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Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas

Cuellar breaks from Dems on abortion rights on campaign trail

House Democrats are hammering a pro-abortion message this cycle, hoping to repeat the gains they made during the 2022 election. But Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) won’t be joining them.

Cuellar, the sole anti-abortion Democrat in his caucus, is rejecting colleagues’ calls to support federal protections for abortion. In fact, Cuellar is advocating for more acceptance among Democrats for those who take a different view on the issue.

“It should be left up to the states,” Cuellar told us. “I’m a big believer in the big tent theory and I think [Democrats] should allow people with different religious beliefs when it comes to that.”

That position is quite different from the rest of the Democratic Caucus. The latest DCCC polling shows abortion rights continue to be a top issue for voters and is one Democrats have the upper hand on.

House Democratic leaders hope the issue will even help their candidates in red states by driving voter turnout. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries joined several Florida Democrats last month to message on protecting abortion rights.

Cuellar, who has the backing of Democratic leadership, has been primaried twice due to his views on abortion. The Texas Democrat won his primary last cycle by less than one point against progressive activist Jessica Cisneros.

This cycle, though, Cuellar didn’t face a real challenge. Two Republicans are vying in a primary to run against Cuellar in November. But his district leans Democratic and Cuellar easily won the general election in 2022.

Texas delegation response: Several Texas Democrats told us that abortion will be their top issue this cycle, with the state imposing one of the strictest bans in the country.

Texas has banned nearly all abortions and has made it a crime to perform one. This includes selling or dispensing medication to induce an abortion.

Rep. Greg Casar (D-Texas) said he respects Cuellar’s personal views but will continue to promote abortion rights across his state.

“[Cuellar’s] position and mine are different, but I will continue to advocate to him why I think his position should change,” Casar told us. “It’s becoming a bigger and bigger issue, as people started telling me how dangerous the abortion ban is in Texas.”

Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) said abortion is going to be a leading issue in Texas due to how the state has responded to the issue.

“They’ve gone way too far on this issue,” Veasey told us. “It is going to be huge.”

Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) said Cuellar may be one of the last anti-abortion Democrats the party welcomes, especially as the issue continues to dominate the national conversation.

“There’s space [for anti-abortion Democrats], but it’s very small,” Green told us.

The 2020 cycle knocked out two longtime anti-abortion Democrats. Eight-term Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski lost a primary challenge largely due to his opposition to abortion rights. Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, who served in the House for 30 years, lost to GOP Rep. Michelle Fischbach in the general election.

— Mica Soellner

Presented by AARP

AARP knows older voters. 

We’ve made it our business to know what matters to people 50 and over—like we know that protecting Social Security and supporting family caregivers are among their top priorities. Learn more from our polling in Pennsylvania.

Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.