Column: Poised to overturn Roe vs. Wade, Supreme Court gives Democrats a leg up in elections
The Trump-shaped Supreme Court’s pending decision to roll back national abortion rights is sure to hurt Republican candidates, even in California where women won’t be affected.
The GOP has been chasing after this ruling for decades. Now it’s like the barking dog catching the car. The dog could get run over.
How much the party is hurt won’t be known until the November election. But one thing is sure: The court is about to hand Democrats a political gift — maybe only a small one, or perhaps the present of a lifetime.
You don’t take away a right that women have had for nearly 50 years and not suffer adverse consequences.
True, abortion has not been a hot-button political issue in recent years. That’s because women — especially young women — may have taken their reproductive rights for granted. They didn’t live during the era of risky back-alley abortions before the Supreme Court’s liberating 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that allowed women nationwide to terminate a pregnancy.
Now a leaked draft opinion reveals that the conservative-dominated court is on track to throw out Roe. Then it will be up to each state to set its own abortion rules. Roughly half are prepared to severely limit them.
“Let it sink in for a while,” veteran Democratic consultant Gale Kaufman says. “I don’t believe young women are going to sit back and take it. They feel very empowered, especially after COVID.”
“A whole lot of the world changed for everyone,” she says. “The way they work — whether they have to go into the office or not. The way their kids are educated. Now tell them that the choice about their own body is taken away and you can’t make me believe it won’t have an impact.”
Kaufman adds: “Women of my generation — those who watched Roe vs. Wade come into existence — I can’t imagine this won’t impact the way they vote.”
A prominent California pollster basically agrees.
“I do think this is an issue that will be front and center,” says Mark Baldassare, president of the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. “It’s an issue a lot of people care about. And most are going to be on the side against changing Roe vs. Wade.”
In light of the possible end of Roe vs. Wade, Gov. Newsom calls California a ‘beacon of hope’ to residents of other states.
A PPIC poll last month found that 76% of likely California voters oppose overturning Roe. There’s bipartisan opposition — 87% of Democrats, 77% of independents and 54% of Republicans.
Significantly, 55% of likely voters among Republican women oppose throwing out Roe — a view that could particularly affect congressional and legislative elections in competitive suburban districts.
Every geographic region of the state favors keeping Roe.
So do all ethnic and racial groups. The least supportive are Latino voters — still, 64% want to retain Roe’s abortion protections.
Nationally, 54% supported Roe in a Washington Post-ABC news poll released Tuesday.
A Gallup poll last June found 58% of Americans were against tossing it.
The survey also showed record low approval of the Supreme Court at 40%.
Amid all this evidence of abortion rights sentiment, Democratic candidates — particularly in California — can hammer hard on the issue without fear, Baldassare says.
“Democrats will have great confidence bringing up this issue because the overwhelming number of voters are going to agree with them,” the pollster says. “It’s something people will be thinking about — especially when candidates have a party label next to them when they go to vote.”
Republican candidates in socially liberal California finally and wisely stopped yakking about abortion around 20 years ago because it was killing them at the polls statewide and in many congressional and legislative districts.
Abortion rights are being undone bit by bit in many Southern and Midwest states through new restrictions in anticipation of Roe vs. Wade’s reversal.
A GOP candidate might quietly go on record as anti-abortion, then clam up about it. The issue was settled nationally, everyone thought, and there was little chance any politician would ever need to cast a vote on abortion. The party would wave the anti-abortion flag for conservative voters and call for overturning Roe.
Now the dog has caught the car. And most Republicans running statewide or in congressional or legislative seats in California will be forced by Democrats to take a stand for or against abortion rights.
It’ll be a legitimate issue in U.S. House races because there’ll be a move in Congress — which most likely won’t budge in the Senate — to pass legislation reasserting abortion rights nationally.
In California, Democrats — led by Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders — will force the issue by talking up their ballot measure to cement abortion rights in the state Constitution.
Republicans are claiming the amendment isn’t necessary and Democrats are just playing politics. And they’re right. But it’s winning politics — unless Democrats obnoxiously overreach. That’s hard to envision on such an emotional issue.
A ballot measure for abortion rights is bound to help Democrats increase their voter turnout.
GOP consultants are saying — hoping at least — that voters will be much more concerned about homelessness, crime and inflation than abortion because rights will be protected by California law regardless of the Supreme Court decision.
“There isn’t a single Republican consultant of any credibility who thinks this is good for the party, because it’s not,” says GOP consultant Mike Madrid.
Here’s a historical fact that should worry anti-abortion Republicans: The last two GOP governors — Arnold Schwarzenegger and Pete Wilson — supported abortion rights. Before them, Gov. George Deukmejian said he was against abortion rights, but never tried to roll them back.
What’s more, Deukmejian in 1967 cast a key state Senate vote for the nation’s then-most liberal abortion law. And the conservative icon governor, Ronald Reagan, signed it.
Yes, much has changed in the last half century. But not the California electorate’s demand for women’s rights over their bodies.
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