MO Democrat is pushing to restore abortion access. Could it help her in race for governor?

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a Springfield Democrat, speaks on the Missouri House floor.
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As Missouri House Minority Leader Crystal Quade embarks on a campaign to become the state’s first female governor, her strong support of abortion rights could bolster her among voters incensed by the state’s near total ban on the procedure.

The issue of abortion rights is likely to be front and center in 2024. A win by Democrats would mark a major victory for abortion rights supporters in Missouri — the first state to ban the procedure after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.

“I’m leading the fight to restore our abortion rights,” Quade, a Springfield Democrat, said in a video launching her campaign this week.

At her first campaign event in Springfield on Monday, Quade connected the issue of abortion to wider women’s rights issues. She said that when she first ran for the Missouri House in 2016, she told voters why she was a “pro-choice candidate.”

“Talking about how women who grew up in poverty or live in poverty deserve to make their own decisions on what’s best for them and their family,” she said. “Talking about domestic abuse survivors and just talking about folks who deserve to plan their lives.”

Missouri’s abortion ban does not include exceptions for rape or incest. Abortion rights advocates worry that a single exception allowing abortions in medical emergencies is too vague and has sparked confusion and fear among women and medical providers.

“I think women are fed up with men making decisions about their very lives,” state Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, a Kansas City Democrat, told The Star on Monday. “People want somebody who’s proven to be on the right side of these issues.”

Quade’s entry into the race comes as abortion rights will be one of the top issues for both supporters and opponents of the procedure.

Abortion rights advocates are pushing 11 different versions of a ballot measure that would ask Missouri voters in 2024 to restore some form of abortion access. If one of the petitions garners enough signatures, it could be placed on the August or November 2024 ballot.

“That is going to be one of the biggest discussion points for our state before the election, despite how, for so many years, people have decided not to talk about it. Here it is,” Quade said of the proposed ballot measures during her first campaign event in Springfield on Monday.

Quade faces an uphill battle in a race that already featured two of the state’s top Republicans in Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe. Republicans hold every statewide office and a supermajority in both chambers of the General Assembly.

Republicans who spoke with The Star framed Quade’s stance on abortion as out of step with most Missourians, with some saying it could hurt her chances.

Ashcroft, in a phone interview, painted the proposed initiative petitions that Quade supports as “a major expansion” of abortion to the state. However, the petitions are still in their early stages and supporters still have not chosen a version of the measure.

Ashcroft, who is being sued for crafting misleading ballot summaries for the petitions in his role as secretary of state, said he supports the current ban on abortion.

“I believe that Missourians want to protect life,” he said.

When asked whether an abortion rights petition on the November 2024 ballot would hurt his chances, Ashcroft said he trusts voters to “make a good decision.”

Quade said that her role as a candidate for governor will be instrumental in building a campaign around the petitions to restore abortion access and making sure that they receive enough signatures to get on the ballot.

If elected governor, she said she expects Republicans in the General Assembly to “continue to try to attack our freedoms in the doctor’s office.” Her job would be to veto those proposals, she said.

An August 2022 poll by Saint Louis University and British pollster YouGov found that 48% of those surveyed support reversing the abortion ban, while 40% would vote to continue the ban.

The poll appears to show Missourians support some restrictions on abortion, even if a plurality also support overturning the state’s ban. While 58% of voters said abortion should be legal during the first eight weeks of pregnancy, only 40% said it should be legal through the first 15 weeks compared to 46% who said it shouldn’t. Just 32% said abortion should be legal when a woman wants one for any reason. The poll didn’t ask about support for legal abortion up to the point of viability (around 24 weeks).

Some Republicans have acknowledged that a majority of voters would likely approve a ballot measure restoring abortion rights if given the chance. Republicans have used the proposed petition to push legislation that would make it harder for voters to amend the state constitution.

Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, a Columbia Republican, said in a text to The Star that he thinks Quade’s stance on abortion, along with other issues, is out of step with Missouri voters.

Quade, he said, “is more intent on trumpeting tired, and old, progressive talking points than she is actually winning this race.”

But Nurrenbern said Quade’s position on abortion rights would “absolutely” help her in the race, pointing to polls that show Missourians support some form of abortion rights.

“This really is about restoring our freedoms,” she said. “She’s spot on on reclaiming this issue.”