For the first time in a generation, the issue of abortion is squarely in front of the Supreme Court. And for the first time in 30 years, the Supreme Court has a case and a question that allows it to consider whether or not abortion is a constitutional right under its jurisprudence, and whether or not Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey should remain good case law.
The New York Times is already preparing its readers for a post-Roe world. Suppose the court strikes Roe and Casey down, as top observers seem to believe it will. In that case, the most likely outcome is that the Supreme Court lets the states decide how to regulate abortion, removing its protection as a constitutional right. That would unleash decades of pent-up political energy that’s been unable to find a viable outlet.
A world where abortion politics are front in center in every race is unsettling to partisans of both parties. For Democrats, they have to pivot from a defensive crouch on abortion, protecting the Roe and Casey decisions, to advocating for laws that enshrine their increasingly extreme beliefs.
Top Democrats have pushed increasingly extreme lines on abortion for the past several years, seemingly wanting to allow abortions at any time, for any reason. This mindset is in stark contrast to the rest of the world, especially Europe. The Mississippi law in question would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which would fit right in with European regulations on abortion.
American leftists claim such laws are equivalent to Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale coming true.
On the flip side, there are some Republicans who are scared of a post-Roe world, too. Speaking to Axios, “one longtime GOP political operative [said] … ‘It’s one “big flare-up’ that could ‘derail what could be a 2010-level victory next year for the party and the movement.'”
Axios’ source added, “Republicans and operatives in the party, I don’t think they’re ready. They better get ready before this decision comes out.”
While those are interesting points, it’s inherently flawed logic. To start, the debate surrounding abortion has inflamed passions for generations. The Supreme Court has long absorbed those passions, because it wrongly took over the matter and removed it from politics. Abortion may help boost Democrats, but the reverse is true, too — it could further engage Republican voters.
The latent fear expressed here by that Republican operative and others like them is that they prefer the safer status quo to the dangers of the unknown post-Roe world of politics. Events could happen next year in the economy that could boost Democratic chances of retaining Congress — I doubt that happens — but pretending the status quo by itself guarantees anything is dangerous thinking by any operative.
Votes are earned. Republicans face the best electoral environment since 2010 or 1994. They have the political flexibility to take on a complex issue like abortion. Democrats have less leeway. It could be that regular Democratic voters who show up based on basic things like the economy get turned off by their abortion rhetoric.
It’s also possible we’re heading into an election next year with a seriously hampered economy. Suppose Biden can’t get inflation under control. In that case, his spending plans exacerbate it, and everyone is struggling with lost wages, higher costs, and a slow economy; it won’t matter what the Supreme Court decides. People will be fed up with the economy and will vote accordingly.
Kevin McLaughlin, former National Republican Senate Committee director, told Axios as much:
[Democrats] are desperate to find anything to talk about other than skyrocketing inflation and the President’s plummeting approval ratings, and think a couple Supreme Court cases will do the trick. But they won’t.
The point is: We don’t know precisely how abortion will impact politics, because the Supreme Court has kept those passions dammed up for nearly 50 years. American attitudes toward abortion have changed over that time, as has the science behind it, and the rhetorical arguments for and against it. Abortion would be entering an environment where cultural issues have more impact and meaning than years last.
Roe was decided during the Cold War, and feelings over it were nowhere near as passionate as they are now. Casey narrowly reaffirmed that decision just as the right was building its new legal movement in the form of the Federalist Society and more. Removing this issue from the courts and allowing the people to decide will force a decision and likely political compromise.
That’s the point of a democratic republic. People make decisions and agree. Sometimes it takes decades to figure that out, but eventually, a solution is found. The Supreme Court prevents that process, so we should hope they help channel that political energy effectively by releasing it back into the legislative sphere.
People may fear it, but that’s of no concern. The status quo is not working on this issue. Shaking up politics could produce some good change.