For decades, the contentious issue of abortion rights has motivated American voters from both parties. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to overturn the 1973 decision guaranteeing women a constitutional right to abortion could have a defining impact on upcoming congressional midterm elections, when Democrats attempt to hold on to their narrow edge in the U.S. House and Senate.
Midterm elections traditionally do not drive voter turnout in the same numbers as presidential elections. But recent polling suggests the overturn of the nearly 50-year-old law could motivate voters.
A May poll from American news network CBS found that 40% of Democratic voters said they would be more likely to vote if Roe v. Wade was overturned. Forty-eight percent of Democratic voters said in a May Monmouth University poll that they were basing their vote on candidates’ positions on abortion rights.
In the hours after the decision was handed down, sending the issue of legalizing abortion back to the state level, U.S. Democratic lawmakers warned this was just the beginning of the fight over reproductive rights.
“We need to restore the protections of Roe as law of the land. We need to elect officials who will do that. This fall, Roe is on the ballot. Personal freedoms are on the ballot,” U.S. President Joe Biden said Friday.
A Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted after Friday’s announcement found 40% of the American public strongly disapprove of the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and leave abortion laws up to states.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump was elected partly on the strength of his campaign promise to nominate Supreme Court justices who opposed abortion rights. In a 2016 debate with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Trump said, “I am putting pro-life justices on the court — it will go back to the states.”
He eventually nominated three Supreme Court associate justices — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. All three told lawmakers in their confirmation hearings that Roe v. Wade was the settled law of the land. All three were confirmed and eventually overturned the law, becoming the key votes in the decision.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Friday the overturn of Roe v. Wade was the direct result of the election of Trump and warned that Trump’s “Make America Great Again” wing of the Republican Party would result in further loss of reproductive rights if voters were not careful.
“Elect more MAGA Republicans if you want nationwide abortion bans, the jailing of women and doctors, and no exemptions for rape or incest. Or elect more pro-choice Democrats to save Roe and protect a woman’s right to make their own decisions about their body, not politicians,” Schumer said at a press conference in New York.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned Friday that if Republicans gained control of Congress in November, they would move to even more serious action.
“Republicans are plotting a nationwide abortion ban. They cannot be allowed to have a majority in the Congress to do that. But that’s their goal. This is deadly serious,” Pelosi said.
But outside the Supreme Court on Friday, 23-year-old abortion rights supporter Anabelle (whose last name was withheld by request), told VOA that electoral politics was not the solution.
“Even if we codify Roe, it’s pretty clear the Supreme Court is just going to rule it unconstitutional. So, I think in theory, Roe is on the ballot. In reality, it would require 60 Democratic senators who are willing to actually take action on cracking the code on ending the filibuster on making sure that this is here to stay,” she said.
Various public opinion polls show that about 70% of Americans support legalized abortion in some form. But some analysts say the Democratic Party needs to do a better job of developing an action plan.
“There is this sort of fantasy of the apathetic, young voter who won’t turn up for midterms,” Sarah Clarke Kaplan, director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, told VOA. “But I think that really one of the things that we’ve seen in years is that actually what affects the turnout of young voters is how much they feel they are represented by the progressive bent of the Democratic Party.”
She added, “We’re going to have to first see on the level of political parties a kind of progressive actionable stance around what the Democratic Party’s response plans to be for maintaining access to abortion for young people and for all people.”
On the Republican side, the path forward is clearer. On Friday, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise said the overturn of Roe v. Wade was the result of decades of hard work but added, “The work just begins now to go and protect life even more, because the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, correcting that flawed decision, finally allows states and Congress to protect life in ways that we never were able to for the last 50 years.”
Anna Lulis, a digital engagement strategist for Students for Life of America, said outside the Supreme Court on Friday that this is the right approach.
“I think it’s super important to push pro-life legislation. What you’re going to see with a post-Roe America is probably a polarization among the states. You’re going to have some states ban abortion, and then you’re going to have some states probably push radical pro-abortion laws. So, what we need to do, and what we hope to do, is go to those states, those radical pro-abortion laws, and educate them about the issue of abortion. But also, and hopefully, encourage them to push, eventually, pro-life legislation by cultivating a culture of life,” Lulis said.