The Supreme Court’s abortion ruling gave the Democrats a boost.
Before the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling last month, Republicans were heavily favored to retake control of Congress from the Democrats in the fall 2022 elections. But the abortion decision changed things. It shifted polls in Democrats’ favor by about 3%. As a result, Democrats will likely keep control of the Senate, even though Republicans will likely take control of the House of Representatives this November.
In Senate races, Democrats now lead narrowly in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — states currently held by Republicans. They also lead in Georgia, which is held by a Democrat who barely won in a 2020 special election.
The Supreme Court dealt with abortion in its June 24 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The court, by a 6-to-3 vote, upheld a Mississippi law that banned most abortions after 15 weeks. By itself, that was popular: Most voters support banning virtually all abortions after 15 weeks.
But 5 of the 6 justices who voted to uphold the Mississippi law didn’t stop there. They also ruled that there is no constitutional right to an abortion at all, even before 15 weeks. That was an unpopular decision, according to virtually all of the public opinion polls.
Yet, some Republican legislators are now pushing for total bans on abortion, even in states where no ban on abortion could possibly pass. For example, in Virginia, the state senate is controlled by Democrats (21-to-19), and the most moderate Democrat on the abortion issue (Joe Morrissey) now says he won’t restrict abortion before 20 weeks.
Yet, there are right-wing legislators trying to ban all abortions, rather than trying to enact abortion restrictions that a “moderate” Democrat might actually vote for (such as prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks or 15 weeks).
A backlash resulted from the Supreme Court’s abortion decision saying there is no constitutional right to an abortion at all, and right-wing efforts to ban abortions even in the first trimester.
That backlash made the few moderate Democrats even less willing to vote for mild restrictions on abortion, such as curbs on taxpayer-funded abortions. They are aware that now more than ever, voting for any restriction on abortion may lead to a primary challenge against them by a more left-wing Democrat enraged about the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision.
Progressives have talked of bringing primary challenges against the Virginia state senator who is open to restricting abortion after 20 weeks, because feminists are enraged that the Supreme Court ruled there is no constitutional right to an abortion at all, and because union activists were already annoyed at that state senator for earlier supporting the state’s right-to-work law and opposing school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, that Senator, Joe Morrissey, has edged away from his past opposition to state funding for abortions, voting against a state version of the Hyde Amendment this summer.
So moderate Democrats are even less likely to vote to restrict abortion after 15 weeks than they would have been had the Supreme Court issued a less sweeping ruling, that merely limited the right to an abortion to those performed in the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, rather than declaring that there is no constitutional right to an abortion at all.
That means that in some purple states, and swing states, it may be even harder to restrict abortion after 15 weeks, than if the Supreme Court had simply upheld Mississippi’s law banning abortion after 15 weeks, rather than also declaring there is no constitutional right to an abortion at all. It may seem ironic, but that is how things are shaping up.