In the Supreme Court’s overturn of Mr. Roe v. Wade, the abortion-right debate didn’t become a political panacea for Democrats, who largely gave up hope that a surge in voter anger over the decision would rid them of what they were in the midterms Facing obstacles to hope.
After spending hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funds on abortion messages — nearly $415 million in ads alone — Democrats found the impact uneven. While support for abortion is driving the party’s most loyal voters, it doesn’t appear to outweigh the economic concerns of key swing voters.
Strategists and pollsters say voters are still unsure about state laws replacing federal protections and the chaos of candidates’ positions — a sign that Republicans were caught off guard by the victory they’ve spent decades trying to achieve and may have successfully muddled the waters about their position.
“These laws can be complex and convoluted,” said Wisconsin Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, a Democrat who created a political action committee to support abortion rights and State candidates who flip control of the state legislature. “It’s been cobbled together across the country and it’s very confusing.”
Public opinion on the issue has not changed. If anything, voters supported Roe more than before a landmark ruling that removed federal abortion rights was overturned. Most Americans still support legal abortion, at least in the first trimester. But those views vary from state to state, and in many conservative places where procedures are restricted, voters are more likely to think abortion should be primarily or outright illegal.
Many Democrats remain optimistic that voters will support abortion rights when the issue is brought to their referendum. They have been optimistic about Michigan for months, with many arguing that changes to the state’s constitution to protect abortion rights would push voters to the polls and help elevate the governor. Democrat Gretchen Whitmer is up for re-election.
But privately, some Michigan Democrats have grown concerned that voters’ growing focus on the economy could jeopardize Ms. Whitmer’s polling lead has narrowed in recent weeks as well as vote measures.
Issues like gas prices, inflation and crime have become stronger drivers in bluer states where abortion remains a protected right. In states such as New York, Nevada and New Mexico where abortion is legally protected, Democratic candidates for governor have sought to contrast their opponents. Republicans are urging voters to all but ignore the issue, saying they have no plans to change the current law.
“There’s not a single place in this country that doesn’t support abortion,” said Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. However, she admits it doesn’t have the same impact everywhere. “In a state like Connecticut, where there may not be anything to contrast, the issues around inflation may have a bigger impact because it may not feel as visceral.”
Democrats acknowledge that the problem has faded away. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who is seeking re-election in one of the most competitive districts in the country, said her opponent’s views on abortion have added appeal in her central Virginia region. She attacked her Republican opponent, Yesley Vega, in her first ad of the campaign season, calling her “too extreme for Virginia” and quoting Ms Floyd. Vega’s support for the ban.
But as the surprise of the decision fades, abortion rights have become a stable backdrop to her campaign — often cited as the reason voters plan to support her.
“It’s a motivating factor, but there’s no ‘gosh, can you believe this has happened?'” she said. “Because that happened a few months ago.”
Since the court ruled in June, more than a dozen states have banned conception abortion, with few exceptions. But lawsuits have suspended many injunctions, while court cases continue. Other states have multiple bans, leading to confusion.
The flurry of action has disorientated voters and made it difficult for Democrats to build a sense of urgency.
In Wisconsin, for example, abortion became illegal after Roe was overthrown, with laws dating back to 1849. But the Republican running for governor said he would not support a near-total ban. Democratic district attorneys in the state’s two largest counties said they would not enforce the ban, and Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul sued to try to overturn the ban. The governor’s re-election bid, Democrat Tony Evers, called for a constitutional amendment to repeal the ban, but was blocked by Republican state legislatures.
Mrs. Goldlewski said voters she spoke with were often “shocked” to learn that abortion was illegal in their state.
“They think we’re like Minnesota or Illinois and still have access,” she said.
Republican voters who may oppose their party’s opposition to abortion won’t be so easy for Democrats to tackle alone. In Tucson, Susan Elliott, a Republican who broadly supports abortion rights, plans to vote directly Republican. Her concerns about the economy and inflation outweigh her support for abortion rights.
“‘The great resignation’, inflation and crazy prices are hurting me every day,” Ms. Elliott, 54, said. “Whether an abortion is legal, or whatever weeks they want to do it, doesn’t make any difference in my life.”
For Republicans, the political dynamic has also changed. A party that has spent decades on toppling Roe’s unified message has failed to address a core message after Roe, dividing strategists, party leaders and activists. Anti-abortion groups have sought to unite Senate candidates with a proposal to ban abortion nationwide for 15 weeks, while other candidates have wavered and tried to avoid the issue altogether.
According to media tracking firm AdImpact, Republicans spent $11 million on abortion-focused TV ads.
John Helmberg, who leads the Minnesota Family Commission, which opposes abortion, acknowledged that voters’ top priorities were “rising crime and declining economic prospects,” with “abortion coming in third.”
But he also sees new energy from abortion opponents, who were outraged when a Minnesota judge recently ruled that abortion restrictions in many states were unconstitutional and wanted to overturn Roe to advance their cause in the state.
“They know the fight is not over,” he said.
Existing at the intersection of health care, faith, and law, abortion politics often persists for decades, not just one campaign cycle. Republicans have worked for years to elect senators and a president to eventually change the makeup of the Supreme Court with a view to overthrowing Roe.
In several states, abortion rights are directly on the ballot, and voters will decide on measures to amend their state constitutions. California, Michigan and Vermont will ask voters if they affirm the right to abortion in their state constitutions, and Kentucky will ask voters if they say no.
Perhaps the biggest test of whether abortion can energize voters comes in Michigan.
Abortion opponents there say the amendment motivates them. They poured money into digital and TV advertising, mailings and canvassing campaigns, describing the amendments as “extreme” provisions that would allow abortions throughout pregnancy. If approved, the measure would establish an individual’s right to “reproductive freedom” and allow the state to regulate the procedure after the fetus has survived, but not under certain conditions.
Activists are focusing on less prominent election results that could have long-term effects on abortion in different states.
In North Carolina, Republicans would need a net gain of five seats in the General Assembly to reach a supermajority that could overturn a Democratic governor’s veto of an anti-abortion bill. In the Wisconsin state legislature, they need six. In Pennsylvania, a ballot initiative submitted by the legislature to amend the state constitution could soon receive final approval from voters if approved by the incoming legislature.
In Minnesota, an abortion island in the region, Democrats and Republicans are vying for control of about 20 seats to determine party control of the legislature.
Elsewhere, the campaign for attorney general could decide how to enforce the now-controversial state abortion ban. In Arizona, which banned abortion in 15 weeks, Republican attorney general candidate Abraham Hamadeh said he would maintain a ban on nearly all abortions dating back to 1864, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Democrat Kris Mayes said she “would not sue any doctor, pharmacist, nurse” for abortion, even with anti-abortion laws.
In some states, state Supreme Court justices are elected positions, and because abortion laws are determined at the state level, race becomes even more important. Partisan control of the Supreme Court is up for grabs in Ohio, North Carolina and Michigan.
“Everything is going to be shut down,” said Ianthe Metzger, Planned Parenthood’s state advocacy liaison director. “Fate is at stake.”
Still, the extraordinary political landscape has turned theory into real political choice, prompting some voters to reassess their priorities.
In Western Michigan, Amanda Stratton, 37, has long considered herself an “pro-abortion” voter. But this November, ma’am. Stratton is a stay-at-home mom who voted Democrat. She said five difficult miscarriages had changed her beliefs and the debate was now pressing.
“I just think it’s kind of locked in, it’s just something we don’t have to worry about,” the woman said. Stratton recalled the shock when Roy fell. “I want those in power who made these decisions to support choice and help restore that in Michigan and hopefully across the country.”
Kristin Barakdarian Contribution report.