As abortion rights rocketed to the front of political discourse this week, U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb made protecting women’s reproductive rights a central part of his Democratic Senate campaign.
“The threat is real. Now people have seen it in print,” Lamb said Wednesday at an event with the National Organization for Women. “And the print is more shocking than I think I even expected.”
After the blockbuster leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, Lamb and representatives of the state and national organization, which has endorsed him, rallied for abortion rights — and for Lamb.
“All over our country right now, people are struggling to afford a gallon of milk, a box of Pampers,” Lamb said at the event outside City Hall. “And yet the same people who would deny these women the choice to make a decision about their own body and their own decision to have a pregnancy will also deny them the health care that they and their baby would need if they gave birth.”
Lamb has built a campaign around his electability but entered the final two weeks of the race trailing far behind Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, according to polls. He said Wednesday that threats to abortion rights will mobilize voters not only in the general election but also in the May 17 primary, as they look for the candidate best equipped to win and protect reproductive rights at the national level.
“This makes people scared of what could lie in store for us in the future, both with respect to specific rights to seek an abortion, but really with a lot of their sacred rights,” Lamb said in an interview. “In the primary, I think it’s getting people in a very practical frame of mind, thinking about who can win the election under these circumstances.”
Lamb is Catholic but has consistently voted for abortion rights, including for the Women’s Reproductive Act, which would codify Roe’s protections for abortion access.
All of the Democratic Senate candidates have said they would support ending the legislative filibuster federally codify Roe v. Wade. None have said they support abortion restrictions, including at the latest stages of pregnancy, when abortions are extremely rare and overwhelmingly due to medical circumstances.
Lamb said he won elections in heavily Republican Western Pennsylvania districts without hiding his views on abortion because legal abortion is something a majority of Americans support.
“My position on being pro-choice has been the same from the first day until now,” he said. “And I’ve been elected three times by these people on Republican territory.”
Abortion, which has traditionally not ranked high on the list of issues voters care about, could be a major mobilizing force for Democrats this year.
“Before Monday, the news was that Democrats were in trouble,” said Kimberly S. Adams, a NOW board member and political science professor at East Stroudsburg University who attended the event. “But [the conservative justices] found a way to make women angry again.”
Christian F. Nunes, NOW’s national president, traveled from Washington for the event with Lamb, where she said the organization’s fight moving forward would go beyond abortion rights.
“This is more than reproductive justice,” she said. “This is also a fight for our democracy. Because we know when you come for one group, you’ll come for the next group. We’ve got to pay attention to what we’re seeing.”
NOW endorsed Lamb in March, a decision that Nina Ahmad, president of its Pennsylvania chapter, said came down to who can win the general election and who had the most specific understanding of policies to help women.
“He’s basically shown us he understands our issues,” said Ahmad, who ran against Fetterman in the 2018 race for lieutenant governor.
Ahmad said she wished Fetterman had used his platform as lieutenant governor to talk more about women’s issues.
”He’s used tax-dollar money to go around 67 counties to talk about marijuana and he’s never really talked about women and the issues we face,” she said.
Fetterman has been similarly unequivocal in his support for abortion rights.
“Let’s be clear: The right to an abortion is sacred,” Fetterman said on Twitter late Monday after the Supreme Court draft decision leaked. “Democrats have to act quickly and get rid of the filibuster to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act + finally codify Roe into law. We cannot afford to wait.”
The event Wednesday, on an overcast day, drew a few dozen supporters and elected officials.
“The Republicans love to talk about freedom,” Lamb said. “And people in our state will not have freedom until they can afford to live, until their rights are honored and respected. So I hope that’s the debate this year in this Senate campaign. I don’t care what the media says about our chances. We are on the right side — not only of Democrats, but a majority of Pennsylvanians.”