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Recent abortion policies could help sway women voters in the South

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Suburban women voters have become an increasingly important bloc for both political parties in the U.S. Suburbs across the country have been shifting politically, and their voters have become harder to predict, but recent abortion policies could move those voters, especially women voters, more squarely away from the Republican Party. NPR's Ashley Lopez reports.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: It's a beautiful Saturday morning in suburban Texas. Tiffany Sheffield is taking her 2 1/2-year-old daughter to the park.

TIFFANY SHEFFIELD: Hey. Can you say hi? Say, my name is Shiloh.

SHILOH: My name's Shiloh.

LOPEZ: Sheffield describes herself as, for the most part, a conservative Christian. She lives in Round Rock, which is just north of Austin. It's one of the many suburbs in Texas that's been trending more Democratic in the past several years. For Sheffield, abortion is not just a political issue, it's a moral one. She says, it's not something she'd ever consider for herself, but Sheffield says she does have a problem with the government interfering in these kinds of decisions.

SHEFFIELD: That is completely up to her, and there's no judgment or no right for me to tell her otherwise. I do think that sometimes when the government gets a little too - they step in a little too much, we end up having a lot of other social issues.

LOPEZ: Texas has had some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country for years now, but shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Republican lawmakers in the state enacted a near-total ban on the procedure, with very narrow exceptions only to save the life of the pregnant person. Sheffield says she supports some restrictions on the procedure, but she does not agree with a total ban.

SHEFFIELD: I think there are extenuating circumstances. Like, people always say, like, rape or, you know, a 14-year-old cannot have a child.

LOPEZ: Polling shows a majority of Americans disagree with policies that outlaw the procedure, which has become a political liability for Republicans, and their biggest challenge could be with women like Tiffany Sheffield who live in the suburbs. Rachel Vindman co-hosts a podcast called "The Suburban Women Problem," which she says is a reference to South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham...

RACHEL VINDMAN: Who, prior to the 2018 midterms, said the quiet part out loud - that the Republican Party has a suburban women problem, and they did, and they do, and it kind of keeps getting bigger and bigger because they don't seem to understand what women want.

LOPEZ: Vindman says the Republican Party's backing of policies that shut out access to both surgical and medication abortions are unpopular among suburban women like her because they go too far.

VINDMAN: It falls into extremism as a whole. I mean, I was a Republican for a long time. And what used to be part of the conservative movement was this individual responsibility and smaller government.

LOPEZ: But Vindman says that's changed. She says the party's recent support for cutting off access to one of the two pills used in medication abortions is just the latest example. Rebecca Deen, a political science professor at UT Arlington, says these more extreme policies have also made the issue of abortion more salient. Voters hear about it and that means they're thinking about it.

REBECCA DEEN: So there's kind of this weird feedback loop of politicians do things that get in the news and so the thing that they might want to be settled is just more talked about, and so it's top of mind for voters, and then it becomes more problematic for them.

LOPEZ: Deen says before the Supreme Court decision, suburban women were not as motivated by the issue of abortion, but that's not true anymore. Elizabeth Simas, a political professor at the University of Houston, says she thinks Democrats in particular could have an opening here.

ELIZABETH SIMAS: It's not always the most solid voting bloc that candidates can count on, but I think women in general as voters and women who have issues that are going to start hitting their households should not be underestimated by other parties - by either party, so these women can be mobilized, and it is a strong mobilizing force.

LOPEZ: And it could mobilize women, in particular, in states like Texas and across the southern United States, where abortion is nearly inaccessible. Ashley Lopez, NPR News, Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.