Abortion a 'difficult issue' for Alabama Democrats as Doug Jones pushes pro-choice stance

U.S. Senate candidate Doug Jones at an event at the BJCC in Birmingham, Alabama, on Tuesday October 3, 2017. (Joe Songer | jsonger@al.com)
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(AL.com) — Jones, the Democratic opponent of strongly conservative Roy Moore in the Dec. 12 Senate election, raised some eyebrows among political observers in Alabama and elsewhere after he said during an interview with NBC's Chuck Todd that he would not support legislation to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The U.S. House approved a similar measure, largely along partisan lines, which would make the practice illegal.

The Jones campaign, last week, doubled-down on the candidate's pro-choice platform: "I support a woman's right and freedom to choose what to do with her body. This is a decision between a woman, her doctor and her Lord. Who am I to tell a woman what to do with her body?"

Jones, in a statement, added, "I also support Planned Parenthood because they provide cancer screening, breast exams, contraceptives, prenatal care, and other vital, sometimes life-saving, services to hundreds of thousands of women. These are my beliefs."

'Liberal view'

Jones' statement underscores a vexing cultural issue conundrum for Democrats in Alabama, who haven't won a statewide race in nearly a decade and haven't occupied one of the state's two Senate seats since 1992. But with Jones, many Democrats believe, they have a good opportunity of pulling an electoral upset over Moore, who is a far-right ex-judge twice booted from the bench for violating federal orders.

"Republicans have to make this election be about abortion and the national Democratic Party because they know that if his election is about their candidate, they stand a good chance at losing," said state Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, the former minority leader of the Alabama House. "They see abortion as a way to keep moderate Republicans who are turned off by Roy Moore from voting for a Democrat."

Abortion politics in Alabama seem to weigh heavily in the Republican Party's favor. Alabama is one of the top states in the U.S. for voters who identify as Christians. Nearly half identify as evangelical Protestants - a group that largely consists of white and conservative-leaning voters.

According to the most recent Pew Research Center's study, 58 percent of Alabama residents believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, while only 37 percent believe it should be legal. Only Arkansas (at 60 percent) and Mississippi (at 59 percent) have a higher percentage of residents who want to criminalize abortions.

Alabama's statistics contrast with the national split over the issue, according to a Gallup poll taken in early May. But the same poll showed that 71 percent of Democrats call themselves "pro-choice," the highest that statistic has been in at least 17 years.

Republicans, including Moore - the former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice who won last month's GOP runoff against Senator Luther Strange, for the right to face off against Jones - are on the attack.

A Moore campaign spokeswoman, last week, said Jones' comments are "the most liberal, extremist view" on abortion.

"Doug Jones' views on abortion are way out of line on how a larger majority of Alabamians feel on the issue," said Brent Buchanan, a Montgomery-based Republican strategist. "There is a strong contingent of people in our state which this is a make or break issue for them."

Democratic supporters, however, are countering with appreciation toward Jones' stance, which they believe is a "genuine response."

Zac McCrary, a Democratic pollster based in Montgomery, said he believes most Alabamians are "sort of the middle" of the issue, and while they support some abortion restrictions, they do not want government interfering in someone's personal choices.

More on this story at AL.com.