Democrats are bad at politics but some opportunities are so obvious that even they can’t miss them.
One way the GOP will try to defuse some of the backlash if and when Roe goes down is by reminding voters that the Court’s decision doesn’t mean abortion is banned. It means each state gets to go its own way. Abortion will remain legal in roughly half of America’s states. And even in states where it faces new restrictions, like Florida, some will continue to allow for abortions in the first trimester.
It remains to be seen how easy it’ll be for women in red states to procure abortions in blue ones, as red states may consider some eyebrow-raising measures to deter that, but that will (probably) remain legal too. The GOP’s message: Federalism fever — catch it!
Those reassurances will soothe some casual pro-choicers, reducing the extent to which abortion affects their vote this fall. Unless, perhaps, prominent Republicans start talking about banning abortion nationwide once Roe is gone. If federalism goes out the window, pro-choicers who live in states that are expected to keep abortion legal will have to care about their own state’s laws being bigfooted by the feds. Who controls Congress will suddenly matter to abortion policy — a lot.
Democrats’ eyes lit up this weekend when Mitch McConnell gift-wrapped that message for them in an interview this weekend:
“With regard to the abortion issue, I think it’s pretty clear where Senate Republicans stand,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told USA TODAY in an exclusive interview Thursday…
Asked Thursday if a national ban, which anti-abortion activists are pursuing, is something worthy of a debate now or should wait until after the election, McConnell acknowledged the possibility, even though he considers the discussion premature.
“If the leaked opinion became the final opinion, legislative bodies – not only at the state level but at the federal level – certainly could legislate in that area,” McConnell said.
“And if this were the final decision, that was the point that it should be resolved one way or another in the legislative process,” he added. “So yeah, it’s possible. It would depend on where the votes were.”
Abortion is at stake in the midterms. McConnell himself said so.
Sort of. No federal abortion bans will pass until 2025 at the earliest, of course. Biden’s veto will ensure that. Still, Dems are ecstatic about shifting the conversation away from inflation (temporarily) and instead framing the battle for Congress in terms of an issue on which a solid majority of the public agrees with them. They can now “put Republican candidates in the position of having to answer whether they agree with the GOP leader and support nationwide restrictions on access to abortion,” Politico notes. Some polling shows that the end of Roe wouldn’t matter much to Americans’ midterm votes but that may be due to few voters imagining that a national ban might eventually be in the cards. How might their preferences change if they do come to believe that?
A new poll from YouGov finds Democrats with a 44/39 lead on the generic ballot, but when the question is reframed as a choice between a “pro-choice Democrat” and a “pro-life Republican,” the gap shifts to 44/31. More importantly, 69 percent say they would oppose a law banning abortion nationwide. On the contrary, a separate poll from CBS finds that 58 percent support codifying Roe as a federal statute.
With those numbers being what they are, why is a normally disciplined politician like McConnell musing idly about potential national bans?
I think he feels obliged, simply to keep up turnout on the right. McConnell has already made a gigantic rhetorical concession to the left on national abortion legislation, saying that he won’t carve out an exception to the filibuster under any circumstances. (He repeated that promise in the interview quoted above.) If he means what that, the GOP will need 60 votes for any restrictions they hope to pass. There’s an outside chance that the party will have 60 Senate seats by 2025 but almost no chance, I would think, that they’ll have 60 votes for something as strong as a total nationwide ban. That’s an issue that polls at around 10 percent; it would be electoral suicide. Yesterday Lindsey Graham proposed a ban after 20 weeks, an early sign that Republicans may end up with 60 votes for certain limits on abortion but nothing as maximalist as an outright ban.
So why doesn’t McConnell just say that? Because, I assume, he knows it’ll piss off pro-lifers who are otherwise hyped to vote this November. If he starts talking about things the GOP can’t do on abortion even before Roe is officially kaput, that’s a sign to anti-abortion voters that they’re destined to be disappointed if they elect Republicans to Congress. So he has to pick his poison when asked about a national ban: Either he says it’s possible and gooses Democratic turnout or he says it’s impossible and suppresses Republican turnout. His position seems to be an attempt to mollify both sides to some degree, allowing that it’s possible yet destined to be so procedurally difficult that no one should get their hopes up too high.
Having said all that, though, I’ll point you back again to this post from December about how suddenly the 50-year pro-life crusade to hand abortion back to the laboratories of democracy in the states is pivoting to a political struggle to impose a single federal abortion regime on the states whether they like it or not. This time it’ll be Congress doing it rather than the Supreme Court, which is better for democracy. But I wonder how much more poisonous American politics will get once a nationwide permissive or restrictive legal regime for abortion is on the ballot every two or four years.
I’ll leave you with Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves being asked yesterday about the prospect of trying to ban contraception too if Roe goes down. He doesn’t sound enthusiastic but he’s not ruling it out. I suspect we’ll see that in Dem attack ads this fall too.
CHUCK: "You're not answering the question."
TATE: "That's always the case." pic.twitter.com/nHQsIFtY2B
— Jonathan Allen (@jallen1985) May 8, 2022