Kelly Halldorson is not going to be the next governor of New Hampshire—which may be why, when she shares her abortion story publicly for the first time—it doesn’t sound like a campaign ad.
A 49-year-old mom of three grown children who’s battling multiple myeloma while running as one of two Libertarian gubernatorial candidates in the state of “Live Free or Die,” Halldorson tells me an unremarkable story about getting pregnant when it wasn’t the right time.
“It was a personal choice,” she said of the abortion she had in the early 1990s. “It was very early, like six to eight weeks, not that I think that necessarily matters—but I think that’s a detail that people would want to know.”
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade in June, Democrats spent twice as much money on ads involving abortion as any other issue, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight. Many of these ads revolve around abortion sought for one of two reasons: brutal rape or a tragic medical complication during a wanted pregnancy. Democratic South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Joe Cunningham ran an ad about a 12-year-old who sought an abortion after she was raped by two men; a Democratic ad in Arizona featured a woman who had an abortion at 14 while in an abusive relationship; Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate Mandela Barnes ran an ad about his mother’s abortion due to health risks; Representative Cori Bush ran one about her abortion after being raped at 17. These are the kinds of story that might provoke sympathy even from anti-abortion voters. Halldorson admits that her story isn’t one of those. Her abortion was one of the more common kind—one she chose because of timing, not because of a tragic circumstance. Nor was it easy; she says she struggled with it emotionally afterward.
“Here’s the biggest thing: I think that the more women that can openly speak about having had an abortion, or about making a choice to have an abortion, the more that it can help other women,” Halldorson said. “I wish that there could be more openness in discussing it.”
Halldorson’s motivation for telling her story is tied to the unusual politics of libertarian-minded New Hampshire—a rural state known for its lack of sales and income taxes—and to the inner workings of the Libertarian Party, which in recent years has seen a takeover by the alt-right. New Hampshire is in the national spotlight because of its closely watched Senate race between Democratic incumbent Maggie Hassan and Trump-backed GOP challenger Don Bolduc—known for abruptly dropping his claims that the 2020 election was stolen after he’d won his primary. In the state’s governor’s race, incumbent Republican Governor Chris Sununu faces Democratic challenger, Tom Sherman, who has hammered Sununu for signing a 24-week abortion ban in 2021 after Sununu had publicly said he didn’t plan to change the state’s abortion laws. (New Hampshire, with its libertarian streak, has had relatively few abortion restrictions.)
Meanwhile, Halldorson’s fellow Libertarian and the New Hampshire Libertarian Party’s official candidate, Karlyn Borysenko, is a self-described former Democrat who then briefly became a Republican. Her rhetoric at times sounds close to the extreme right of the Republican Party; she’s known for writing a book called Actively Unwoke and for promising to put a camera in every public school classroom in order to catch teachers who break the state’s ban on teaching “critical race theory.” Borysenko is directing anyone who supports her campaign to donate to Libertarian New Hampshire Senate candidate Jeremy Kauffman, who is known for his repugnant tweets and sits on the board of the Free State Project—a campaign to get “free-staters” to move to New Hampshire to try to convert it into a libertarian bastion.
Libertarians have been historically known for pushing conservative economic policies while supporting liberal social issues. But as Jeet Heer has written, the hard-right Mises Caucus, with which Kauffman and Borysenko are aligned, won control of the national party at its convention in May. Borysenko’s website says she is pro-choice but “also not in favor of using abortion as birth control or in late-term or post-birth abortions,” a nod to the right-wing myth that some abortions happen at or after birth; she’s tweeted support for anti-abortion groups. In response to a request for comment, Borysenko wrote via Twitter, “I’m the most pro life candidate in the race because I would support a bill at 15 weeks with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.” She added, “As a woman who has been raped, I understand the necessity of having the right to choose. However, I also believe abortion is a sad thing and that safe, legal and rare should return. I find the Democratic party’s celebration of abortion to be personally sickening and I do believe there should be limits that allow us to compromise while still retaining our humanity.”
In May, the Libertarian Party deleted its plank supporting abortion rights, opening space for candidates like Borysenko. When asked how she squares her anti-abortion position with libertarianism, Borysenko reponded, “The official platform of the Libertarian party is completely silent on this issue. We voted to remove the abortion plank from the party platform in May. So any Libertarian who says this is contrary is wrong because the party takes no position.”
That vote angered Halldorson, who says it was antithetical to the Libertarian position. The cooptation of her party by figures like Kauffman inspired Halldorson to get involved in Libertarian Party politics and, ultimately, to run for office.
Before that, Halldorson homeschooled her children while living out of a school bus she called the “Unschool Bus” and helped draw attention to Libertarian Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign by walking from Dover to Concord carrying a Ron Paul sign. She hopes telling her abortion story might help her win 4 percent of votes on Tuesday’s ballot, so that Libertarians will be a recognized party in the state with a primary; if there had been one this election cycle, she might have been able to defeat Borysenko. If Halldorson can become the candidate who gets that 4 percent, it might give her more sway within a party that’s tilting far to the right, a shift she sees as counter to her own iteration of Libertarian politics—one that she says focuses less on eviscerating social programs than on personal choice.
“The Libertarian platform used to be pro-choice on everything,” she said.