Health Care

Advocates sound the alarm on abortion rights ahead of midterms

Associated Press/Patrick Semansky
People gather in support of abortion rights on the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Progressives and advocates are sounding the alarm about strict abortion bans across the country and want Democrats to make abortion a major issue ahead of the midterm elections.

Inspired by Texas, red states are moving rapidly to restrict abortion access. Arizona and Kentucky voted to approve a 15-week abortion ban. Idaho recently banned abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy and allowed private citizens to sue abortion providers. Oklahoma is on the verge of passing a near-total ban on abortions.

Looming over it all is the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule this summer on a case that could roll back the legal protections in Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that established the right to an abortion. 

“The stakes have never been higher. The impact has never been clearer,” said Jenny Lawson, National Campaign Director at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “It is hitting people in a very real way right now and it will continue to do so as the Supreme Court makes this decision.”

Abortion rights advocates said Democrats need to unify and drive home the message that if the constitutional right to an abortion ends, Republicans will be responsible. 

And unless Democrats treat the erosion of abortion rights like a crisis, advocates said, they risk letting Republicans control the narrative. 

“We think that once people really see the stakes and what it means for their ability to make their own decisions about their family, that that is going to translate into significant electoral activity in support of candidates who champion reproductive freedom and in opposition to candidates who are trying to take away that freedom,” said Kristin Ford, vice president of communications at NARAL Pro-Choice America. 

In the coming months, the Supreme Court will rule on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which centers on the constitutionality of a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. If the court rules in favor of Mississippi, it could result in a state-by-state rollback of abortion rights.

“As the threat to Roe vs. Wade becomes even more acute and Roe is really in jeopardy … we need elected officials and candidates for office to be increasingly bold and vocal about what’s at stake and what their commitments are, so that voters understand and can see those contrasts,” Ford said.

Polls show abortion rights are a winning issue among Democratic voters. An NBC News poll released March 30 showed progressive and moderate Democrats were united around a hypothetical candidate who supported Roe v. Wade, with a 31 percent favorability advantage.

Research conducted last fall for Planned Parenthood Action Fund, EMILY’s List and American Bridge 21st Century found abortion drives voters to support Democrats over Republicans by a 71-point margin.

The survey showed Democrats will need to focus their messaging on the “punitive measures” like criminalizing doctors, and asking people to spy on their neighbors. The Texas law allows private citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

But despite the favorable polls, it may be difficult to translate those responses into voter turnout, especially if voters don’t believe the threat to abortion rights is imminent. 

The Planned Parenthood survey found that while most voters supported keeping Roe v. Wade, just 33 percent believed the Supreme Court would really overturn the decision.

Democrats will also need turnout in battleground districts, and national views on the specifics of abortion can be complicated. 

An April 1 Wall Street Journal poll found 55 percent of voters surveyed said they wanted abortion to be legal in all or most cases. The same poll found about 48 percent of voters said they would strongly or somewhat favor a 15-week ban, while about 43 percent said they would oppose it. 

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, celebrated the results, saying they showed support for restriction is growing ahead of the Supreme Court ruling.

“Our work continues to educate the public about the millions of lives at stake in this case, and we hope that soon the people and their elected representatives in every state will have their right to protect the unborn and their mothers restored,” Dannenfelser said in a statement.

Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner of the nonpartisan polling firm PerryUndem, said abortion rights can mobilize voters, but they need to be aware of the threat. Outside of Texas, she said, the issue hasn’t really gotten through.

The Texas law “broke through to a lot of people and, I’d say about seven in 10 voters feel like abortion rights are at risk. That said, they don’t know anything about the Supreme Court. No one has heard about restrictions trying to be passed in their state. You know, so they’re really in the dark on what’s going on,” Undem said.

But Undem said it could be a mobilizing issue if the Supreme Court were to turn aside Roe v. Wade, or leave the decision up to individual states.

“They assume [abortion] rights and access exists, so why would they go out and vote on that issue? Now, if the Supreme Court overturns Roe or severely restricts abortion, and that breaks through, and voters are aware of it and they learn of it. Then? Absolutely.”

Tags abortion abortion rights Supreme Court

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