re definitely going to hear similar messages of restraint about abortion from the pulpits of many churches,” he said.
Still, Wisconsin Democrats see the issue as key to winning their gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races this fall.
A poll by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that a majority in the U.S. wants Congress to pass legislation guaranteeing nationwide access to legal abortion, and an overwhelming majority also believe states should allow abortion in certain circumstances, including for the purpose of Women’s health and rape.
The Democratic front-runner in the Wisconsin Senate race, Black Lt. Mandela Barnes, has emphasized that abortion is a civil right. In his latest TV commercial, Barnes, who grew up in Milwaukee, talks to his mother about her decision to end a complicated pregnancy. LaJuan Barnes stressed she had a choice: “It’s my decision, not some politician.”
Harm Venhuizen is a member of the Associated Press/US State Capitol Journalism Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit, national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues. Follow Hurts on Twitter.