Abortion Fight Front and Center Ahead of Midterms

May 23, 2021

The Hill: Abortion Fight Front and Center Ahead of Midterms
By: Julia Manchester

Republicans and Democrats are gearing up to make abortion a major campaign issue ahead of the midterms as the Supreme Court prepares to a hear a case that could diminish Roe v. Wade.

The issue is already influencing races across the country, including in Virginia, where Democrats and pro-choice groups are hitting Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin for his anti-abortion stances ahead of the general election this November.

Other figures up for reelection next year who are being targeted include Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who on Wednesday signed legislation that would virtually ban all abortions in the state once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

“Greg Abbott wants to ban abortions at six weeks, before most people know they’re pregnant. WE CAN REPLACE HIM,” EMILYs List, a group dedicated to elected pro-choice Democratic women, tweeted on Wednesday.

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a case involving a Mississippi law that bans abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. Abbott’s action in Texas, meanwhile, comes after 28 abortion restrictions were enacted in seven states during the last week of April. Last month’s restrictions accounted for 46 percent of all restrictions passed at that point in 2021 alone.

Abortion rights groups say the latest developments will only galvanize their Democratic-leaning base, pointing to the base’s increased activity after the late liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death last year.

“Sexual and reproductive rights are a driving force that motivate and energize voters,” said Jenny Lawson, vice president of Organizing and Engagement Campaigns at Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “We saw this after Justice Ginsburg’s death, when Planned Parenthood advocacy and political organizations saw a surge in volunteer interest from people seeking to honor her legacy by continuing her fight.”

Anti-abortion groups, on the other hand, say the issue will benefit their favored candidates.

“This is a win for pro-life candidates,” said Mallory Quigley, the vice president of communications at the Susan B. Antony List. “It is going to give pro-life candidates a very timely, very real opportunity to talk about the extreme policy differences that exist between the two sides.”

But abortion rights groups say the recent coverage of the issue provides Democratic candidates with a prime opportunity to play offense at the ballot box.

“If Democrats are smart, they’re going to seize on this opportunity to make really clear to voters that the GOP, as a party, stands for outlawing abortion and overturning Roe v. Wade,” said Amanda Thayer, senior deputy director of national and political communications at NARAL Pro-Choice America.

National Democrats are already emphasizing the issue in an effort to energize their base ahead of 2022. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who is not up for reelection next year, blasted out a fundraising email earlier this week calling the recent Supreme Court news “yet another reason why it’s so critical that we defend our Senate Majority.” 

But it’s Virginia’s gubernatorial race that could provide the best preview of how the issue will play at the ballot box. 

Youngkin has pitched himself as an anti-abortion candidate, though he said this month that he believes there should be exceptions in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at risk. Democrats, meanwhile, are seeking to portray Youngkin as extreme on the issue, with Virginia Democratic primary front-runner Terry McAuliffe calling Youngkin “a conservative culture warrior who is determined to roll back Virginians’ reproductive rights.”

But Democrats in the commonwealth have had to deal with backlash over the issue in the past.

Republicans seized on remarks Gov. Ralph Northam (D) made in 2019 when asked about state legislation that would loosen restrictions on third trimester abortions, in which the governor said that third-term abortions are rare and typically occur when an infant is severely deformed or unable to survive after birth. Virginia House Republicans ended up tabling the legislation.

“The issue of abortion, specifically late-term abortion, is extremely energizing for our base. I fully expect this to be writ large in the race for VA governor and the midterms,” said Penny Nance, CEO of the conservative group Concerned Women for America.

At the national level, polling shows the majority of Americans do not want Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the U.S., to be abolished, but say they believe there should be some restrictions on the procedure.

A Pew Research Center survey released earlier this month showed 59 percent of American adults saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 39 percent said it should be illegal in all or most cases. Other polls show the support for the court decision is even higher. An NPR/PBS NewsHouse/Marist poll released in 2019 showed 77 percent of respondents voice support for the decision to be upheld.

The partisan divide on the issue is even greater. Eighty percent of Democrats reported saying they were in favor of upholding Roe v. Wade in all or most cases, while only 35 of Republicans said the same, according to the Pew poll. 

Both sides of the issue say it will galvanize their respective bases but add that there is room to appeal to swing voters as well.

Quigley said the anti-abortion stance could have sway with moderates, Hispanic voters and even some Democrats. 
“People who we’ve identified as most likely thinking about voting for a Democratic candidate, and normally they’re thinking about supporting that candidate based on another issue,” she said.

Abortion rights advocates cite the public opinion polls showing support for upholding Roe v. Wade, as well as the role suburban women and women of color have played as a key swing votes.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to hear this case puts 25 million people at risk for losing abortion access,” said EMILYs List national press secretary Anna Pacilio. “That’s a healthcare issue, an economic issue and a civil rights issue to all of those people.”