Update: A leaked ruling on May 3, 2022, indicates the US Supreme Court will vote to overturn Roe vs Wade; this article was published in December, 2021, when the court heard the oral arguments for Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organisation.
Abortion has long been one of the most contentious issues in US politics, but despite its divisive nature, the constitutional right to access has being enshrined for almost 50 years. However, a case currently being considered in the Supreme Court could end the nearly half-century legal precedent, a move that would thrust abortion rights back into the national spotlight during the heat of next year’s midterm election cycle.
Since the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court ruling, women in America have had an absolute right to abortion in the first three months of their pregnancies, and more finite access in the second three months. Abortion rights were further codified by the Supreme Court in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood vs Casey, which ruled that states could not place an ‘undue burden’ on those seeking an abortion before ‘fetal viability’, set around 23 weeks.
The Supreme Court is now dominated 6-3 in favour of conservative-leaning judges due to former President Donald Trump’s successful installation of three nominees in his four years in the White House. Come next summer, this is a dynamic that may spell the end of abortion rights in the US, or at least significantly pare them back.
Related Articles: Roe v. Wade Overturned in Preliminary Vote by US Supreme Court, Leaked Document Reveals | U.S Politics: The Virginia Litmus Test | Biden’s Make-Or-Break Moment | Texas Passes New Abortion Law | America’s $1.75 Trillion “Human Infrastructure” Package: What’s Next
On December 1, the court heard the oral arguments in a case named Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organisation, where it is being decided whether a restrictive abortion law in Mississippi that would outlaw nearly all abortions after 15 weeks will be upheld.
Earlier this year, the court decided not to temporarily block a Texas law that prohibits all abortions after just six weeks, alerting advocates and encouraging opponents over the court’s current approach to abortion cases. As such, the state of Mississippi is also asking that the Supreme Court overturn both the 1973 Roe v Wade decision and the 1992 Casey ruling in a bid to radically change the landscape of abortion rights in the United States.
The Supreme Court decision is expected around June or July of 2022, just as the midterm election cycle will be ramping up. There are three potential scenarios to anticipate: The court could completely overturn Roe v Wade; The court could decide that the Mississippi law does not violate the 1992 Casey ruling and does not place an ‘undue burden’ on abortion access, leaving the Roe v Wade precedent standing — but weakened; The court could rule against upholding the Mississippi law and retain America’s current abortion rights statutes, although this is the least likely scenario considering the current outlook;
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research institution, 26 states are either certain or at least likely to ban abortion if Roe v Wade is overturned, and 12 already have so-called ‘trigger laws’ that would automatically outlaw abortion to varying degrees as soon as the decision would be made.
Why the ruling will be important to the midterms
In a midterm cycle that Republicans will be expecting to do well in, successfully overturning abortion rights could be another feather in their cap. The issue has long been seen as providing an advantage to the GOP and evangelical bases, as Republicans have been able to rally supporters against ‘Roe’ for decades. However, the fall of the long-standing precedent would completely reshape the political landscape of abortion rights, and Democrats could carve out a silver lining from what would be a substantial loss for their platform.
The protection that was afforded by Roe v Wade allowed the issue to fall down the pecking order in terms of voter priorities in elections past. However, if it is overturned, Democrats may be able to focus upon an issue that both gives them a polling advantage and is contentious enough to light a fire under their voter base.
Republican arguments against abortion rights will be varyingly fragile depending on what part of the country they are running in, but on a national basis, trends indicate it could become politically difficult to defend restrictive abortion stances. A poll in May by Pew Research Center found that 59% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, whilst 63% of respondents to a November Quinnipiac poll said that they agreed with the 1973 Roe v Wade decision – compared to just 28% who said they disagreed with it.
For such a divisive issue, it must be noted that most Americans are not necessarily absolutist, and seem to fall in the grey area between supporting complete legality and total illegality. Nevertheless, according to FiveThirtyEight’s polling average tracker, ‘the vast majority of Americans — somewhere between 85 and 90 percent, according to most polls — think abortion should be legal in at least some circumstances’.
If Republicans are seen as extreme over abortion access heading into the midterms, there may be a significant fallout, particularly among women.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves confirms that if Roe is overturned, his state will quickly enforce an almost total abortion ban pic.twitter.com/VT2YTinKoI
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 5, 2021
According to data from Pew Research Center, in 2018 and 2019 women identified as Democrats over Republicans by 56% to 38%, whilst a 2021 poll by the same institution found that that 62% of women support abortion legality in all or most cases. Women obviously make up roughly half of the electorate, and any party potentially turning away such a substantial amount of a large demographic could face an electorally significant setback.
If the narrative is effectively controlled by Democrats, by no means a given, races up and down the ballot could be impacted, including beyond the midterms. Whilst control of state legislatures and Governor’s mansions will drive abortion law across the nation, Senate Democrats are sure to press the importance of retaining their slim majority in the chamber so that, in the event President Biden has the opportunity to nominate a liberal-leaning judge, they have the necessary votes to confirm them.
Enthusiasm has been waning in the Democratic base since it put Joe Biden in the White House in 2020. Voter fatigue was one of the deciding elements in the loss of the Virginia gubernatorial race last month, and declining poll numbers indicate Biden’s base of support is far from cemented heading into the midterms. Voter enthusiasm is ritually greater in the party out of power, and the President’s party historically tends to lose seats in both the House and the Senate in midterms. This may spell the end of the Democrats’ slim majorities, but if they can successfully illustrate to voters that abortion rights are on the ballot, it could turn the election cycle on its head.
With less than a year until the midterms kick off, there are a plethora of factors that will influence how Americans will vote across the country.
From Critical Race Theory and inflation, to Afghanistan and infrastructure, the midterms will be more than merely a referendum on President Biden’s first two years in the White House. But if abortion is placed at the center of elections across the nation, the platforms and electoral strategies of both parties could be upended. Unfortunately, the only thing that may be for certain to come out of the Supreme Court decision next summer is further divisions in an already fractured electorate.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: The US Supreme Court. Featured Photo Credit: Thru My Shutter, Flickr.