Abortion rights groups push to turn anger into action

·4-min read
FILE PHOTO: Students and others protest for abortion rights in New York City

By Joseph Ax

(Reuters) - In the days after a draft leaked showing the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to strike down Roe v. Wade and a national right to abortion, the left-wing group MoveOn doubled its weekly fundraising. A Michigan effort to place abortion rights on the ballot gained more than 13,000 new volunteer sign-ups.

And on Saturday, hundreds of thousands of protesters are expected to attend more than 300 rallies in a coordinated nationwide demonstration.

The news that the court's conservative majority appears set to reverse its 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide has galvanized Democrats, raising the party's hopes that the anger on display can be carried into November's midterm elections.

"This is Trump-era energy," said Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn, which is helping to organize Saturday's marches.

But with inflation still close to record highs and President Joe Biden's approval ratings underwater, reproductive rights organizations and liberal groups face daunting headwinds in trying to convert that surge of enthusiasm into electoral victories.

Republican strategists remain convinced their party is well positioned to retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives. They note Texas Republicans won several special elections, including flipping a Democratic state legislative seat, last November, months after passing a virtual ban on abortions.

In the days since the leak, Republican candidates have largely sought to refocus attention on issues they see as winners: inflation, crime, immigration and Biden's sagging approval ratings.

"Democrats are desperate to talk about anything but the record-high gas prices, rising crime and border crisis their policies have caused," said Michael McAdams, a spokesperson for the Republican Party's congressional campaign arm.

Activists say the looming Supreme Court decision will mobilize abortion rights voters in a way that previous warnings about Roe have not. About half of U.S. states could ban or severely restrict abortion soon after a ruling vacating Roe.

"They know that they're out of step with voters," Kelley Robinson, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said of Republicans. "They are trying to run away from the positions that they've taken."

BUILDING MOMENTUM

Planned Parenthood Action Fund, NARAL Pro-Choice America and EMILY's List have already announced a $150 million elections campaign. Robinson said the money would help fund door-to-door canvassing, phone banking, local organizing and advertising.

Women's March, another one of Saturday's organizers, said research has shown that 80% of attendees at past marches have been new to the movement, offering a fresh pool of potential volunteers and activists going forward.

"The march is the part of the iceberg you can see," said Rachel O'Leary Carmona, the group's executive director.

MoveOn is planning to invest $30 million in its election program. The organization is determining which Senate and U.S. House races to target and has commissioned polling to help shape its message, Epting said.

"The GOP (Republican Party) has overplayed its hand here," she said. "It's quite possibly the thing that will change the dynamic heading into this election cycle. We are hell-bent on making sure they pay a price."

Overturning Roe has been an aspiration for the conservative movement for decades, but abortion rights advocates pointed to polls showing that most Americans oppose reversing the landmark ruling.

It remains unclear, however, whether voters will prioritize reproductive rights over pocketbook issues.

"Clearly, abortion will be the most important issue to some voters," said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who advised Senator Marco Rubio's 2016 presidential campaign. "But for the vast majority of voters, they wake up each morning thinking about the cost of gas, the safety of their neighborhoods and their jobs."

Reproductive rights groups and Democrats said they will drive home the need to prevail at the state level, where the fight over abortion will play out in legislatures if Roe is overturned.

The messaging focus this fall will be on framing the Supreme Court's decision as part of a broader Republican assault on democracy, including voting rights, they said.

"We've got to remind folks that this didn't happen by accident," Robinson said. "It happened because the opposition has been packing the courts, they've been gerrymandering the states, they've been suppressing our vote, and we've got to put different people in office that will reflect the will of the people."

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Lisa Shumaker)

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