The abortion candidate?

Single issue threatens to consume Flores candidacy

Lucy Flores was candid in legislative testimony, and she now may be paying a price.

Lucy Flores was candid in legislative testimony, and she now may be paying a price.

Photo/Dennis Myers

Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Lucy Flores likes to talk about education, economic development, tourism, health care. But what bewitches those who cover her campaign is the fact that she had an abortion.

“Finally, a Politician Admits to Having an Abortion Simply Because She Wasn’t Ready for a Baby” was the headline on a July 14 Slate piece by Brooklyn writer Amanda Marcotte.

At the Weekly Standard, it’s “Politician Talks Up Her Abortion on Campaign Trail” over a July 8 article by Daniel Halper.

Salon’s July 8 article by Katie McDonough didn’t get it into the headline (“The left’s new hero emerges: Why Lucy Flores’ candid advocacy is so important”) but that’s what its story was about: “When any woman shares her abortion story, she creates space for others to do the same.”

Flores described her experience with abortion on April 1 last year in Assembly Education Committee testimony supporting changes in sex education law. She described being raised in adolescence by a single father after her mother left the household. There was nothing like sex education in their home, she said, and all of her sisters, she said, had become pregnant before her.

“One was 14 years old when she got pregnant with twins,” she said. “That is what I had to learn from. … I always said that I was the only one who didn’t have kids in their teen-aged years. That’s because at 16, I got an abortion, and it was a very difficult thing for me to do.”

She approached her father for help in obtaining the abortion, she said.

“I wanted to do better and I knew I couldn’t do that if I had a baby, just like everyone else [in the family]. My dad gave me the money, and I went with a friend of mine, and I will never forget that, having that done. … And so how do we prevent this? We prevent by education. We prevent by giving them the information and the resources that they need, so they don’t have to go to their dad and say, ’I need $200 for an abortion.’”

After that teen experience, Flores went on to get a general equivalency high school diploma, graduated from the University of Southern California and then law school. She is now in her second term in the Nevada Assembly.

While the Weekly Standard says she “talks up” the experience on the campaign trail, she has not. The word abortion does not appear on her website, certainly not on the page devoted to issues. It features an MSNBC story on her, but ends the text before it reaches the portion that mentions the abortion. And Flores seems aware that the matter could overwhelm her other messages, because far from talking it up, her staff is discouraging it. When the RN&R sought an interview with her on the subject on July 23, we were told she was busy the rest of the day. When we asked about July 24, we were told she was “booked solid” that day too, and also “through the weekend. She’s spoken at length publicly about this issue. Sorry we can’t accommodate you on this occasion but do let us know if you have other topics you would like to cover in future.”

Rather, it appears that it’s reporters who are more preoccupied by Flores’ year-old committee testimony. And some of them want to see it spun in certain ways as it plays out during the campaign. McDonough at Salon objects to the way the abortion issue is incessantly filtered through the lens of opponents.

“If more women like Flores started coming out with their own experiences about abortion care—how far they had to drive to reach a clinic, how much it cost them, the protesters they confronted on their way, their experience with the doctors and clinic staff—it would demystify the experience for the many Americans who are getting their information about reproductive healthcare from caveman fools like Lindsey Graham and Rick Perry,” McDonough wrote. “We’re long overdue for some common sense and reality checking in our debates about reproductive health care. Lucy Flores was willing to step up. Who’s next?”

A lot of the national coverage may be affected by a lack of understanding of the Nevada view of the abortion issue.

“I think that in Nevada the abortion issue is not as emotional as it is elsewhere,” said political analyst Fred Lokken.

Nevadans voted on the issue in a 1990 referendum and approved the state’s Roe-style abortion law in a landslide, 71.3 to 27.2 percent. That more or less removed it from politics and made it difficult to raise the issue against candidates who support abortion.

“I see it as a very settled issue in Nevada, more so than in other states,” Lokken said. “It would only be some portion of the right in the Republican party that is brooding on it.”

Word choice

Lokken said he thinks the Flores staff is falling down on the job by not giving reporters something else to cover. “They should be artificially creating stories that turn reporters’ attention somewhere else,” he said. “Her staff should really get off the dime.” But that’s not easy to do with the national reporters. To them, Flores’ abortion story is new and unusual, and they’re not likely to be diverted by her stands on Nevada economic development.

Lokken said he thinks Flores will get credit with some voters for candor. But in practical campaign terms, he said, the main concern would be fundraising.

“The only thing they have to worry about is whatever affects the money flow and in the Democratic party that’s not likely to happen because of this issue,” he said.

Another problem for Flores is that a lot of the abortion coverage she’s getting is relatively unsophisticated, akin to what it would have been like 20 or 30 years ago. Abortion is not the novelty it once was. And some writers use it to define candidates’ overall political stances. Flores is a pro-business attorney with a middle-of-the-road voting record, yet Salon characterized her as the “left’s new hero” solely based on a single issue.

One indication of the way Flores is at the mercy of the way some reporters cover the abortion issue is in the use of a particular term in much of the coverage of her experience.

In a July 16 Huffington Post piece by Ryan Buxton, the lead sentence was, “Lucy Flores, an assemblywoman in Nevada and candidate in the state’s lieutenant governor race, made a splash when she admitted to having an abortion at the age of 16 during a debate about sex education” (emphasis added).

But abortion is legal. What about her statement makes it an admission? When was the last time a politician was described as “admitting” to being married or owning a business?

Lokken read that sentence at our request and responded by email, “The reporter’s personal bias—or political slant—on the issue of abortion clearly affected the selection of ’admitted,’ as though the candidate was confessing to something. The judgment-free appropriate word should/would have been ’acknowledged’ or ’indicated’ or ’said.’ The intent by the candidate likely was to confirm through her own personal experience that she fully understood what a woman goes through in making the decision to have an abortion.”

“It clearly should be ’said’,” agreed (or admitted) Jake Highton, author of the McGraw-Hill textbook Reporter.

Slate, Huffington Post, the New York Daily News, MSNBC, and innumerable minor online sites have used “admit” or a variant to describe the statement Flores made disclosing her abortion. Interestingly, Catholic Online is not one of them—not even in its reader comments.