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Roe Sinks Another Red Seat

Pro-abortion candidate Marilyn Lands carried the special election in deep-red Alabama this week.

The metaphorical car Republicans caught in 2022 continues to flatten them. Democrat Marilyn Lands won a reliably-Republican Alabama state House seat, and supporters say her winning move was linking her campaign to the codification of Roe and reversing the Alabama supreme court’s decision to outlaw in vitro fertilization.


The controversial U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision overturned the constitutional right to an abortion in 2022, reversing Roe v. Wade. Joining in that decision were  Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barret, all of whom had assured senators during their confirmation hearings that Roe was “precedent” before later toppling it.


In February, the Alabama supreme court piled onto the Supreme Court attack and issued a ruling that blurred the lines between church and state and determined frozen embryos to be another kind of child. This made the use and disposal of microscopic excess embryos problematic during IVF procedures, forcing at least three Alabama fertility clinics to discontinue some IVF treatments to protect staff from legal risk. Many Republican politicians praised the decision as a legal triumph.


“Republicans are damn sure not in tune with American women" —former Alabama Sen. Doug Jones

The Alabama suit was not originally a case seeking to de-legitimize IVF, however judicial ideologues commandeered the wrongful death lawsuit and used it to cancel a lower court decision that embryos did not qualify as a person or child. That opinion, stuffed with conservative interpretations of Old Testament anecdotes, ruled that Alabama voters had voluntarily adopted a “theologically based view of the sanctity of life,” despite being enacted by mostly white, male legislators. The decision proclaimed, “each person … has a value that far exceeds the ability of human beings to calculate; and human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God, who views the destruction of His image as an affront to Himself.”


Politicos say Lands' unexpected victory in a Republican district during a sleepy special election is proof of an enduring backlash to attacks on women’s rights and the rights of many others.


"It has a lot to do with Roe, but it is part of a bigger picture in Alabama and across country," said former Alabama Sen. Doug Jones. "It's certainly women's reproductive freedom, but it's also freedom in general, when you look at what's going on in Alabama right now where (Republicans) are attacking library boards, where they're attacking DEI as well as all the abortion issues and everything related to abortion issues. Marilyn had a great story and this has mobilized and galvanized a lot of people in this state and around this country."


Lands’ District 10 is a relatively affluent suburban district that represents sections of Madison and Huntsville, in the norther section of the state. Nothing about the territory speaks “Democrat.” It has a population of about 50,000, and it is primarily white, with an average household income of $76,000. In a southern state like Alabama, white voters reliably vote Republican.

However, about 50 percent of her district are women and this may be the determining factor that sealed the fate of Lands’ male opponent, Republican Teddy Powell, a well-known member of the Madison City Council. Powell sidestepped most abortion questions during the campaign and attempted to focus his goals on infrastructure and economic issues, but this and his political experience could not prevent Lands from beating him with a 40-to-60 percent margin, making this the latest in a string of Democratic victories around reproductive rights.


Lands’ Facebook page declared “Alabama women have spoken—thank you District 10,” and she told the Associated Press last night that she considered her win “a victory for women, for families and Alabama in general.” She added that she wanted to get to work on repealing “the bad ban on no exceptions abortion and … protect IVF … and be a champion” for healthcare and mental healthcare in the state.”


Former District 10 Republican Rep. David Cole, R-Madison, may have helped taint the well for Republicans last year when he pleaded guilty to charges of voter fraud over allegations of knowingly voting at a polling place where he was not authorized to vote. He resigned his seat in August after pleading guilty. Cole won his last election with only 52% of the vote, and with Marilyn Lands hot on his trail with a close 45% loss. Libertarian Elijah Boyd, who had filed an election challenge in civil court arguing that Cole did not live in District 10, nabbed 3% of the vote in that election.


Powell did not respond to emails for comment.


It is not clear what lesson national Republicans are taking from the recent news. Last week the congressional Republican Study Committee (RSC) released a proposed budget for 2025 that includes giving rights to embryos. The RSC, which comprises about three-quarters of House Republicans, then ticked down an exhaustive 30-point list of recommended bills that remove a woman’s power over her own body. These include one representative’s bill to nationally ban surgical abortion and another banning abortion access on college campuses. Another, among many, seeks to curtail or prohibit chemical abortions.

"I don't think Republicans are in tune with the American public," Jones told BGX. "They're damn sure not in tune with American women."


This article has been updated with Doug Jones' quotes.


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