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Abortion ruling hands Democrats a political gift: an issue that wins elections

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This is the second story in a series examining the impact of the fall of Roe v. Wade with the Supreme Court’s ruling last June in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

When President Biden rallied Democrats last September ahead of the midterm elections, he predicted the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade set off major electoral ramifications.

“Republicans have awakened a powerful force in this country: women,” Biden said. “Here you come.”

And he was right.

Biden got a political gift a year ago when the Supreme Court overturned the national right to abortion access. While the president faced criticism immediately after the ruling for not responding more aggressively to protect access, the issue helped propel Democrats to a better-than-expected midterm result.

They added a seat to their majority in the Senate and managed to limit Republican gains in the House.

Plus, in the past year, voters in Kentucky rejected a ballot proposal that would have amended the state constitution to assert there is no guaranteed right to an abortion. Kansans voted to keep existing abortion protections in the state, while voters in Michigan, California and Vermont approved new abortion protections in the months after the Dobbs decision.

The issue will remain pivotal in the 2024 presidential election, with the Supreme Court’s decision giving Biden and his team a tangible way to argue that a Republican in the White House could lead to a national ban.

“It has brought some clarity around the importance of voting for people who will protect your rights, voting for people who won’t give that power and control over to the government but will keep it where voters believe it should be,” said Christina Reynolds, senior vice president of communications and content at EMILY’s List.

The White House has worked over the past year to make its case for reproductive rights consistent and clear.

“The vice president and I are doing everything we can to protect access to reproductive health care and safeguard patient privacy. But already, more than a dozen states are enforcing extreme abortion bans,” Biden said in his State of the Union address in February. 

“Make no mistake, if Congress passes a national abortion ban, I will veto it,” the president added.

Vice President Harris has led the charge out of the White House on the issue, traversing the country and meeting with local leaders and advocates to push back on GOP-driven state laws that the administration considers too extreme in restricting abortions. She’s heading to Charlotte, N.C., on Saturday to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision.

Abortion as a national and local issue

The White House sees the issue as a national and local one. It recently hosted more than 80 state legislators from 41 states to discuss state laws restricting reproductive rights. The local leaders — who included representatives from red states like Alabama, Arkansas, and Florida — sat down with Jennifer Klein, director of the Gender Policy Council; Neera Tanden, director of the Domestic Policy Council, and Karine Jean-Pierre, White House press secretary.

“It’s important to bring them in and say, ‘Hey, we have your back,’” Jean-Pierre said about the meeting.

With Harris and Biden consistently discussing abortion rights in speeches from the White House, in meetings with advocates and reproductive health officials, and through targeted state visits, they have been able to keep the issue top of mind for voters well beyond the midterm elections.  

The White House has taken limited actions over the past year. 

Biden signed an executive order less than a month after the Supreme Court ruling with some incremental measures to protect access to emergency medical care for women who will seek abortions in states that ban it.

Earlier this year, he issued a presidential memorandum that will further protect access to medication abortion by ensuring doctors can prescribe and dispense it across the U.S. And, in April, the administration announced new actions to safeguard patient privacy following the ruling by a federal judge in Texas that tried to limit the abortion medication mifepristone.

Abortion and the 2024 election

As the 2024 election nears, some strategists have suggested Republican presidential candidates will do much of the work for the administration and Democrats by publicly backing restrictive abortion laws, crystallizing the potential further consequences for access.

“I think many of the issues that helped elect Biden in 2020 are still out there, and I think Dobbs adds some premium grade fuel to building a winning coalition for 2024,” said Ivan Zapien, a former DNC official. “Mind you, he does not really need to do much here. The Republicans in states are doubling down on Dobbs-related legislation that is really not popular in the suburbs, so at this point, it’s a gift to his reelection prospects.”

Former President Trump, during a CNN town hall last month, repeatedly dodged questions about whether he would sign a federal abortion ban into law if he’s reelected. But he has declared multiple times in recent weeks he “was able to kill Roe v. Wade,” taking credit for appointing three conservative justices who sided with the majority.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a ban on abortions in the state after six weeks of pregnancy. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) has said he would sign the most pro-life legislation that makes it to his desk if elected. Former Vice President Mike Pence has said he supports taking abortion medications off the market and has voiced support for a proposed 15-week federal ban on the procedure.

But nationally, abortion access is popular.

A Gallup poll published June 14 found 69 percent of Americans believe abortion should generally be legal during the first three months of pregnancy, a record-high for the survey. 

The poll found a majority of Americans oppose late-term abortions. But the 37 percent who say the procedure should be legal in the second three months of pregnancy and the 22 percent who say it should be legal in the last three months of pregnancy also mark record highs for a Gallup survey.

Abortion will still be a top issue for voters in 2024 because Republicans have made it one, said Katie Grant Drew, a Democratic communications strategist and principal at Monument Advocacy.

“Republicans keep demonstrating that they’re out of step with Americans on this issue, and with a number of GOP-controlled state legislatures either enacting or debating legislation, this issue is going to stay top of mind for a wide swath of the electorate,” she said.

While the president has pushed for Congress to codify Roe v. Wade, the GOP-controlled House and the tight margins in the Senate have made that a non-starter. Previous efforts to pass legislation that would codify and expand the right to an abortion failed. 

Democrats would have to win big in 2024 to increase their congressional margins enough to pass such a measure, which has led to them also focusing on local ballot measures to make progress on the issues.

“The president will remind voters what is at stake in 2024. Dobbs will be a factor in all elections until access to reproductive freedom is available to all,” said Mary Beth Stanton, a Democratic strategist and principal at Invariant. “It’s hard to see how a codification of Roe gets done in Congress given the Senate filibuster, but there will be ballot measures in the states to help shore up down-ballot elections and drive voter turnout, too.”

Source: The Hill

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