'It will not happen overnight': Can abortion access drive voters to turn purple states blue?

·8 min read

WASHINGTON – After a Supreme Court ruling gave states power to decide abortion policy, the battleground over abortion access has shifted to local and federal elections in swing states such as Arizona, Florida and Georgia.

There, anti-abortion and abortion rights groups work to persuade voters to back candidates and legislation that support their positions.

“This election will have a real impact on our rights and freedoms moving forward,” said Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. “So who gets elected, not just in the Congress, but who gets elected in the state legislatures and the governor's races becomes that much more important if you’re concerned as women, which we are, about our rights and freedoms being under attack.”

In June, the Supreme Court overturned its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established the constitutional right to abortion. The 6-3 ruling upheld a Mississippi ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and declared abortion access a policy matter for states to decide.  

The decision was celebrated by conservatives, many of whom support a federal ban on abortions.

“This is going be an issue that state legislators are really going to be responsible for taking the mantle,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America and Students for Life Action, grassroots organizations that oppose abortions. “The days of knocking at the door of the Supreme Court, waiting for them to reverse the decision to allow states to decide for themselves the abortion laws is now over.”

In many states, it's unlikely voters will have much effect on changing abortion laws, in part because the legislatures are led mostly by Democrats or Republicans and the minority political party has little hope of taking control.

Twenty-six states have abortion bansor are likely to, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonpartisan think tank that tracks abortion data.

“One of the things that makes it difficult is that abortion is baked into party right now and so that makes it a hard nut to crack,” said Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

Cross noted Republicans tend to support anti-abortion measures while Democrats tend to back abortion access.

“The abortion question has already been settled, more or less, by the partisanship of a state,” he said.

That means voters could be crucial to determining abortion access in swing states, where neither Republicans nor Democrats have overwhelming support.

Students of Life for America targets legislative and congressional races in 15 states, including Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

“A lot of folks are going to be paying attention to these legislative races,” Hawkins said.

Get-out-the-vote efforts focus on abortion access

National civil rights leaders were in New Orleans this week mapping get-out-the-vote strategies. Campbell, a convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable, a coalition of grassroots groups, met with organizers from key states, including Georgia, Louisiana and Michigan, at the Essence Festival. The festival, hosted by the national magazine for Black women, featured panels on voting rights, abortion and other issues.

The coalition plans to canvass and host rallies next month to help “connect the dots for folks,” Campbell said.

More: Supreme Court ruling triggers maze of state abortion laws

Glynda Carr, president of Higher Heights for America, which supports Black women candidates and mobilizes Black female voters, said her group hopes to motivate voters in some of those states by highlighting the connection between economic justice and reproductive justice.

“We’re going to organize Black women voters to ensure that they're telling their stories and sharing their stories and giving them the tools,” said Carr, who will also be in New Orleans. “Black women don't vote alone. They bring their house, their block, their church, their sorority, their unions.”

Stand Up America, a left-leaning advocacy group, teamed with other organizations to recruit volunteers to write letters to voters in key states, including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania, to explain why it’s important to vote, including to preserve access to abortion.

“The court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was a wake-up call,” said Brett Edkins, the group’s managing director for policy and political affairs. “We know change this big will not be easy. It will not happen overnight. But I think more and more Americans know that if our lawmakers want us to send them back to Washington this fall, they need to stand up and fight.”

The group launched its “Four More” campaign to add four justices to the Supreme Court, an effort at the heart of the Democratic-backed Judiciary Act of 2021, which would create a 13-justice court.

“The only common-sense response to this radical out-of-control Supreme Court is to restore ideological balance,” Edkins said.

Anti-abortion groups such as Students for Life of America have ramped up efforts to urge state and federal lawmakers to support laws banning abortions.

Among its efforts is the "Abortion Free Cities" campaign in which members have held rallies near abortion clinics in 20 cities. Last week, the group hosted hundreds of student organizers and about a dozen anti-abortion state legislators for a strategy meeting in Washington to discuss the next phase of its campaign.

In addition to knocking on doors, the group plans to send text messages and mailers to remind voters of lawmakers' records on abortion issues.

“Roe v. Wade has been reversed. It is no longer the law of the land,” Hawkins said. “It is now up to state legislators to decide how far they allow the predatory abortion industry to conduct business in our states.”

'I cannot believe we are here again': Protesters take to streets across US after Supreme Court overturns Roe

Will voters in Republican states support abortion access? 

Despite the focus on swing state voters, some lawmakers in the political minority in their states are putting up a fight.

In Kentucky, state Rep. Attica Scott said she doesn't want Democrats in her conservative state to give up on pushing back against abortion restrictions.

Scott has stepped up efforts to defeat a Nov. 8 ballot amendment that would change the state constitution to say it doesn’t secure or protect the right to an abortion or require government funding for abortions.

Scott, who serves on the House Standing Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs, said she uses her social media accounts to warn voters about the amendment.

“I have had so many folks respond from every nook and cranny, rural Appalachians, suburban, urban parts of Kentucky … responding and saying, ‘Oh, my gosh, I had no idea this is on the ballot,’” Scott said. “I've said, ‘Please just ask three people in Kentucky to vote no on this amendment so that we can defeat it.’”

An abortion rights activist wears tape reading "2nd Class Citizen" outside the Supreme Court June 24.
An abortion rights activist wears tape reading "2nd Class Citizen" outside the Supreme Court June 24.

Scott acknowledges the challenge of defeating the amendment in a state where Republicans control the Legislature, but until the Supreme Court decision, she was confident it could be defeated.

“I feel like Republicans are going to do a much better job than Democrats of firing up their base,” Scott said. “We're not mobilizing people. We're not organizing. We're not educating and getting folks prepared to defeat this amendment.”

Demonstrators react outside the Supreme Court on June 24 after the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a constitutional right to abortions.
Demonstrators react outside the Supreme Court on June 24 after the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a constitutional right to abortions.

Abortion debate could increase voter turnout

Democrats who back abortion rights said another barrier is that many states with GOP-controlled legislatures passed election laws that make it harder to vote, such as requiring identification or restricting voting by mail. Those changes, they said, disproportionately affect groups that tend to vote for Democrats, including young people, low-income Americans and voters of color.

Voting restrictions are not likely to deter people who want a say in abortion rights, experts said.

“Where people have a bigger reason to come out and vote, I don't think they're going to be stopped by barriers like that,” said Cross of the University of Louisiana.

In response to election changes, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation will launch its “Are you vote ready?” campaign next month to make sure people comply.

“It's all about organizing and activism and preparing people to vote because of all the voter suppression laws,” Campbell said.

Abortion issues could spur more voters to show up, said David Becker, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research.

“It is likely that this is such a passionate issue for many that it will drive higher turnout than we might otherwise expect for people who might otherwise have sat out a midterm election,” Becker said.

Congress could weigh in on abortions

Abortion rights supporters and anti-abortion activists also plan to press Congress and the White House to act.

Many Republicans call for a federal ban on abortions. Last month, a group of Republican senators led by Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee introduced a resolution applauding the Supreme Court's decision.

“The pro-life movement has worked tirelessly over the last five decades to reverse the legally unsound and destructive ruling in Roe v. Wade and to ensure that the human dignity of every person is protected by law, regardless of age, background, or belief,” they wrote.

Abortion rights groups want to see more lawmakers in Washington who will protect access.

“There's a shift to state strategies, but we also have to keep our eyes on how we build a stronger Congress,” said Carr of Higher Heights for America, which supports liberal Black women candidates. “We need a concerted effort. It takes those who are going to rally in the streets and in front of the Supreme Court. It’s going to take those who are already elected and supporting them and for voters to hold those accountable.”

Contributing: John Fritze

Follow Deborah Berry on Twitter: dberrygannett

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Abortion access could be key issue in 2022 midterms and state races

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