Democrats and Republicans are looking to use the fight over President TrumpDonald TrumpStowaway found in landing gear of plane after flight from Guatemala to Miami Kushner looking to Middle East for investors in new firm: report GOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips MORE's Supreme Court nominee to galvanize women ahead of November’s election, citing the influence his pick could have on decisions related to issues like abortion and health care.
Suburban women, a once-loyal Republican voting bloc, have increasingly moved toward Democrats as the GOP under Trump has focused its energy on appealing to its conservative base. Trump’s pledge to nominate a woman to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgRoe redux: Is 'viability' still viable as a constitutional doctrine? Yankee Doodling the media: How 'Let's Go Brandon' became a rallying cry against news bias Katie Couric: CNN shouldn't have let Chris Cuomo 'yuk it up' with brother Andrew during pandemic MORE is seen partly as an appeal to female voters in the weeks before the election.
But the move could potentially benefit Democrats, especially candidates in down-ballot races across the country, as party members and activists point to the impact a 6-3 conservative majority court could have on issues important to women, such as abortion.
“Many suburban women voters: Democrats, independents and even Republican-leaning women voters who care about abortion rights — something that’s integral to their political identity — used to consider it settled law,” Kristin Ford, communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, said of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that established the right to an abortion.
“Those voters now really understand that Roe absolutely cannot be taken for granted. ... This is an extremely galvanizing message and an area of top concern.”
The future of Roe v. Wade is back in the spotlight following Ginsburg’s death, with hardline conservatives seeing a new justice as key to overturning or weakening the law. Decisions on abortion would then likely return to the individual states if that happened.
“It’s going to be incredibly important for Christians and conservatives to get out and vote,” said anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson. “Everything that we didn’t know about abortion in 1973 we now know. That’s going to be important when we bring the right case forward to challenge Roe in the very near future.”
But polls show the majority of Americans think Roe v. Wade should be upheld, complicating Trump’s play for suburban female voters. While Trump has vowed in the past to only nominate “pro-life” justices who oppose the ruling, he has not mentioned the threat to Roe v. Wade since Ginsburg’s death.
Abortion has long been more of an energizing issue for Republican voters than Democrats; a poll conducted in late July of this year found that 46 percent of Trump supporters see abortion as “very important” to their vote in the 2020 presidential election, compared to 35 percent of Biden’s supporters.
Abortion rights groups hope the Supreme Court vacancy will create renewed urgency to the issue that can sway more voters toward Biden and Democrats in Senate races.
These groups, as well as Democrats, have voiced particular concern over Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks Progressive or moderate, Senate Democrats must move Biden's agenda forward Former Trump administration aide says she was warned about playing Taylor Swift music in White House MORE, a Trump-appointed judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals widely seen as Trump’s front-runner to replace Ginsburg and the favored pick of anti-abortion groups.
“If [Trump] chooses [Barrett], it only solidifies his commitment to the unborn and his commitment to follow through with his commitment to the pro-life movement,” Johnson said.
Barrett suggested in 2016 that if Roe were overturned or weakened, its “core holding” that women have a right to abortion wouldn’t change.
“But I think the question of whether people can get very late-term abortions, you know, how many restrictions can be put on clinics, I think that will change,” she said.
While polls show the majority of voters support Roe v. Wade, they also support some restrictions on the procedure, including waiting periods, and requirements that doctors who perform abortions have hospital-admitting privileges, a mandate advocates say is aimed at forcing clinics to close.
Democratic strategists point out that white, suburban female voters cannot be looked at as a monolith, and point to support for abortion restrictions among members of the bloc.
“Suburban women who are pro-life are now going to be much more motivated for Trump,” said Democratic strategist Jennifer Holdsworth.
“We’re talking about the ‘Karen contingency’ here,” Holdsworth said, referring to a pejorative term widely used on social media to describe entitled white women. “White, conservative, suburban women tend to be a lot more vocal about moving over to Trump on this issue.”
That could be why Biden has stayed clear of talking about abortion access in the days following Ginsburg’s death, instead focusing on the threat to the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court will hold oral arguments on the future of the ACA in a lawsuit supported by the Trump administration a week after the election.
Holdsworth said Democrats stand a better chance at success by wrapping their messaging on abortion into their broader health care message.
“We need to make sure that we’re connecting these issues directly to health care,” Holdsworth said. “We were very successful in 2018 in making sure that we were very disciplined on the health care message.”
The impending battle has injected new energy into Senate races. Democrats are just three or four seats away from clinching the majority, depending on whether they win the presidency.
Rep. Roger MarshallRoger W. MarshallMcConnell backs Herschel Walker in Georgia Senate race Thune endorses Herschel Walker in Georgia Senate race Vaccine 'resisters' are a real problem MORE (R-Kan.) was already attacking his Democratic opponent Kansas state Sen. Barbara Bollier’s record on abortion before Ginsburg’s death in the state’s Senate race, citing her support for abortion rights as a state legislator in Kansas.
And in Georgia, Republican candidates Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerSenate GOP worries Trump could derail bid for majority Perdue mulling primary challenge against Kemp in Georgia: report McConnell backs Herschel Walker in Georgia Senate race MORE (Ga.) and Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsLobbying world Sunday shows preview: Biden administration confronts inflation spike Jan. 6 panel weighs contempt charges for former Trump DOJ official Clark MORE (Ga.) both cited abortion as a reason to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee ahead of Election Day.
Collins described the scenario as the “best chance in decades to strike down Roe v. Wade.”
“There’s no question that in the very close Senate races that Republicans tend to always win the culture wars,” Holdsworth said. “They are much more successful on scaring the electorate about some dystopian future.”
“For whatever reason, that still motivates a lot of white conservatives,” she added.