GOP candidates in swing House seats soften their messaging on abortion

Campaign websites are undergoing some subtle updates as New York Republicans in key districts pivot to the general election.

Republican congressional candidates Nick LaLota, above, and Brandon Williams have recently updated the abortion pages on their campaign websites.

Republican congressional candidates Nick LaLota, above, and Brandon Williams have recently updated the abortion pages on their campaign websites. Nick LaLota

Republican candidates in two of New York’s battleground congressional districts who favor placing more restrictions on access to abortion have updated their campaign websites in recent weeks to reflect some exceptions to their relatively hardline stances.

Nick LaLota and Brandon Williams, GOP candidates running New York’s 1st and 22nd Congressional Districts, respectively, have both made changes to the sections of their campaign websites that address their views on abortion. Where they didn’t previously mention any exceptions to their anti-abortion stances, both websites now mention that the candidates wouldn’t oppose abortion in instances of rape, incest or when the health of the mother is at risk. The changes appear to have been made after last month’s primary election.

“Brandon will always promote life while also standing with young mothers to ensure that choice is protected in instances of rape, incest, or life of the mother,” the current version of Williams’ website reads.

Williams, an entreprenuer running against defense policy adviser and Democrat Francis Conole in Central New York, had already expressed during the Republican primary that he was not wholly opposed to abortion in these instances. But that nuance wasn’t previously reflected on his website. Up to at least Aug. 30, Williams’ page on abortion read in full, “I am pro-life by faith; abortion ends all of the future possibilities of the life it extinguishes. No one is more vulnerable than the unborn and we must protect them. Federal tax dollars should not go to any abortion provider and we must support the education of expecting mothers to alternatives to the abortion industry message.” Whereas that section of the website was previously titled “Pro-life,” it’s now titled just “Life.”

LaLota, the former commissioner of the Suffolk County Board of Elections, is running against Democratic Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming on Long Island. Up until at least Aug. 31, a page on LaLota’s website titled “Protecting Life” focused on support for the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent reversal of Roe v. Wade and called for New York to ban third trimester abortions and institute stricter parental notification requirements for minors.

This section of LaLota’s website has since been expanded. “I do not oppose abortion in cases of rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life,” the page now reads.

But the updated page also goes into more detail about aspects of LaLota’s position on abortion that don’t appear to have softened at all. It now mentions that he doesn’t oppose just third trimester abortions, but second trimester abortions too. LaLota frames this as a middle ground position, however. “Abortion is a personal and divisive topic but I will lead the charge to find common ground – and that is eliminating second and third trimester abortions,” his website now reads.

“Nick's position on abortion has not changed. He remains in lockstep with the overwhelming majority of Americans opposed to extreme late-term abortion policies and in support of common-sense parental notification laws,” LaLota campaign manager Lauren Lembo wrote in an email. “The website was updated to highlight the direct contrast with his general election opponent Bridget Fleming, who is out of touch on these issues.”

Williams’ campaign could not immediately be reached for comment.

Following the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade earlier this year, access to abortion has become a key issue in battleground states across the country as Democrats attempt to hold on to their razor-thin majority in Congress. Recently elected Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan found success in highlighting abortion access as a top issue in the special election for New York’s 19th Congressional District last month. Republicans in other battleground districts have started softening or altogether scrapping references on their websites to hardline anti-abortion views too.

FiveThirtyEight currently ranks the race between Williams and Conole in the 22nd District as the most competitive House race in the country. Conole has tried to put abortion access front and center in the race, focusing his first television ad of the campaign on Williams’ general opposition to abortion. The race in the 1st District also ranks among FiveThirtyEight’s 50 most competitive districts.

Despite new references on their websites to allowing abortion in cases of rape, incest or a health risk to the mother, Williams and LaLota have relatively strict positions on abortion access – particularly in a state where a large majority supports legal abortion in all or most cases.

A new line on LaLota’s website suggested that the candidate is aware of that and strikes a more moderate tone. “Obviously, this is an issue that divides many Americans,” the website now reads.