Ads roll out as abortion politics take center stage in RI races for governor, Congress

·5 min read

PROVIDENCE – Abortion politics has taken center stage in the Rhode Island races for governor and Congress, with charges, counter-charges and dueling ads.

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade and the moves by states across the country to severely limit or ban abortions, both Gov. Dan McKee and congressional candidate Seth Magaziner are denouncing their Republican opponents as extremists.

Both Democrats clearly believe their abortion-rights support is a winning issue for them among potential Nov. 8 voters, especially women.

Democrat McKee went on air on Thursday with an ad warning that challenger Ashley Kalus is an "out-of-touch" Republican who would turn the clock back on abortion rights in Rhode Island.

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In the blink of an eye, Kalus responded with a spot blasting what she called McKee's "blatantly false ad."

How the gubernatorial candidates' abortion-related ads played out

In his first attack ad since winning the Democratic primary, McKee seized on Kalus' recent statements about her "pro-life" abortion stance on WPRI's "Newsmakers" and the "Political Roundtable" on The Public's Radio. The 30-second spot begins:

Gov. Dan McKee
Gov. Dan McKee

Narrator: "Roe v. Wade is gone. But Governor Dan McKee is protecting abortion rights in Rhode Island."

TV news clip: "An executive order from Dan McKee to protect abortion providers and women seeking an abortion from out of state."

Narrator: "Republican Ashley Kalus would take us backwards."

Kalus' voice: " I’m pro-life ... I, ya know, I’m pro-life ... No, I’m pro-life."

Narrator: "And if she continues to follow the lead of her idols Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, as governor she’d limit abortion access in Rhode Island. And oppose a woman’s freedom to choose. "

In response, the Kalus campaign asserted: she has been "clear from the very start – abortion rights were codified in Rhode Island in 2019, and she will not do anything to weaken those protections for women."

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"The vast majority of Rhode Islanders supported that law, which rejected extreme positions on both sides of this deeply personal issue," she says in a new YouTube spot.  "Dan McKee knows this… so why is he lying?"

"It’s because he’s a desperate career politician who’s afraid of losing," she says.

Based on that, she said, "McKee’s new attack ad is baseless, unfactual, and filled with flat-out lies. Dan is clearly getting desperate."

Kalus answers questions on abortion position

With abortion rights protected in Rhode Island as a result of a law passed by the legislature – and signed into law by then-Gov. Gina Raimondo in 2019 – there are two current debate points:

Would Kalus veto a state budget that included funding to cover abortions sought by state workers and Medicaid recipients? 

Ashley Kalus
Ashley Kalus

Would she would revoke McKee's order protecting health care workers who perform abortions here on women from states that ban abortion?

More specifically, McKee ordered state agencies not to cooperate with any investigations launched by other states of Rhode Islanders who help someone get an abortion.

Kalus responded to the first question by telling WPRI: "I am pro-life."

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On Thursday, when WPRO's Tara Granahan asked her if she would revoke McKee's  executive order, Kalus said no.

Her campaign also forwarded her statement the day McKee signed the order in which, she said, it mirrored an an order "already signed by Republican Governor Charlie Baker [that] protects patients and providers from potential legal battles with other jurisdictions.

"I support our state’s sovereignty and respect the intimate relationship that exists between doctors and patients," she said.

On WPRO radio, she assailed the McKee ad as an attempt to divert attention from his own record, including his "out-of-touch'' award of bonuses to state workers

Magaziner, Fung battle over national abortion ban

Meanwhile, In the race to replace Rep. Jim Langevin in Congress, Democrat Magaziner has also hammered away at Republican Allan Fung on abortion, saying he supports a national abortion ban.

"If Fung and Republicans get back in power, they'll ban abortions in every state, even in Rhode Island," a series of women tell the camera in the Magaziner ad that launched Wednesday. "If my daughter needed an abortion, Allan Fung would let states make that a crime and then lock me in jail."

Seth Magaziner
Seth Magaziner

Magaziner points to Fung's opposition to the 2019 Rhode Island law protecting the right to an abortion in the state, and to national GOP abortion policy as evidence that Fung backs a national abortion ban, even as the former Cranston mayor says he doesn't.

"While Seth and his extreme radical friends advocate for elective late-term abortions, he is so desperately scared to discuss the failed Pelosi Biden economic record he embraces that he has to lie about Allan to instill fear when we all know Allan Fung is completely opposed to bans," said Fung spokesman Steven Paiva in a statement on the ad.

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Fung has previously said he would prohibit late-term abortions, but allow them in cases of rape or incest, and if the mother's health is in jeopardy.

Allan Fung
Allan Fung

Fung hasn't specified at what point he considers an abortion "late term" and until Thursday had not taken a position on any specific legislation in Congress.

On Thursday afternoon, Paiva said Fung "would support" a  bill sponsored by Republican Sens. Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine," which would prohibit states from barring abortion access before "fetal viability," which is generally around 24 weeks.

"Allan Fung has been completely clear ... that he opposes national abortion bans," Paiva wrote. "In fact, the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] even acknowledges it by transcribing it for their SUPER PAC ad. He would oppose it."

Paiva said that opposition includes the bill introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham that would ban abortion after 15 weeks.

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: RI governor, congressional candidates air ads about abortion rights