Mellman: The Roe effect

Protesters are seen outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday, May 3, 2022 after the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito preparing for the court to overturn Roe v. Wade later this year.
Greg Nash
Protesters are seen outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday, May 3, 2022 after the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito preparing for the court to overturn Roe v. Wade later this year.

After the Supreme Court’s radical draft opinion revoking Roe v. Wade was released, Washington Post headline writers opined that it would “deepen America’s divide.” 

In fact, we are relatively united on the key point at issue here: Americans overwhelmingly want Roe to remain what Justice Neil Gorsuch called “the law of the land.” Few support overruling it. 

On average, the last five Fox News Polls say 63 percent of Americans want to let Roe v. Wade “stand,” while only a relatively small 28 percent believe “the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade.” 

The last several ABC/Washington Post polls reached the same conclusion, as did a recent series of Quinnipiac polls which found 64 percent agreeing with Roe and just 28 percent disagreeing with the court’s holding in the case. 

A series of Kaiser Family Foundation polls found opposition to overturning Roe at 66 percent, while only 29 percent supported the action the Court seems primed to take.  

Justice Samuel Alito’s patently false assertion to the contrary notwithstanding, Roe has not divided the country. Rather, it is his opinion overturning the decision that is stoking division — dividing a clear and substantial pro-Roe majority from a small, anti-Roe minority.  

That is not to say that there are not divisions over abortion policies in this country. There are. But those divisions are not over whether the freedom granted by Roe should be law. 

A second principle at stake here, around which there is also broad consensus, concerns who should make abortion decisions. 

ABC-Washington Post polling has found fewer than a quarter of Americans “think the decision whether or not a woman can have an abortion should be regulated by law.”  

By contrast, more than 70 percent believe the decision “should be left to the woman and her doctor.” 

Alito’s opinion attacks both these widely supported principles.  

The draft decision overturns Roe despite overwhelming support for it and strips women of the right to make these deeply personal decisions, transferring it to politicians instead, even though politicians are about the last people Americans want to entrust with these matters. 

If this decision is adopted, there will be consequences for both the GOP and the Court. 

Pro-choice messaging achieved political prominence after Doug Wilder’s (D) 1989 victory in the Virginia governor’s race, as analysts concluded it eclipsed race as the contest’s dominant issue (Wilder was Virginia’s first, and still only, Black governor.) 

In its preelection preview, The New York Times reported, “Virginia pollsters and politicians say the abortion issue may be just what Mr. Wilder needed to defuse the race issue … Mr. Coleman’s [the GOP candidate] strategists concede that the issue has hurt them and say that otherwise they would be comfortably ahead.” 

But for decades the issue has been somewhat inert politically because voters saw no realistic threat to the right to choose.  

As recently as last year, just 35 percent thought it was likely Roe could be overturned. Pre-Trump, the numbers were even lower. 

That calculus has already been dramatically altered. The threat is here and it’s real, and the fact will be evident before the election. 

The pro-Roe majority will be both unwavering and motivated.  

The Supreme Court will also face consequences. Recent Republican appointees knowingly and purposely misled the Senate about their views on Roe. Had they not done so, they may not have been seated on the Court.  

Americans now know that Supreme Court justices are not paragons of honesty and virtue, but liars and prevaricators, willing to say anything to achieve their personal and ideological ambitions.  

By slapping two-thirds of the country in the face, the Court will have sacrificed its legitimacy at a time when restoring it may be crucial to preserving democracy.  

If — and it still is a big if — the U.S. slides further away from democracy, Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett will go down in history as handmaidens of America’s decline.  

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for over 20 years, as president of the American Association of Political Consultants, and is president of Democratic Majority for Israel. 

Tags Abortion abortion rights Neil Gorsuch Roe v. Wade Samuel Alito Supreme Court

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