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With the Supreme Court apparently primed to overturn Roe v. Wade, the issue of abortion is being hotly contested six months before midterm elections that will decide whether Democrats can maintain their narrow control of Congress.
Democratic leaders used the news of Roe’s impending reversal, which came from a leaked draft opinion that was made public last week, to make the case for abortion rights — and for keeping their party in power to prevent abortion from being banned.
“It will fall on voters to elect more pro-choice officials this November,” President Biden wrote in a statement responding to the draft’s publication. “We need more pro-choice Senators and a pro-choice majority in the House to adopt legislation that codifies Roe.”
Though the reversal of Roe would be the culmination of decades of efforts by the GOP, national Republicans have generally avoided discussing future abortion restrictions, focusing instead on the leak itself, which some characterized as an “assault” on the independence of the Supreme Court.
If Roe is overturned, abortion policies would shift to the states. Abortion would quickly become illegal in as many as 26 states — including a number that have “trigger” laws that would automatically ban all abortions the moment protections provided by Roe are lifted. Other states would still be free to maintain or expand abortion access, unless Republicans in Congress and a future White House succeed in outlawing abortion federally, which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said may happen.
Why there’s debate
There’s little doubt that Democrats are more closely aligned with public opinion on abortion. Polls consistently show a strong majority of Americans support at least some access to abortion nationwide. There’s debate, however, over how much the sudden emergence of the issue will shift trends that most forecasters say were leading toward substantial gains by Republicans in the November midterms.
Some Democratic pollsters are hopeful that the party can use the intense focus on abortion rights to energize its base after a disappointing 18 months that have been muddied by COVID, inflation and an ongoing stalemate in the Senate that prevented the bulk of Biden’s legislative agenda from becoming law. It’s possible, they argue, that the shock of Roe’s repeal will motivate key demographics — particularly suburban women and young voters — to turn out at levels that helped lead Democrats to big wins in 2018 and 2020.
Skepticism of this theory comes from a number of directions. Conservatives generally argue that voters aren’t likely to make their decisions based on a single issue when there are so many other major problems facing the country. Many on the left are also doubtful that voters trust Democrats to defend abortion when the party can’t accomplish that right now, despite having a majority in both houses of Congress. Some nonpartisan experts believe the issue of reproductive rights could give Democrats a small boost, but not enough to overcome the political headwinds and structural disadvantages they face heading into the midterms.
Roe v. Wade will remain the law of the land until the court’s final ruling is released, likely sometime in early summer.
The end of Roe could serve as a wakeup call for complacent Democratic voters
“When you already control the White House, what’s your motivation for showing up and voting in a midterm election? Suddenly the Democrats have that motivation.” — Reid Wilson, The Hill
Democrats overestimate how much the issue of abortion rights will mobilize voters
“Abortion is not the powerful political issue the Left thinks it is. … Guess what? The pro-life politicians keep winning elections, especially at the state level and even when abortion becomes a major national issue.” — Editorial, Washington Examiner
There are simply far more Americans who support abortion rights than oppose them
“Roe infuriated pro-life Americans and made pro-choice Americans complacent. Republican candidates could use the issue to rile up their base without risking an electoral backlash. But if Roe goes down, Americans who want to keep abortion legal will have to vote that way. And those Americans are a political majority.” — William Saletan, Bulwark
Pro-choice voters won’t believe they can trust Democrats to defend abortion rights
“No Democrat has a plan to break the filibuster, but the coming Senate belly-flop will confirm a truth that depresses Democratic voters: The chance to save Roe came and went six years ago. All of this is less complicated than the politics of abortion bans, and all can be fodder for Republicans.” — David Weigel, Washington Post
Democrats’ many failures will overshadow abortion in November
“Mr. Biden can’t fix inflation and other big problems by November, so the party figures it may as well campaign against the high court. But sooner or later, Democrats are going to need to perform that autopsy. Or risk longer-term decline.” — Kimberley A. Strassel, Wall Street Journal
If Roe is knocked down, the GOP will lose a major rallying issue for its base
“For a segment of the right, abortion goes away as a galvanizing issue. And now the left has a galvanizing issue. You take a galvanizing issue off the table [for the GOP], you give it to the other side.” — Sarah Longwell, Republican strategist, to NBC News
Voters who are most upset about Roe’s repeal already back Democrats
“What’s tricky about this is that the people who are most in favor of abortion rights are college-educated, and while those people have backed Democrats in recent elections, they are far from a majority of the electorate. For abortion to make a big difference in the election, you’d need to see other groups of voters shifting back toward Democrats on this issue.” — Geoffrey Skelley, FiveThirtyEight
Democrats must convert anger into organizing
“They have their rallying cry. But whether the energy will last — and turn around a widely expected congressional shellacking six months from now — depends on whether Democrats can go beyond protests and move toward the kind of electoral organizing that has made pro-life groups so successful.” — Julianna Goldman, Bloomberg
Democrats will scare off independents by going too far to the left on abortion
“While it's possible to imagine scenarios in which the Democrats took advantage of widespread anger against the high court's actions to give them an edge in the upcoming midterm elections, the party isn't following that path. On the contrary, Democratic officeholders and candidates are staking out positions just as far out of the mainstream as Republicans seeking to ban abortion outright at the state level.” — Damon Linker, The Week
Voters will turn out to stop further attacks on abortion rights by Republicans
“The anticipated opinion comes as legislatures move to eviscerate abortion rights in more than half the states (including Missouri), while Republicans are poised to win Congress in the midterms, amid talk of outlawing abortion nationally. If this doesn’t serve as a wakeup call to Democrats and other pro-choice Americans to finally get organized and engaged, it’s difficult to imagine what would.” — Editorial, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
The true impact of Roe’s repeal will be seen in state and local races
“Roe v. Wade likely won’t produce a dramatic national shift in Democrats’ favor ahead of the midterm elections, [but] I do believe that Democrats have an opportunity in state-level races — especially in battlegrounds like Pennsylvania, Arizona and Michigan — to put abortion on the ballot, given that abortion rights will now be a state-level decision.” — Douglas Schoen, San Bernardino Sun
The end of Roe could be a rallying cry for the Republican base
“Republicans will be able to say that they delivered on their promises to the anti-abortion movement after decades of investment. They focused on appointing judges amenable to overturning Roe and building power at the state level to ensure that they could ban abortion in those places if it ever became a possibility. … And even Republicans who don’t like Trump would have to concede that overturning Roe wouldn’t be possible without him.” — Nicole Narea, Vox
There’s really no way to know how voters will respond to the end of Roe
“I think the reality is because we haven’t had these kinds of debates in so long, they are — even by the standards of our unpredictable politics — really hard to predict. … To some extent, we’re just going to have to see what happens without having any recent analogies to tell us what’s likely to take place.” — Ross Douthat, New York Times
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