Independent U.S. Senate candidate Evan McMullin appears to be trying to walk a fine line on abortion rights.
A former Republican who has the backing of the Utah Democratic Party in the Senate race has shifted his position on Roe v. Wade since his 2016 run for president as an independent. McMullin is looking to unseat two-term GOP Sen. Mike Lee, who faces a primary election against Becky Edwards and Ally Isom.
In an October 2016 interview with WBUR radio in Boston, McMullin said, “I would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned.”
“I believe that how we treat life in this country is a true test of our humanity,” he continued. “I understand it’s a very polarizing issue, but I think we’ve got to respect life in this country, from conception to natural death.”
In response to the leaked draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion overturning the 1973 landmark decision guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion, McMullin described himself as “pro-life” but said the tug of war over the issue threatens to create a public health crisis and further divide the country.
“If Roe v. Wade is overturned, some states will immediately enact extreme laws — such as total bans on abortion, onerous limits on birth control and criminalization of women in desperate situations. I oppose these laws,” he said.
In an interview on MSNBC last Sunday, host Mehdi Hasan asked McMullin how those differing opinions are compatible. McMullin said he is committed to the sanctity of life but that means the lives of women, children and the unborn.
During the exchange, Hasan interrupted McMullin and asked him to clarify whether he supports overturning Roe v. Wade.
“I do not think that that is the way for the country to move forward on this issue,” McMullin said. He also said he would vote against a national abortion ban if he were elected and such a bill came up in the Senate.
Lee jumped on McMullin in an Instagram post on his personal account Monday, which included a clip of the MSNBC interview.
“I guess Evan McMullin opposed Roe one moment and then decided to support it the next. What changed? To quote the Broadway musical ‘Hamilton,’ ‘If you won’t stand for anything, what will you fall for?’” Lee wrote.
Lee has advocated for overturning Roe v. Wade for years, saying the decision was wrong morally and constitutionally and should be for states to decide.
McMullin said in his statement on the leaked court opinion that his campaign is about forging a new way forward and building consensus, even when it seems impossible and others refuse to try. He said he would advocate for “sensible” legislation that establishes reasonable standards that “prevent extremists from doing harm.”
“Data clearly show that making contraception more available and otherwise doing more to support families is what truly protects the lives of mothers, the unborn, and children — not extremist laws that target women in their most vulnerable moments,” he said.
McMullin won the support of the Utah Democratic Party at its state convention last month. Delegates voted to endorse McMullin instead of nominating a member of their own party to challenge Lee. Utah has not elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1970. Democrats who back McMullin, including former Congressman Ben McAdams and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, say he has the best shot at ousting Lee.
McMullin would face Lee in the November general election if the incumbent senator gets past Edwards and Isom in the Republican primary election in June. Lee received overwhelming support of GOP delegates at the state convention, but the two challengers forced him into the primary by gathering voter signatures in Utah’s dual nomination process.
Edwards and Isom weighed in on the leaked court document earlier this month.
“If Roe v. Wade is overturned, the issue of abortion becomes an issue of states’ rights. At that point, both voters and representatives need to work together to ensure that this complex issue is handled with dignity, compassion and care. I respect the law of the land and the decisions handed down by the Supreme Court,” Edwards said.
Isom said in a tweet, “Looks like the landscape is shifting. While this is a complicated issue for women, and there are exceptions, I choose to err on the side of life and states.”