Alabama Democrat Marilyn Lands focusing on abortion access, IVF in special election for state House seat

The race could test political consequences of the fight for reproductive rights.

March 26, 2024, 1:43 PM

There is an ongoing dispute around the future of abortion and reproductive rights in Alabama after the state's Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are children and jeopardized access to in vitro fertilization treatments in the state. And now one candidate for Alabama's District 10's state House seat who made it a key campaign issue is hoping it pays off in Tuesday's special election.

"I had to run again. I couldn't stand by," Democratic candidate Marilyn Lands told ABC News of her decision to run again after losing the seat to former Republican Rep. David Cole in 2022.

Cole resigned from the Alabama House in August 2023 after he pleaded guilty to a voter fraud charge -- putting the seat back up for grabs.

This time around, Lands is betting that experience and a campaign centered on abortion rights -- an issue she didn't push hard in her 2022 campaign -- will be a winning strategy in this cycle's political landscape.

"The stakes are just so much higher with the IVF ruling and risk to contraception at this point," Lands said. "So I see Alabama right now as kind of ground zero for attacks on women's freedoms and reproductive health care."

PHOTO: Democratic candidate Marilyn Lands walked the streets in the suburbs looking to convince voters to support her, Huntsville, AL, March 20, 2024.
Democratic candidate Marilyn Lands walked the streets in the suburbs looking to convince voters to support her, Huntsville, AL, March 20, 2024.
Michael S. Williamson/Getty Images

Lands wants to repeal Alabama's near total ban on abortion and is an advocate for the state's Right to Contraception Act -- a bill that would enshrine individuals' and health providers' right to use and distribute contraception.

In a news conference with the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee on Friday, she criticized the supreme court's IVF ruling, saying state legislation that restored halted access to in-vitro fertilization does not go far enough.

"I want to make it very clear that IVF access does remain restricted in Alabama. In Gov. [Kay] Ivey's own words, the recent legislative fix is only a short-term measure. The law does not undo the far-reaching implications of the ruling," she said Friday, speaking as a "spotlight candidate" for the organization.

In a statement to ABC News, DLCC Communications Director Abhi Rahman said "all eyes should be on Alabama right now."

"Last month's IVF ruling in Alabama was a political earthquake that reverberated across the country, but the political consequences of that decision have yet to be tested. That's where today's election comes in," Rahman said.

Lands told ABC News she has "been having a lot of personal conversations" with voters, and that she was inspired to share her own abortion story as a result.

Lands released an ad where she said she had access to abortion care close to home when she carried a fetus that would not survive.

"It's shameful that today women have fewer freedoms than I did two decades ago," Lands said in the ad.

Lands said she was open to sharing her experiences after hearing the story of Alabama resident Alyssa Gonzales -- who is also featured in the ad. Gonzales, whose story was featured in ABC News' On the Brink, had to cross state lines to receive abortion care for a non-viable pregnancy.

When Gonzalez needed care, Alabama's trigger law prohibiting nearly all abortions had gone into effect, after Roe was overturned. While there is an exception for conditions from which an unborn child would be stillborn, die after birth or die shortly after, Gonzales said the doctors still denied her care.

Lands said she traveled to meet Gonzales and her family.

"... It was just so striking the similarities in both of our stories," Lands told ABC News.

"So many similarities in the two stories, and then the contrast, which is 20 years later, Alyssa was not able to get the care she needed in her own home, with her own doctor, with her community. And I was able to have that and it just it makes no sense to me that we have gone so far backwards in two decades. We're supposed to move forward. This is not progress. This is regression," Lands added.

Lands' opponent, Republican and Madison city councilman Teddy Powell, has taken a different approach though, focusing his platform on issues such as economic growth, infrastructure and distaste for "politics as usual," referring to the IVF ruling and subsequent outrage as an issue that's already been "fixed," he said in a Washington Post interview.

PHOTO: Republican candidate Teddy Powell walked the streets in the suburbs looking to convince voters to support him, Huntsville, AL, March 20, 2024.
Republican candidate Teddy Powell walked the streets in the suburbs looking to convince voters to support him, Huntsville, AL, March 20, 2024.
Michael S. Williamson/Getty Images

"[Abortion and IVF] are two different issues and they're issues my opponents is trying to push together," Powell told ABC News. "It's an issue that typically, you know, you don't see Republicans want to talk about. We're comfortable talking about anything because it's not political. It's doing the right thing for everybody."

Asked if he sees abortion and IVF as issues that voters are concerned about, Powell said he sees it as an issue "further down the list" of concern, citing polling his campaign has done. He said issues such as inflation, quality infrastructure and education rank higher for many Alabama residents.

"Those are things that affect everybody and that's how you serve people," he added.

Republicans have a supermajority in the state's legislature, but Lands tells ABC News that her background as a licensed counselor will "be a real asset."

"Because of my counseling background, I feel like I'll be able to to get down there and really seek to understand before I'm understood," she said. "I just want to be someone who brings some common sense and a fresh approach. And I feel like that is going to resonate with a lot of people down there."

And in a presidential election year where former President Donald Trump is expected to maintain his winning streak in the state, Lands said she sees this as an opportunity for Alabama Democrats to make their voices heard.

"I think that most of the Democrats in this state, of course, feel like Alabama doesn't really have a voice at the national level. So I think they feel like this is where we can have a voice and begin to move forward."