Marilyn Lands, Who Ran on IVF and Abortion Issue, Hopeful After Alabama Win

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

Marilyn Lands has just won the special election for Alabama House District 10 by a whopping 25 percentage points—in a district where she, a Democrat who speaks openly about having an abortion, was a startling break from the status quo. She could be basking in the glow of her victory or out celebrating with the family and friends who attended her watch party last night. But Lands is already looking toward the future.

“It gives me a lot of hope for this state in 2026,” she said Wednesday in an interview from her home in Huntsville. “I hope that this will be the start of us winning some more seats in 2026 and really beginning to break that [Republican] super majority.”

Lands, 65, is a mother and licensed mental health counselor who, infuriated with Alabama’s decision to outlaw abortion and briefly ban IVF, decided to run a campaign in the deep South focused heavily on reproductive rights.

The race was state-level, in an off year, and will likely do little to change the balance of power in the Alabama legislature, where Republicans have a supermajority. But she is not the only one who thinks it is a harbinger of things to come.

“Tonight’s victory is a political earthquake in Alabama,” declared Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee President Heather Williams in a statement Tuesday night. “Republicans across the country have been put on notice that there are consequences to attacks on IVF.

The Biden campaign, meanwhile, called the victory a “clear message” to Donald Trump and “extreme MAGA Republicans,” claiming Alabama voters know “exactly who’s to blame for restricting their ability to decide how and when to build their families and they’re ready to fight back."

Though her rival criticized her for it on the campaign trail, Lands thinks the national attention is more than warranted.

“I think our state has made this about national politics,” she said. “When Alabama implemented the [abortion] trigger law here, we saw that spread to other states very fast. I am now afraid that other things we've done here—the IVF ruling, contraception…” She trails off, then interrupts herself: “I don’t want this to be Alabama’s legacy.”

This is Lands’ first time on a national stage but not the campaign trail. She ran for this same seat two years ago against Republican David Cole. The district—an affluent, educated suburb in northern Alabama, encompassing parts of Madison and Huntsville—had been trending purple since 2020, when Donald Trump took it by just 1 percent of the vote and Democratic Sen. Doug Jones won by 5 percent. Lands came close to flipping the House seat, but lost to Cole by just 7 percentage points.

Then, in August, Cole pleaded guilty to felony voter fraud and was forced to resign his seat, teeing up a special election.

“I didn’t even have to make a decision when the special election was announced,” Lands said. “I knew I was gonna run.”

Lands focused her previous campaign on education, health care, and economic issues, but she knew this campaign had to be about reproductive rights. Alabama has one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, with no exception for rape or incest, and women have been denied the procedure even for fatal fetal anomalies.

In February, the state Supreme Court sided with two families who lost embryos in an IVF clinic accident, assigning refrigerated embryos some of the same rights as children and causing three major clinics to temporarily halt all IVF procedures. State lawmakers have since passed legislation to protect patients and providers from prosecution, but Lands believes it does not go far enough.

Instead of hiding her disagreement with the political status quo in Alabama, Lands highlighted it, foregrounding reproductive rights in her speeches, campaign literature, and one-on-one conversations with voters. Earlier this month, she filmed a television ad with a young woman named Alyssa Gonzales, who was forced to drive 10 hours out of state to terminate a non-viable pregnancy that was threatening her health. In the ad, Lands revealed that she had received an abortion for a similar diagnosis 20 years earlier, but was able to have the procedure in her own state. “It’s shameful that today women have fewer freedoms than I had two decades ago,” she said in the ad.

Her opponent, Madison City Council member Teddy Powell, took the opposite stance, avoiding conversation about abortion whenever possible. He declined to state his own position on the issue in an interview with The Washington Post, saying, “The law is what the law is.” Asked about the IVF issue, he said it had been “fixed.”

In an interview with Politico this week, he accused Lands of making their competition into a “national race,” instead of focusing on local issues.

“It’s certainly an issue that needs to be dealt with, but not our top issue,” Powell said of reproductive rights. “I don’t think that this is the issue that wins or loses the race.”

Clearly, he was wrong. But Lands says she would not have regretted her decision to spotlight reproductive rights even if the race had turned out differently.

“I felt like whether I won or lost, this was too important of an issue not to stand up for,” she said. “I really have been at peace with that decision. I have not regretted it.”

She added that her focus on reproductive rights connected her with voters in ways she didn’t expect. “Some of them have told me, ‘I haven’t spoken of this in 30 years,’ or, ‘Nobody but my family knows, but I wanna tell you,’” she said.

“I think we have this dialogue going on that’s a very healthy thing,” she added. “I’m hoping that that will help people be able to talk more about these issues.”

Lands knows that getting her way in the Republican-dominated legislature is a longshot. But she said she’ll continue pushing to repeal the abortion ban, while championing issues like Medicaid expansion, investing in mental health, and supporting public schools.

In the long run, she said, she wants to focus on changing the makeup of the state legislature in 2026, and on encouraging other women to run for office in the South.

“I feel like this [race] has been a real victory for women [and] families,” she said. “We have sent a message that the people are ready for change. And I am ready to get down to Montgomery and be the start of some positive change for this state.”

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