MISSION, Texas (Border Report) — Democratic congressional hopeful Jessica Cisneros on Tuesday criticized longtime incumbent U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar for his anti-abortion views after reports surfaced that the Supreme Court could be in the process of overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide.
Cisneros faces Cuellar on May 24 in a runoff election for Texas’ 28th Congressional District, which includes the cities of Laredo and San Antonio, as well as the border counties of Webb, Zapata and Starr. The 29-year-old immigration lawyer from Laredo narrowly lost to Cuellar in the March 1 primary election.
They are in a runoff because neither received over 50% of the vote, according to Texas election laws.
On Tuesday, Cisneros issued a statement highlighting that Cuellar was the only Democrat in the House who voted against turning the landmark ruling into law.
“Our Congressman was the only Democrat to vote against codifying Roe in Congress, siding with Republicans to strip our constitutional rights away. For years, Henry Cuellar has repeatedly joined Republicans in voting in favor of the Hyde Amendment, voting to defund Planned Parenthood, and voting for numerous federal bans on abortion,” Cisneros said.
The House voted 218-211 on Sept. 24 to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021, a law that could codify Roe v. Wade into law. Cuellar, a staunch Catholic, was the only Democrat to vote against the bill. (The measure did not pass the Senate on cloture.)
During an Oct. 5 online press conference after the Sept. 24 House vote, Cuellar defended his position saying he voted his “conscience.”
“It’s called a conscience. I believe in right to life. People think this is a Democrat vs Republican rights issue. To me, it’s a matter of conscience. People call this ‘women’s health’ but it’s abortion. Call it abortion,” Cuellar said.
“This race goes beyond South Texas. We know our majority in Congress is at stake and Henry Cuellar could very much be the deciding vote on the future of our reproductive rights in this country. We can’t risk that. South Texans deserve a champion for their rights and freedom and on May 24 we will defeat the last anti-choice Democrat once and for all,” she said.
Politico on Monday night published an exclusive story citing a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito that reportedly cites that the high court intends to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The story notes this is just a draft opinion and the court’s holding will not be final until it is published, which is likely in the next two months.
In a statement to Border Report, Cuellar said that as a lifelong Catholic, he’s always been “pro-life” and does not support abortion. But he said he doesn’t support an outright ban on abortion, adding that there must be exceptions in the case of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother.
“My faith will not allow me to support a ruling that would criminalize teenage victims of rape and incest,” Cuellar said. “That same faith will not allow me to support a ruling that would make a mother choose between her life and her child’s.”
Cuellar also said his faith does not allow him to support late-term or partial-birth abortions.
“My faith is clear: abortion must be rare & safe,” he said.
Cuellar also denounced the leak of the draft opinion.
“Let me be clear about the leaked opinion of the potential SCOTUS ruling, it is not based on precedent and is not incremental in nature. It will further divide the country during these already divisive times, but let us wait until the final ruling,” Cuellar said.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court’s public information office stressed in a news release the leaked draft report is not finalized, writing in a statement: “Although the document described in yesterday’s reports is authentic, it does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member on the issues in the case.”
Nevertheless, the story tipped off protests at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere across the country.
National Abortion Rights Action League, or NARAL Pro-choice America, on Tuesday announced on its website that the organization was joining with Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Emily’s List and will collectively spend $150 million “to respond to the unprecedented attacks on abortion rights across the country, and to elect reproductive freedom champions up and down the ballot.”
On Monday, prior to the Politico story publication, NARAL announced in a news release that “with 22 days until the Democratic primary runoff election in Texas’ 28th Congressional District, NARAL Pro-Choice America and our members are doubling down on our effort to send Jessica Cisneros to Congress and unseat Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX)—the last anti-choice Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
The group said it would run a new digital ad with the Women Vote Project and other groups on Cuellar’s abortion views. They also pledge to send staff to the border to assist with the runoff election and plan on knocking on at least 2,000 doors ahead of the runoff election.
NARAL’s Monday announcement mentioned SB 8, a restrictive abortion law passed by the Texas Legislature.
“In the wake of SB 8, anti-choice Rep. Cuellar was the only Democrat to vote against the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill to safeguard the legal right to abortion and block bans like SB 8—turning his back on his constituents’ freedom to make their own decisions about their families and futures,” NARAL said in a statement. “The evisceration of abortion access in Texas as a result of SB 8 is a grim preview of what could happen across the country if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade—and South Texans are watching.”
“Let me be clear: abortion is health care. I believe every single person has a right to the health care they need when they need it, and so do the people of TX-28. The constant attacks on our reproductive freedom have mobilized hundreds of people across South Texas,” Cisneros said. “While abortion is still legal in this country, all signs point towards the Supreme Court overturning Roe imminently, and it has already been 243 days since SB 8 went into effect taking abortion care away from millions of Texans.”
Cuellar’s office on Tuesday outlined his work on the Appropriations Committee securing millions of dollars for women’s health. Among the active and passed legislation are Cuellar’s recent votes to protect Planned Parenthood and approve the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com