Rep. Ruben Gallego speaks in Tempe, Arizona.

Rep. Ruben Gallego snags support from abortion-rights group that once backed Kyrsten Sinema

A powerful abortion-rights group is throwing its support behind Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego in the Arizona Senate race after having backed Democratic-turned-independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in her last election.

Reproductive Freedom for All, formerly known as NARAL Pro-Choice America, a key organization that funds candidates who support abortion rights, is officially endorsing Gallego on Wednesday, it said in an announcement first shared with NBC News. 

Gallego announced his run against Sinema in January, after she left the Democratic Party and became an independent late last year. Sinema has not publicized her re-election plans yet, but she has been preparing to run again, including quietly pitching herself to donors, NBC News has reported.

The organization’s move to back Gallego is notable — Reproductive Freedom for All was one of many like-minded groups that endorsed Sinema’s campaign for the Senate in 2018, in which its affiliated super PAC, Women’s Choice, spent over $1.3 million in support. And Sinema has been a reliable vote for abortion rights during her time in Congress. She pledged to maintain that record after she switched party affiliations, and NARAL’s most recent congressional score card, published in 2021, listed her with a 100% record.

But Sinema’s relationship with a number of abortion-rights groups and other Democratic-aligned organizations deteriorated in 2021 after she voted with Republicans against changing Senate rules that would have allowed a simple majority vote to pass Democratic voting rights legislation. Groups including EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Reproductive Freedom for All vowed that they would not support her if she ran again. Last year, Reproductive Freedom for All changed its endorsement criteria to support only senators who would vote to adopt rules changes to pass voting rights legislation, making Sinema ineligible for its backing.

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“The stakes in Arizona have never been higher, and electing a reproductive freedom champion into this seat is essential for protecting and advancing our constitutional rights, not only for Arizonans but for all Americans,” the group’s president and CEO, Mini Timmaraju, said in a statement. “This is why we are thrilled to make this endorsement our first as Reproductive Freedom for All.”  

Gallego said in a statement, “Reproductive Freedom for All is leading the charge to protect abortion rights across America — including right here in Arizona — and I am honored to have them on our team.”

He said he would “be an unwavering defender of reproductive rights in the U.S. Senate.”

Abortion is set to be one of the chief issues in the 2024 election, including in Arizona, a swing state where abortion is banned after 15 weeks of gestation. The state rejected anti-abortion candidates in the 2022 midterms, including candidates like Republican Kari Lake, who lost her bid for governor and filed papers Monday to run for the Senate.

The choice to back Gallego over a pro-abortion-rights incumbent is another example of how fractured Sinema’s relationship with key Democratic allies has become since she won in 2018. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which backs Democratic incumbents and has previously backed Democratic-aligned independents in some races, have yet to make endorsements in a race they see as crucial to keeping control of the Senate. There are 22 Democrats up for re-election next year, and if Sinema chooses to run again, some Democrats worry, a three-way race could divide the party’s base. Republicans need to net one seat and the presidency to control a 50-50 Senate or two seats to win the chamber outright.

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“We have a chance to win back the House of Representatives, re-elect the president, but the important third factor is ensuring that we have a Senate majority that will move to codify the legal right to abortion nationwide,” Ryan Stitzlen, Reproductive Freedom For All’s vice president of political and governmental relations, said in an interview.

“Senator Sinema has not indicated whether or not she’s running for re-election, but from our minds right now, the only candidate in this race and the only candidate that’s been talked about in this race that we can trust and we know will support working to get the legal right to abortion codified in this country is Gallego,” Stitzlen continued. “And so that’s why we’re excited to throw our support behind him.” 

Sinema’s office did not reply to a request for comment.

Kate Santaliz

Kate Santaliz is a researcher for NBC News’ Capitol Hill team.