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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

3rd District candidates Kent, Perez split on abortion rights

Hopefuls discuss views of key election issue at debate

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: October 7, 2022, 6:05am

In late June, eruptions of both sorrow and joy appeared nationwide after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned nearly 50 years of legal precedent protecting reproductive rights.

More than 100 days after the ruling, the battle remains constant either to protect abortion rights or make receiving them more difficult. And it’s becoming even louder in the weeks leading up to midterm elections.

“It injected something into these elections that people didn’t anticipate,” said Jim Moore, Pacific University associate professor of politics and government.

Third Congressional District candidate Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Stevenson, is among the crowd of candidates using the nationwide uproar to urge citizens to act, specifically to vote for lawmakers who will prevent further restrictions on abortion.

Editors note

This story was prompted by Clark Asks, The Columabian’s reader-guided reporting project. Readers submitted questions for us to ask of congressional candidates, including where the candidates stood on abortion rights. To submit your question, visit The Columbian’s Clark Asks page.

In a television ad aired early this week, Perez taps on this fervor to protect reproductive rights that has now become central to her campaign, in part, because it’s personal. In 2020, Perez had a miscarriage that required her to receive an abortion, and without it, she could have died.

She pressed further in the video, condemning her opponent, Joe Kent, R-Yacolt, and his anti-abortion views.

“The last thing women need is extreme politicians like Joe Kent standing between us and critical medical care,” Perez said. “Joe Kent would outlaw abortion with no exceptions — even when a mother’s life is at risk. If he had his way, I could have lost my chance to have children, or worse.”

Like Perez alluded to in her video, Kent has anti-abortion beliefs. He previously told The Columbian he was ecstatic that Roe v. Wade was handed back to the states and supported components in Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s proposed federal abortion ban bill.

That legislation would prohibit abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy with rare exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother. Kent said if a person becomes pregnant because of rape or incest, they should be given resources to see their pregnancy through and make adoption easier if that is their preferred path. If a mother’s health is at risk and an abortion is needed to save her life, it is permissible in Kent’s eyes — but he doesn’t view it as an abortion, rather a “triage.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling became enmeshed in Democratic campaigns around the country, Moore said, but it also seemed to upend Republicans’ game plan and campaign focuses.

“You’ll hear a lot of Republicans who believe that all abortion should be banned … all of a sudden saying that they’re in mainstream once again (and) fighting for those voters who might say, ‘I support abortion in some cases,’” he said, referencing Oregon Republican congressional candidates retooling their anti-abortion stances.

Although Kent agreed with points outlined in Graham’s bill, he has joined fellow Republicans who criticized the bill’s timing, saying it distracts from inflation and other economic issues that GOP lawmakers are tapping on in their campaigns.

Moving forward, Republicans need to reposition their messaging for them to “walk the walk” in upholding abortion bans, Kent said. He suggested that Republicans should focus on providing federal and state assistance to crisis pregnancy centers for people to seek care.

“For far too long, I think Republicans never really had to step up to the plate of the abortion issue. They could just say ‘Yeah I’m pro-life,’ or they knew that it was a good bumper sticker for a fundraiser,” he said. “I think that’s incumbent upon our messaging. Not just saying, ‘You can’t kill babies anymore.’ That doesn’t work.”

Although a federal abortion ban like Graham’s won’t likely become law, it solidifies fears within abortion advocates who fear what comes next if Republicans gain the majority in Congress. Political campaigns focusing on reproductive rights are especially useful in anti-abortion states, but it may have a different outcome in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District. It’s good for fundraising but, considering Washington is a strong pro-choice state with a high voter turnout, it’s unknown whether it will affect elections, Moore said.

“The people who are in favor of abortion are already going to vote,” he said. “This is just going to make them more enthusiastic, but it’s not going to change whether they vote or not.”

Columbian staff writer