Abortion ruling roils race for the White House, Senate

Greg Nash

The Supreme Court’s bombshell ruling in favor of abortion rights is charging up activists on both sides of the debate as they fight for control of the White House and the Senate. 

Advocates are calling Monday’s 5-3 ruling a clarifying moment, highlighting what’s at stake in the race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

{mosads}Republicans are refusing to consider President Obama’s nominee to the court, Merrick Garland, instead arguing the ninth justice should be chosen by his successor.

That means that a Democrat in the White House could push the court even further to the left on abortion rights — a frightening prospect for conservatives after Monday’s ruling, which overturned some of the nation’s toughest rules for abortion clinics.

“It’s a bad day, but an ideal argument that voters can make all the difference, and they will make all the difference,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the campaign-focused group Susan B. Anthony’s List, said in an interview.   

Conservatives like Dannenfelser say their defeat in court will give them an advantage over abortion-rights supporters at the polls in November.

“They have everything to lose, we have everything to gain,” she said.

Democrats say the momentum is on their side, noting that the victory in the Texas abortion case came “even without [the court’s] full roster of justices,” as Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) put it. 

The leaders of the Democratic National Committee and the House Democratic Caucus both issued statements Monday praising the ruling and urging voters to turn out in November.

“This decision reaffirms what we’ve been saying, that this is the most important election of our lifetime,” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told reporters Monday. 

“I believe it makes it more of a rallying cry,” Hogue added. “People understand that this is just the beginning.” 

The decision, which was released on the final day of the justices’ 2016 term, was the court’s biggest abortion ruling in two decades and came down just as the starting bell sounds in the general election face-off between Clinton and Trump.

In the 5-3 opinion, the court said that Texas had placed an “undue burden” on abortion access by requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. The law also required abortion clinics to meet the stricter standards of hospital-style ambulatory surgical centers.

Abortion is emerging as a top campaign issue at a challenging time for Republicans.

The GOP is defending 24 Senate seats in November. Six of those are in states that President Obama carried in 2012, including New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Ohio, and many in the party fear that Trump’s campaign could work against candidates in those states.

Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.), who is considered one of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents in 2016, on Monday released a statement praising the court’s decision to uphold abortion access. 

“Glad to see #SCOTUS uphold access to health care for women,” Kirk wrote on Twitter.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was the only Senate GOP incumbent in a challenging reelection race to openly condemn the court’s decision.

“With the Supreme Court issuing its final opinions of this term, we were reminded again of just how high the stakes are when it comes to appointing Justice [Antonin] Scalia’s successor,” Rubio said in a statement. 

More striking has been the relative since from some of the GOP’s top leaders, including the party’s presumptive presidential nominee.

Trump, a prolific tweeter, made no mention of the Supreme Court decision on social media or during his speech on Monday. He didn’t comment despite a high-profile meeting with conservative leaders last week, in which he vowed that appointing “pro-life judges” would be a top priority as president.

The businessman has struggled at times when talking about abortion rights, drawing condemnation even from the right when he suggested earlier this year that there would need to be “some form of punishment” for women who had abortions if the procedure were illegal.

That controversy caused some conservatives to doubt Trump’s bona fides on abortion. In response, he took the unprecedented step of releasing a list of judges he would consider appointing to the Supreme Court. 

While Trump steered clear of the Texas ruling, Clinton hailed the decision just minutes after it was issued.

“Women won’t be ‘punished’ for exercising their basic rights,” Clinton tweeted.

But Clinton also delivered a careful warning for Democrats not to become complacent on the battle over abortion access.  

“This fight isn’t over: The next president has to protect women’s health,” Clinton wrote, signing with her initials to indicate a personal tweet. 

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a potential vice presidential pick for Clinton who has said he personally opposes abortion rights, also used the decision to declare support for the broader movement.

“Applaud #SCOTUS for seeing Texas law for what it is: an attempt to undermine a woman’s right to make her own healthcare choices #StopTheSham,” Kaine tweeted.

Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood and a key ally of Clinton, also underscored the legislative hurdles ahead, which she stressed would take a political solution.

“We still have so much work to do,” Richards told reporters. “We will now take this fight state by state to challenge and repeal other state laws across the country.”

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