A victory for reproductive rights? Democratic candidate Marilyn Lands wins Alabama special election

Democrat Marilyn Lands won a contentious special election for a state house seat in deep-red Alabama on Tuesday night, in a race that could signal the dominant role of abortion and in-vitro fertilization in elections across the country in 2024.

Lands, a licensed professional counselor, beat Republican Teddy Powell, a Madison City Council member, in the race for an open seat in Alabama’s state house that was left vacant after former Republican Rep. David Cole pleaded guilty to voter fraud. Lands ran against Cole in 2022 for the 10th District seat, which represents an area around Huntsville, but lost by seven points.

While her win won’t change the makeup of the heavily Republican Alabama legislature, it does showcase the enormous impact reproductive issues, such as abortion and in-vitro fertilization, could have down the ballot in 2024.

The election was one of the first tests of how Alabama voters felt about the state court’s February ruling, which threatened access to IVF when it found that frozen embryos were legally considered children. The state’s legislature also weighed in on the issue in early March with legislation attempting to protect IVF providers and patients from prosecution.

Alabama is also one of several states where a strict abortion ban went into effect after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, an organization that works to elect Democrats to statehouses, defined the 10th District race as a test of the influence IVF and abortion could have on swing voters across the country in 2024.

Lands focused her campaign heavily on protecting abortion and IVF access.

In a TV ad, Lands shared her experience getting an abortion for a “nonviable” pregnancy years ago with an Alabama woman who faced a similar situation but who had to travel out of state to receive the procedure because of the state’s abortion ban after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision.

She argued that a law passed in response to the state Supreme Court’s IVF ruling, which aimed to protect IVF providers and patients from prosecution, fell short and did not address the root concerns with the court’s decision.

The approach ultimately proved successful against Powell, who mainly campaigned on infrastructure and the economy.

While Powell expressed support for IVF access, he argued that it was different from abortion. He also criticized Lands for defining the 10th District race around reproductive issues.

“I’m not sure any race can or should be about a single issue,” he told USA TODAY. “Our district has many challenges that we’re facing that aren’t related at all to this specific issue.”

The race could be a microcosm for broader 2024 election trends.

Republican candidates across the country, including presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, are campaigning on issues such as immigration and the economy. They believe inflation and national security are among the most salient issues for voters this year.

Democrats, meanwhile, see abortion as a key motivating issue for voters, based on a string of ballot measure successes since the 2022 midterms.

But the Alabama race is among the first data points this year on which issues are most impactful. The results nod in favor of Democrats.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alabama Democrat wins special election with abortion, IVF message