JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Abortion is expected to play a key role in Missouri's 2020 governor’s race, when voters will decide whether to stick with a Republican who signed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the U.S. or go with the only Democrat who holds statewide office.
Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who served as lieutenant governor and assumed leadership after Gov. Eric Greitens resigned amid scandal in 2018, is heading into the race with good odds over state Auditor Nicole Galloway in the GOP-dominated state.
But the issue of abortion could tighten things after Parson signed a law last year that bans most abortions at or after eight weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape or incest, University of Central Missouri political scientist Robynn Kuhlmann said.
“It’s definitely an issue that’s going to spur more Democrats out to vote, in particular more women,” Kuhlmann said.
Galloway has called the law “outrageous” and cited its severity as a driving factor in her decision to enter the governor's race. The law, which does include exceptions for medical emergencies, is on hold as Parson's administration fights a court battle over its constitutionality.
University of Missouri-St. Louis political scientist Dave Robertson said Parson’s support of the law might turn off some more moderate Republicans and motivate suburban women to turn out in support of Galloway.
Robertson noted that GOP donor David Humphreys, a Joplin businessman, dumped money into a failed effort to put the abortion law to a public vote in hopes that voters would overturn it.
“That has to reflect some additional people in the Republican party and probably a few quite influential people whose main concern is to win elections,” Robertson said. “They may be a little concerned that this has gone too far, in addition to having a principled objection to it.”
But the issue also could help Parson with staunch abortion opponents, Robertson said. He expects Parson to play up his role in restricting access to the procedures as he works to rev up his base.
Parson emphasized his anti-abortion position during his State of the State speech this month, telling lawmakers that “all life has value, including the unborn.”
Next month he plans to take part in the Midwest March for Life, an anti-abortion rally in Jefferson City.
“Time will tell as to how much this will make a difference,” Robertson said. “It may be hard to tell in the midst of all the things that will be going on with (President Donald) Trump's re-election and other events, some of which we can't even imagine yet.”
The stakes of the election are high. Party control of the governor's mansion beginning in 2017 emboldened the Republican-led Legislature to pass sweeping anti-abortion measures without the concern of mustering enough support to override a veto by a Democratic governor.
Under Parson, anti-abortion groups are celebrating big wins. Parson’s health department last year came close to shuttering the state’s only abortion clinic. A state commission is now reviewing whether the Planned Parenthood center in St. Louis will be able to keep its license to perform the procedure.
“Gov. Parson has done more for the pro-life movement than any other governor in Missouri history,” Parson's campaign manager Steele Shippy said in a statement. “The governor’s leadership has sent a strong signal to the rest of the nation that Missouri stands for life, protects women’s health, and advocates for the unborn.”