Ben Roback is Vice President of Public Affairs at Sard Verbinnen & Co.
As if domestic politics in the United States needed another reason to become even more split along partisan lines, a leaked draft Supreme Court opinion rocketed the abortion debate towards the very top of the political agenda once again.
There is a very realistic possibility that the highest court in the land, with a 6-3 conservative majority, will overturn the 1973 ruling that legalised abortion across the United States.
The Politico leak, a deeply controversial story in its own right, revealed the Court’s view that the Roe v Wade judgement is “egregiously wrong”.
If the Court follows the draft opinion this summer, at least 26 states would be set to ban abortion entirely with 13 of those prepared with “trigger laws.”
The Supreme Court is considering a case which challenges the state of Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks. Should the Court rule in favour of Mississippi, it will in effect end the constitutional right to an abortion and make abortion rights a decision for individual states once again.
Deep red Republican states have not waited for the Supreme Court to deliberate. States like Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas, Idaho, and Arkansas have been advancing the pro-life agenda for years. It is a regular reminder for Democrats of the importance of down-ballot elections and gubernatorial races.
Consider two examples. First, Mississippi has a trigger law if Roe vs Wade is overturned. The law would ban all abortions except when continuing the pregnancy puts the person’s life at risk or if the pregnancy is the result of a rape in which a formal charge is filed with the police.
Second, Oklahoma, where Governor Kevin Stitt (R) signed a recent bill into law that bans abortion after six weeks: when cardiac activity can be detected by clinicians in the embryo, but typically before a woman knows she is pregnant.
Public opinion remains broadly against overturning Roe. According to an SSRS poll conducted following the Supreme Court leak, 66 per cent say it should not be completely struck down and 59 per cent would support Congress passing legislation to establish a nationwide right to abortion – an impossibility, based on the current political composition of Capitol Hill.
The potential to energise both sides ahead of the 2022 midterms
The key question is what impact the turbocharging of abortion as an election issue will have on the November elections, and especially the extent to which it boosts turnout.
Republicans are comfortable getting on the front foot and advocating pro-life policies. Democrats will fight tooth and nail to defend a woman’s right to choose and recognise its central importance to their voter base. All that points to an intensely motivated voter base on both sides.
Two polls published either side of the leak reveal the potential for a knock-on effect. The share of registered voters who say they are “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic about voting rose six points between the first poll and the second.
There was only a negligible difference across party lines: 43 per cent of Democrats are now “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic. That figure is 56 per centamongst Republicans.
Furthermore, 47 per cent of younger adults say they would feel “angry” if Roe was overturned, but only nine per centof that age category are “extremely enthusiastic” about voting this November.
Can Joe Biden and Democrats across the country convert the anger of young people into votes? If they can, it holds the key to having a transformational impact on the outcome of at least the more marginal races later this year.
Despite abortion access being one of the most politically entrenched issues in US politics, uniformity is not guaranteed among party lines.
Joe Manchin, the Democratic senator representing the red state of West Virginia, is on the record as describing himself as “pro-life and proud of it”. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are two rare Republican abortion rights supporters in the Senate.
A Senate vote last week exposed the fissures in party unity; independent-minded senators cannot be simply lumped in with the view of their party.
The debate around abortion rights has brought protestors to the streets in front of the Supreme Court and state legislatures across the country. But whilst Roe vs Wade feels instrumental right now, it would be remiss to lose sight of the fact that the economy is the issue most likely to be a driving force for voters come November as petrol, food and energy prices all continue to rise.
On the economy, 46 per cent of adults say the Republican Party’s positions are more aligned with their own, compared with 31 per cent for the Democratic Party.
The Supreme Court’s decision on Roe vs Wade matters, but it is more likely to be the state of the US economy that has the biggest impact on the November midterms.