With the Supreme Court poised to decide a major abortion case in Mississippi and refusing to intervene against a new Texas law that borders on repealing Roe v. Wade, the issue of abortion rights will take center stage in the 2022 midterm elections.
To understand the political power of the issue, it is important to know the difference between laws and court decisions that create some restrictions against abortion, versus those that involve a total repeal of Roe v. Wade.
The new Texas law effectively bars abortions after six weeks, and allows any citizen from any state to file a civil lawsuit against any person who helps a pregnant woman obtain an abortion there. The range of potential defendants who could be sued is virtually universal, from medical clinics on down.
This law comes perilously close to a repeal of Roe v. Wade in practice, and the Supreme Court, by refusing to accept the legal request of abortion rights advocates to halt execution of the law until it could be litigated in court, has essentially given its approval without requiring formal court proceedings and legal arguments from both sides.
The Mississippi law that is pending before the Supreme Court prohibits abortions at 15 weeks, and would give the court the formal opportunity to render a decision that outright repeals Roe v. Wade.
Given the strictness of the two abortion laws, the coming debate before the midterm elections will be between supporters of abortion rights and pro-life opponents advocating a decisive reversal of Roe v. Wade.
In this debate many legal analysts and those with deep passions on both sides of the issue believe there is a significant chance that Roe v. Wade will be reversed, or scaled back so dramatically that it will be the equivalent of a reversal, by a Supreme Court majority of 5-4 or 6-3 in today’s strongly conservative court.
Considered the high odds of such a far-reaching decision, the issue is poised to work to the advantage of Democrats in the midterms. Polls show a strong majority of voters believe Roe should not be repealed; a recent Gallup poll suggests 58 percent of voters oppose overturning Roe while 32 percent support it. Opposition to overturning Roe could mobilize high voter turnout from these voters, including suburban women who are essential to helping Democrats maintain and potentially expand their control of the House and Senate.
This issue will improve Democratic prospects in House elections in key swing districts. It will also have an important impact in Senate races, escalating the public discussion of the chamber’s role in moving the Supreme Court to opinions that are not supported by the majority of all voters.
Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the House of Representatives.