WASHINGTON – The capricious abortion issue jumped to the center of political debate Wednesday after the Supreme Court indicated it would support a law that undermines Roe v. Wade, creating the potential to reshape the issue of polarization onto the electoral battlefield.
Democrats immediately indicated they would aim to make abortion rights a focus in next year’s midterm elections, as their prospects are seen as bleak, while many Republicans have sought to keep the focus on inflation and other problems facing President Joe Biden.
“This is an attack on women for making their own health care decisions. Their families, it’s up to them,” said Senator Patty Murray, Washington, former chair of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. voters though.”
In contrast, Senator Rick Scott, Florida, chairman of the Republican Senate National Committee, objected when asked if he thought abortion would be a motivating issue for Republican voters.
They are talking about inflation. They are talking about borders. They are talking about the disaster in Afghanistan. They’re talking about parental involvement in education, Scott said. “If you look at the polls and what people care about, that’s what they focus on.”
The divergent responses posed a central question: Will Wednesday’s Supreme Court argument, in which a conservative majority suggested it was willing to sharply cut abortion rights, revitalize liberals decades later when the case was a more potent stimulus to the right?
The court’s ruling could come as late as next June, meaning it will land while campaigning is in full swing for the November 2022 congressional elections.
The backlash also underlined Democrats’ urgency to find new ways to destabilize the political dynamic, as Biden’s approval ratings fell and the party struggled to make its case.
One Biden adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak officially, said abortion was a problem that could send swing voters, especially suburban women, back into the Democrats’ corner.
And the Republicans’ caution reflected, in turn, a determination not to alienate these voters. Many centrist voters are beginning to turn away from Democrats over economic concerns, but polls suggest they will be wary if entrenched reproductive rights begin to collapse.
And while the six conservative justices asked tough questions in Roe’s jurisprudence on Wednesday, it was not clear whether they would vote to overturn it permanently or issue a narrower ruling. Rowe, issued in 1973, forbade states from banning abortion before it reaches the point of fetal survival, which is usually estimated between 22 and 24 weeks.
Wednesday’s hearing was also a reminder of former President Donald Trump’s continuing influence on the federal court. Trump heralded the most conservative Supreme Court in decades, and today’s events emboldened Trump supporters, who have expressed an interest in running for president again.
Trump sealed the loyalty of many conservatives in the 2016 campaign by releasing a list of his potential judges, all of whom are questionable about Roe, during the presidential campaign. This resulted in three judges who were key to Wednesday’s argument – Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Connie Barrett.
The current dynamics also represent the culmination of a decades-long conservative project to shift the federal judiciary to the right, particularly regarding abortion, led by groups such as the Federal Society.
Liberals have been angered by this trend, although there is little evidence that it affected their vote. Democrats were particularly outraged when then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, prevented President Barack Obama from filling a vacancy on the Supreme Court following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, then pushed Barrett’s confirmation shortly before the 2020 election.
Biden on Wednesday came under fresh pressure from his party to do everything in his power to protect abortion rights. One of the leading Democratic Senate candidates has called for an end to the disruption to protect abortion rights, a move Biden did not support.
But as Democrats prepared to compete more on abortion, Biden, a Catholic who doesn’t talk much about abortion publicly, continued his cautious approach of saying relatively little, leaving questions about how much he used his platform to bolster the party’s efforts.
“I didn’t see any of the debate today,” Biden said when asked by a reporter about his reaction to the Supreme Court’s argument. “And I support Roe v. Wade. I think it’s a rational position to take, and I continue to support it.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden has a “very busy schedule” and will brief his team on the hearing. Psaki said Biden believes that “Mississippi law flagrantly violates women’s constitutional rights to safe and legal abortion” and “is committed to working with Congress to codify the constitutional right to safe and legal abortion.”
But with a whirlwind of other issues vying for voter attention — including a potentially dangerous new variant of the coronavirus, supply chain snarls and Democrats’ patchy domestic agenda — it wasn’t clear that the Supreme Court’s ruling would change the political winds. Many Democrats fear eliminating the election in 11 months, and Republicans are growing more confident in their chances of regaining the House and possibly the Senate, which confirms the judicial candidates.
For now, the judges’ relentless questioning of Roe, which came months after Texas’ abortion restriction law, has sparked national outrage among Democrats, leading to a political recalibration in both parties that has been evident in the battleground races as well as in Washington.
Representative Val Demings, the Florida Democrat, who was racing to impeach Senator Marco Rubio, fired at least four tweets Wednesday about abortion, warning that judges “must be very careful not to succumb to political forces by overturning five decades of well-established law that protects abortion.” American women.”
And the DSCC, the campaign arm of Senate Democrats, released a statement that drew attention to the hearing.
“Women’s right to make our own health care choices will be a critical issue in the mid-term of 2022, and for voters it will heighten the risks of protecting and expanding our Senate Democratic majority with the power to affirm or reject Supreme Court justices,” spokeswoman Jasmine Vargas.
In contrast, when asked if the abortion issue could come into his bid for re-election next year, Rubio took a low-key approach, saying, “It wasn’t a political problem for me.”
“It’s a complicated issue, but at the end of the day, if I had to choose between what is the real, you know, the right to choose and, at the same time, the real right to life, I would make a mistake,” he said in a short interview on the Capitol. Big, and there’s no ambiguity about it.”
Other Republicans asserted that if the court drops Roe, each state will decide whether to ban it, meaning it will almost certainly remain legal in Democratic-leaning states.
“I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what the Supreme Court might do and what its impact will be,” said Senator John Cornyn, Texas, who previously led the Senate’s Republican campaign arm. “Abortion is still available in the United States, but it will be decided on a state-by-state basis.”
Democrats respond by saying that this still leaves disadvantaged women in Republican-led states with few options.
Abortion rights advocates have argued that if the court dropped Roe v. Wade, it would enable dozens of states to ban the procedure in all but the very limited circumstances. Democrats eyeing the local races seized the threat on Wednesday.
“We must invest in, organize and elect Democrats in state legislatures where they can enshrine these and other basic rights,” Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Executive Director Heather Williams said in a statement. “The Supreme Court will not save us, but the democratic state legislatures can.”
In private, many Democrats say their House majorities are nearly lost, given Biden’s low poll numbers, the effects of Republican electoral district manipulation and the historical pattern of the president’s party losing seats in midterm elections.
But the evenly divided Senate has a better chance of staying Democratic, because more Republicans are retiring or running for reelection. The Supreme Court’s decision has the potential to have an even stronger resonance in the struggle for the Supreme Court, which Supreme Court justices affirm.
Some Democrats have also called on federal lawmakers to prepare for emergencies.
“Senate Democrats should immediately repeal the moratorium and pass the Women’s Health Protection Act to protect abortion rights,” said Jon Fetterman, the leading Democratic candidate for the US Senate in Pennsylvania.
Biden supports legislation cited by Fetterman that would legalize abortion rights, but he has not endorsed ending the disruption needed to pass. Liberal activists continue to put pressure on the president to use his vision and influence to change into a dynamic, and Wednesday’s session indicated their calls are unlikely to subside.
Some liberals have also called on Biden to embrace the controversial idea of expanding the Supreme Court to include more justices, which he can then appoint. Biden set up a committee to explore court reforms that released draft articles suggesting that expanding the court would bring a host of problems. The committee prepares a final report to be submitted to the President of the Republic.
Biden has pledged to nominate a black woman for the Supreme Court when there is a vacancy. Many party members are watching Justice Stephen Breyer anxiously, and some have publicly pressured the liberal jurist to retire before it’s too late in Biden’s term. With the Senate’s Democratic majority at stake and abortion rights in the balance in the Supreme Court, that pressure may intensify in the coming months.
“I’m really worried, more than I’ve ever been in my life,” Murray said.
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Robert Barnes and Tyler Pager of the Washington Post contributed to this report.