Abortion rights take centre stage in US midterm election year

Democratic politicians expect a pending Supreme Court decision regarding Roe v Wade to prompt their voters to ‘rise up’ and ‘fight’.

Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks during a protest outside the US Supreme Court
Senator Elizabeth Warren joined protesters outside the US Supreme Court on Tuesday after a leaked draft opinion showed justices poised to overturn a landmark decision that legalised abortion nationwide [Alex Brandon/AP Photo]

A preliminary decision by the United States Supreme Court to reverse its landmark Roe v Wade decision that legalised abortion in 1973 is sending tremors through US politics and giving Democratic politicians a new rallying cry ahead of November’s elections.

Democrats, who have been trailing Republicans in public opinion, suddenly have a clear, unifying message that will resonate with millions of women and men.

“I’m madder than hell and ready to fight,” Senator Elizabeth Warren told a cheering crowd of several thousand protesters in front of the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

“I lived in an America where women faced the devastating consequences of not having an abortion,” said Warren, a leading Democrat. “We are not going back.”

Katie McDevitt of Washington, nurses her 6-week-old baby Declan, as they join demonstrators protesting outside of the US Supreme Court.
Thousands of women demonstrated outside of the US Supreme Court on Tuesday, including Katie McDevitt of Washington, DC, who brought her 6-week-old baby [Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo]

The high court’s draft decision is not final, but if the court’s final vote mirrors the leaked draft, laws in about two dozen US states banning or sharply restricting abortions would be allowed to go into force.

Democrats expect that will animate their voters – especially young people, people of colour and suburban women, who have been disappointed by a lack of progress on issues they care about.

Republicans, meanwhile, are struggling to contain their excitement at the prospect of winning a decades-long fight, even as they suggest Democrats are exaggerating the likely real-world effect of a Roe reversal.

While the political fallout will take months to settle, this much is clear: Rarely in the modern era has a Supreme Court case had the potential to so dramatically reshape American life and politics.

Demonstrators march down the streets after protesting outside the US Court
Demonstrators march down the streets after protesting outside the US Court in Los Angeles [Ringo HW Chiu/AP Photo]

“I hope that women across this country are going to rise up and realise this isn’t theoretical any more,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat.

Republicans have been fighting to ban abortion since before the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe ruling, but on Tuesday many offered only modest estimates of the political effect of a decision eliminating the legal guarantee of the procedure.

The draft ruling, which is not final, would become the law of the land only after a formal announcement, which is expected in June. Privately, Republican strategists have worried that overturning Roe ahead of the election could trigger an anti-Republican backlash.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, acknowledged that a sweeping change in the nation’s abortion laws might help Democrats in November, but suggested the election would depend more on the state of the economy.

“They will have an issue to talk about. We will have an issue to talk about,” Graham said of Roe being overturned. “I think it will be a new issue, particularly at the state level, but I think most people, quite honestly, are not single-issue voters.”

Senator Lindsey Graham
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, says Republicans will focus on other issues in November’s election besides abortion [Greg Nash/Pool Photo via AP]

But a Roe reversal would serve as a galvanizing force for key segments of President Joe Biden’s coalition, giving Democrats a clear message for the midterm elections, a White House adviser told The Associated Press.

A change in law on abortion, however, might not be enough on its own to overcome political headwinds come November, said the adviser, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the White House’s internal thinking.

More often than not, the party that controls the White House suffers losses in the first congressional elections of a new presidency. And Biden’s popularity remains weak.

Senator Rick Scott, chairman of the Republican Senate campaign arm, signalled Republicans will seek to turn the election on voters’ views about the economy and direction of the country under Biden.

Abortion “is an important issue to many people, but so is inflation, so is crime, so is the border”, Scott said.

Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Maggie Hassan, among the nation’s most vulnerable Democrats, seized on the issue as critical in their upcoming elections.

“Do not underestimate what this decision would mean for women in Nevada and across the country,” Cortez Masto said in an interview.

“If this court issues a ruling to overturn Roe vs Wade, it will enrage women across the country who have lived for the last almost 50 years the right to choose.”

From New Hampshire, Hassan said the leaked opinion clarifies the stakes this fall for voters in her state and beyond.

She called a potential Roe reversal “devastating to women all across New Hampshire, all across the country and for all people who really believe in our individual freedoms”.

The focus on abortion rights will offer a sharp contrast with her Republican opponents, whom Hassan described as “extremists” on the issue.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies