Gail Patton considers herself a “left-leaning” independent. She’s lived in Cabell County for more than 40 years, and has voted for both Democrats and Republicans.
But after the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated abortion rights for Americans in June, and West Virginia Republicans passed one of the strictest abortion bans in the country last month, there’s little that could keep Patton from voting to put a pro-abortion rights Democrat in the state Legislature this year.
If only she could.
The state Senate race in her district has only one candidate: Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, who said he voted against the abortion ban only because it didn’t go far enough. The House of Delegates race in her district also has just one candidate: Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, who voted for the abortion ban.
Many West Virginians face a similar lack of options when it comes to a choice on abortion rights. In nearly half of the House of Delegates races, and almost a quarter of the state Senate contests, candidates are either running unopposed or share the same views as their competitors, according to a Mountain State Spotlight review of voting records and public statements.
In almost all of those cases, candidates are anti-abortion. Most pro-abortion rights candidates are Democrats, and the state party’s leaders have repeatedly stated that abortion is on the ballot in an effort to turn out voters. But the state party didn’t field candidates in about a third of state Senate races and a quarter of state House races.
A few third-party candidates, and at least two Republicans, across the state have also said they don’t support the state’s abortion ban, but they’re rare.
Click here to see a list of West Virginia statehouse races where candidates differ on abortion rights
Patton’s current state senator is Michael Woelfel, the only Senate Democrat to vote for the abortion ban. Melissa Clark, a recent Marshall University graduate who’s running as a Republican and who supports abortion rights, is running against him.
But after redistricting, Patton is in a new district. Her legislative choices are Tarr and Linville, and that’s it.
“There’s people who will say, ‘Yeah, well you can do this, you can do that, or you can do the other,’ but voting is what everybody always said is the only way to fix this,” Patton said. “If I can’t vote for a candidate who represents my beliefs and my values, then voting isn’t gonna fix anything.”
Many of the Legislature’s Republican leaders, like Tarr, have little or no opposition. House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, faces a third-party candidate. Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, has no opponent on the ballot; he cited earlier inaction on the abortion ban as a reason he would challenge Hanshaw for House speaker after November’s election. (Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, isn’t up for reelection this year.)
West Virginians for Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, has endorsed candidates in almost every race, and in some cases urged people specifically to vote against other candidates. Democratic leaders have used the abortion ban as a rallying call, but several legislative races also involve a Democratic candidate who either supports the ban or has no public stance on the issue.
One Democratic House candidate, former Harrison County commissioner Ron Watson, said his stance on abortion was “pro adoption.” He did not respond when asked if he would have voted for the abortion ban. Watson is running against Republican Keith Marple, who has been endorsed by the anti-abortion group West Virginians for Life.
House Minority Leader Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, has been endorsed by West Virginians for Life in the past, and still has the group’s endorsement from this year’s primary on his campaign website. Skaff voted against the abortion ban last month.
Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, who was elected chairman of the state Democratic Party in June, said pro-abortion rights voters should still support Democrats who don’t share those views. “Had the Democrats been setting the agenda, the bill would never have been placed on the agenda,” he said of the abortion ban.
Pushkin and Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, were chosen as state Democratic Party leaders to replace Belinda Biafore, an ally of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin who led the party for seven years. Walker is perhaps the most vocal defender of abortion rights in the statehouse, and the only legislator to have openly discussed having an abortion.
This year’s candidates were chosen well before both the change in party leadership and the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade. But Pushkin hopes the abortion ban will motivate young voters.
West Virginia Democrats invited Kansas Democratic leader Vicki Hiatt to speak at a fundraiser last week. In a state similar politically to West Virginia, Hiatt was instrumental in getting a Democratic governor elected and getting a referendum on abortion rights in front of state voters, who overwhelmingly rejected a proposed ban.
Del. Kayla Young, a staunch supporter of abortion rights, said the abortion issue “has become the only thing anybody wants to talk about” in her Kanawha County district.
Meghan Moses, a registered independent who calls herself a moderate conservative, recently helped organize a fundraiser for Young that drew dozens of people from across the political spectrum, and raised about $11,000, according to Young, who is her own campaign treasurer.
“A lot of friends on both sides of the aisle were concerned with the passage of HB 302 [the abortion ban] because of the extreme nature of that bill, and especially the resolution after the bill,” Moses, 38, said. The resolution, which has no legal effect, said among other things that women who promote abortion rights “act detrimentally to fundamental social morals.”
The abortion ban has also put Young’s opponent, Andrew Anderson, R-Kanawha, on the defensive. Anderson was appointed to the House by Gov. Jim Justice in August, and one of his first votes was to support the abortion ban.
“There’s a lot of people that are extremely fired up and passionate about it, and I understand it’s a very serious issue,” Anderson said. “There’s some people who are absolutely angry.”
He said he feared if the abortion ban didn’t pass, an even stricter ban from 1849 could have been reinstated. When he explains his reasons to voters, he said, “I think it makes a lot of sense to them.”
Voters in Young and Anderson’s district will have the choice to pick between two legislators with largely opposing views on abortion rights. For pro-abortion rights voters who are disappointed to have no state candidates to vote for, Pushkin pointed to West Virginia’s two U.S. House races, where two Republican incumbents have massive financial and name-recognition advantages over their opponents.
“If the law is to be overturned, realistically, the only way to do that is to pick up two seats in the U.S. Senate, and to win in the House,” Pushkin said.
And for some voters, Democrats aren’t the only pro-abortion rights option. For example, Sen. Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh, faces a pro-abortion rights Libertarian candidate, Kari Woodson. (Another Senate race pits current Republican Delegate Ben Queen against Libertarian Austin Lynch, both of whom are anti-abortion.)
The political arm of the nonprofit health provider Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, which supports abortion rights, has so far only endorsed 25 West Virginia statehouse candidates.
The state’s leading anti-abortion group, West Virginians for Life, opted not to publish a list of endorsed candidates because, their communications director Mary Anne Buchanan said, “It made things easy for the opposition and we’d rather not do that.” Instead, voters can type their address into the group’s site and see which candidates are endorsed in their districts.
Wanda Franz, the longtime president of West Virginians for Life, said that a comprehensive list would be released “very close to the election.”
Around 20 years ago, she said, her group’s endorsements were split pretty evenly between Democrats and Republicans. This year’s list will feature anti-abortion Democrats like Woelfel, but the vast majority of candidates will be Republicans.
“I think that, ultimately, what has happened is that the Democratic Party has simply left pro-lifers behind,” Franz said.
But Moses, an independent who would like to support Republicans, said the fight over abortion rights is drawing her to Democratic candidates like Young.
“This is an existential issue, and we need to make sure everyone has equal protections under the law” Moses said. “It’s assuming that [motherhood] really is the most important role that we have, and that’s a dangerous precedent to set.”
Correction: This story was corrected on Oct. 7, 2022, to remove an incorrect reference to Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, having been endorsed in the past by West Virginians for Life. An inaccurate reference to Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, voting for a ban on abortion after 15 weeks was also removed.
Here’s where abortion is on the ballot
Note: districts with only one candidate running, or multiple candidates sharing similar view on abortion, are not included.
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2nd Senate District
Eric Hayhurst told Mountain State Spotlight that he would go back to the situation before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Charles Clements voted for the abortion ban.
3rd Senate District
Jody Murphy told the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, “Had the [U.S.] Senate done its job and codified Roe, this [ban] wouldn’t be happening.” Michael Azinger voted for the abortion ban.
5th Senate District
Melissa Clark supports abortion rights. Mike Woelfel was the only Senate Democrat who voted for the abortion ban.
6th Senate District
Tiffany Clemins supports abortion rights. Mark Maynard voted for the abortion ban.
7th Senate District
Ron Stollings opposed the recent abortion ban, but previously voted in favor of a 20-week ban. Mike Stuart is anti-abortion.
8th Senate District
Richard Lindsay supports abortion rights. Mark Hunt told a national group he supports prohibiting abortion except to save the mother’s life. West Virginians for Life did not endorse either candidate, citing their “pro-abortion positions.”
9th Senate District
Kari Woodson supports abortion rights. Rollan Roberts voted for the abortion ban.
10th Senate District
Stephen Baldwin opposed the recent abortion ban. He also opposed some previous restrictions, but has supported others, like denying abortions on the sole basis of a likely childhood disability. Vince Deeds and Aaron Ransom are anti-abortion. Harry Forbes’ position is unknown.
13th Senate District
Barbara Evans Fleischauer supports abortion rights. Mike Oliverio is anti-abortion.
14th Senate District
Amanda Jo Pitzer supports abortion rights. Jay Taylor is endorsed by the anti-abortion group, West Virginians for Life.
15th Senate District
Robin Mills supports abortion rights. Charles Trump voted for the abortion ban.
16th Senate District
Hannah Geffert supports abortion rights. Jason Barrett is anti-abortion.
17th Senate District
Sam Wood says he personally is anti-abortion, but would vote to reinstate the legal precedents before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Tom Takubo voted for the recent abortion ban, but was a driving force in removing criminal penalties for most doctors who perform them (Takubo is a doctor).
1st Delegate District
Jack Wood supports abortion rights. Pat McGeehan voted for the abortion ban, and introduced a resolution after the bill passed that said, among other things, that women who support abortion rights “act detrimentally to fundamental social morals.”
3rd Delegate District
Phillip Diserio opposed the recent abortion ban, but voted in favor of a ban after a fetus reached 20 weeks in 2015. Jimmy Willis is anti-abortion.
4th Delegate District
Teresa Toriseva supports abortion rights. Erikka Storch voted for the abortion ban.
5th Delegate District
Shawn Fluharty supports abortion rights, though he has voted for some legislation supported by anti-abortion advocates, like mandating parental notification after a minor has an abortion in most cases. Brooke McArdle is anti-abortion.
6th Delegate District
Reva Yost supports abortion rights. Charlie Reynolds voted for the recent abortion ban.
7th Delegate District
Lisa Zukoff and Dylan Parsons support abortion rights. Charles Sheedy is anti-abortion.
11th Delegate District
Harry Deitzler supports abortion rights. Bob Fehrenbacher is anti-abortion.
13th Delegate District
Andrea “Red” Greer supports abortion rights. Scot Heckert told Mountain State Spotlight he generally supports the abortion ban, but “I think 8 weeks and 14 weeks is not enough time for an adult woman for a juvenile who has been victimized.”
14th Delegate District
Jim Marion supports abortion rights. Dave Foggin is anti-abortion.
15th Delegate District
Chuck Conner supports abortion rights. Riley Keaton voted for the recent abortion ban.
21st Delegate District
Theresa “Tess” Jackson supports abortion rights. Jarred Cannon voted for the recent abortion ban.
23rd Delegate District
Karen Nance supports abortion rights. Evan Worrell voted for the recent abortion ban.
24th Delegate District
Ally Layman supports abortion rights. Patrick Lucas is anti-abortion.
26th House District
Sydnee McElroy supports abortion rights. Matthew Rohrbach voted for the recent abortion ban.
30th Delegate District
Deidra Roberts says the recent abortion ban went too far, and would support a statewide referendum. David “Flimsy” Adkins supports an abortion ban with exceptions for medical emergencies and when conception is the result of assault. However, he supports putting the question to voters.
32nd Delegate District
Based on his past record as a delegate, West Virginians for Life urged voters “NOT” to vote for Rodney Miller. He opposed a 2018 ballot initiative allowing voters to decide whether to add language to the state constitution making clear the right to an abortion is not guaranteed. Josh Holstein voted for the recent abortion ban.
37th Delegate District
Skip Crane supports abortion rights. Marty Gearheart voted for the recent abortion ban.
38th Delegate District
Tina Russell supports abortion rights. Joe Ellington voted for the recent abortion ban.
43rd Delegate District
Joanna Vance supports abortion rights. Christopher Toney voted for the recent abortion ban.
44th Delegate District
Tony Martin supports abortion rights. Todd Kirby is anti-abortion.
45th Delegate District
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Christian Martine wrote on social media that, “DC judges are putting politicians between a woman and her doctor,” and that women undergoing medical emergencies, or who are pregnant because of sexual assault, should have access to abortions. Eric Brooks is anti-abortion.
46th Delegate District
Paul S. Detch supports abortion rights. Mike Honaker voted for the recent abortion ban.
47th Delegate District
Heather Hill supports abortion rights. Todd Longanacre voted for the recent abortion ban.
50th Delegate District
David “Elliott” Pritt supports abortion rights. Austin Haynes voted for the recent abortion ban.
51st Delegate District
Gabe Peña supports abortion rights. Tom Fast voted for the recent abortion ban.
52nd Delegate District
Larry Rowe supports abortion rights. Greg Hendricks is endorsed by West Virginians for Life.
54th Delegate District
Mike Pushkin supports abortion rights. John Luoni is anti-abortion.
56th Delegate District
Kayla Young supports abortion rights. Andrew Anderson voted for the recent abortion ban.
57th Delegate District
Doug Skaff voted against the recent abortion ban, but has called himself “pro-life” and was endorsed by West Virginians for Life in this year’s primary. Ernest Blevins is anti-abortion and endorsed by WVFL in the general election. E.C. “Bud” Anderson’s position is unknown.
59th Delegate District
Rusty Williams supports abortion rights. Andy Shamblin is anti-abortion.
63rd Delegate District
Kevin Carpenter supports abortion rights. Lori Cowger Dittman is anti-abortion.
64th Delegate District
John Clise supports abortion rights. Adam Burkhammer voted for the recent abortion ban.