Democrats hope leaked court doc serves as ‘wake up call’ for women’s movement

Democrats were fuming on Tuesday over the leaked draft opinion suggesting the Supreme Court is poised to overturn a landmark abortion rights case, calling it a massive blow to reproductive rights that should sound alarms across the party. 

If Roe v. Wade — the 1973 decision in which the high court ruled that a person’s right to terminate their pregnancy was constitutional — is overturned, Democrats and advocates warn it could lead to more than 20 states with Republican-led legislatures to move to severely restrict access to abortion, forcing pregnant individuals to travel across the country to seek the service.

“It’s on. It’s time to get angry. It’s time to organize but mostly it’s time to tell a coherent story about what Republicans are doing to everyone that is not a straight, white Christian male in this country,” said Democratic strategist Christy Setzer. “Of course this decision could and should change the trajectory of the midterms but only if Democrats decide to run on it as a top priority.” 

“If this doesn’t wake us up, nothing will,” she added. 

Within hours of the Politico report on the draft opinion Monday night, demonstrators flocked to the Supreme Court to protest. Democrat after Democrat released statements decrying the draft decision, which the court confirmed was authentic but which is not yet final, as an assault on women’s rights. 

“I am here because I am angry and I am here because the United States Congress can change all of this,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said in fiery remarks at a protest outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

It had long been viewed as a distinct possibility that the Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, could move to overturn the law as they review a Mississippi abortion case. Indeed, President Biden’s White House said it has been preparing options to respond to such a decision as well as other state attempts to restrict abortion access.

Nevertheless, the leak of the draft decision and its contents sent shockwaves through Washington and around the country. 

Roshni Nedungadi, a partner at HIT Strategies, said she was conducting a focus group of young Democratic voters of color and female voters when the news broke on Monday. 

“It was really a shock to these young base Dem voters, and they were really horrified and really angry and they wanted somewhere to direct that anger,” she said.

An analysis by the Guttmacher Institute found that 13 states have in place so-called “trigger laws” in which near or total bans on abortion would snap into place if the 1973 decision were overturned. Twenty-three states have laws that could be used to restrict abortion access, according to the Guttmacher, which is a pro-abortion research organization.

Sharmin Hossain, campaign director at Liberate Abortion, a coalition of pro-abortion organizations, estimated a decision by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade could lead to abortion restrictions in 28 to 30 states, which she said would disproportionately impact communities of color and poor people in the U.S.

“Rich people will always be able to buy a flight to go to an independent clinic and pay cash for a procedure,” Hossain said.

Still, sociologist Tricia Bruce, who helped spearhead a 2020 University of Notre Dame study on American views of abortion, said that most of the 217 individuals interviewed for the study did not have a full understanding of the state and federal laws surrounding abortion.

“A lot of people are suddenly catching up and finding themselves needing to become more specifically aware of what the laws say and what Roe v. Wade is all about because there was a presumption, I think, that it was not going to change among Americans,” Bruce said. 

Polls show that a majority of Americans support abortion being legal in all or most cases, though there are considerable partisan differences in views on abortion. 

A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in recent weeks and released on Tuesday shows that 54 percent of Americans believe the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision should be upheld, while roughly half of that — 28 percent — say it should be overturned. Eighteen percent expressed no opinion. 

Bruce said that, while there is widespread support among the public for access to abortion, there are nuances to such support. In many cases, Americans want to “draw limits” around that access, Bruce said. In the Notre Dame survey, 61 percent of those who said they were morally opposed to abortion nevertheless said they supported Americans having legal access to abortion in at least some cases, she said. 

The White House and its Democrat allies believe they are in comfortable territory with a majority of Americans backing access to abortion. Biden rebuked the draft opinion as “radical” in comments to reporters. Both the president and Vice President Harris, along with a host of other Democrats, warned of a broader assault on Americans’ rights. 

“It is often shorthanded — not by any of us — but in public discourse as a political issue, as a wedge issue,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday afternoon. “It is not a wedge issue. The majority of the public supports women’s fundamental rights and the people who would be impacted overwhelmingly are lower income and are people of color.”

While Democrats criticized the opinion on Tuesday, Republicans were largely focused on the controversy surrounding the leak of the draft document — which itself represented a stunning breach of the secrecy surrounding the Supreme Court deliberations. 

Meanwhile, Democratic strategist Karen Finney said the leaked opinion provides the “shock to the system people needed.”

“In some ways, it’s good that it leaked,” Finney said. “Our hope is that it is a wake up call for women across America to understand what’s at stake.”

But Finney cautioned that Democrats need to “do the work,” particularly with younger voters.

“The most dangerous thing that Democrats can do is think that it will galvanize, to mobilize people without doing the work. We still have to do the work to make our case about what we will do.”

Biden has seen his support wane among key groups, like younger voters and Black voters, in recent months as his White House has battled inflation and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic amid a war between Russia and Ukraine. There are widespread worries among Democrats about an enthusiasm problem that could contribute to Democrats getting clobbered in the elections in November. 

Setzer said Democrats need to “tell a story about what happens when women lose abortion access, about what happens to the women whose lives are forever changed by a forced pregnancy, and about the children who are born to women who couldn’t provide for them.” 

“Spoiler, they don’t do great,” she added. “It’s an ugly story but don’t shy away from the details.” 

As the cable news networks continued to dissect what the news meant for women, Democrats said they were ready to fight the decision, if it ultimately came down. 

“We’ve had years to prepare for this scenario and failure is not an option,” Democratic strategist Tracy Sefl said. “Years of messaging, years of strategizing, it has all been for this moment. 

Sefl said the responsibility should fall far beyond the pro-choice movement but also on corporations, medical systems, higher education, religious institutions and elected officials. 

“It’s time to be very afraid,” she said. “But this is the moment in our lives to use that fear as fuel for saving women’s lives.”

This story was updated at 10:49 a.m.

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