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Abortion Is a Winning Issue
Democrats would do well to remember that.
We now know it to be true: The Supreme Court’s overturning Roe v. Wade hugely motivated Democratic voters to turn out in the midterm elections yesterday, staving off the threat of a “red tsunami” for the Republicans. And when voters actually have the chance to vote on the kind of world they want to live in, they largely do not want one where abortion is outlawed.
Abortion access became a key issue in several governors’ races, including in states like Wisconsin, where the Republican candidate flat-out said his party would rule forever if they won. Per The Washington Post (emphasis theirs):
Several critical governors contests — such as in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — also broke in favor of abortion rights supporters. North Carolina Republicans failed to achieve a supermajority in the state legislature, meaning they won’t have the power to break the Democratic governor’s veto. Meanwhile, Republican incumbents in Florida and Georgia will remain in power, opening the door for further limits on the procedure to be passed in the future.
Support for abortion rights appeared even better when you looked at state ballot measures—even in fucking Kentucky, where anti-abortion zealots were really looking to run up the score à la Kansas. Kentucky voters rejected a proposal to amend the state’s constitution to even further constrain rights in a state where a so-called “trigger law” after Roe has meant a de facto near-total abortion ban. Just get a load of this language (emphasis mine): “Are you in favor of amending the Constitution of Kentucky by creating a new Section of the Constitution to be numbered Section 26A to state as follows: To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion?”
Results aren’t final in a similarly draconian ballot measure in Montana, but “no” votes—against making any infant “born alive” a legal person, whatever that means—are leading “yes” votes by more than five points, according to the New York Times’ running tally. (In an ironic, accidentally actually “pro-life” twist, the ballot measure would also “grant any fetus born alive the right to appropriate and reasonable medical care and treatment,” according to ABC News.)
Meanwhile, residents of California, Vermont, and Michigan voted to enshrine the right to an abortion in their constitutions, perhaps most significantly in Michigan, where its passage will help stop a 1931 state law banning abortion from taking effect.
We already had inklings that voters cared a whole lot about outlawing abortion, a fact that the right is certainly aware of—which is why they rolled back 50 years of settled precedent using the highly undemocratic Supreme Court. Less than two months after Roe was overturned, conservatives in Kansas vastly overplayed their hand, with 59 percent of voters rejecting their constitutional amendment to ban abortion in the state. Then, in August, in a closely-watched tossup special election in upstate New York, Pat Ryan won a House seat by making abortion the central issue in his campaign. (Ryan won again on Tuesday night, proving that the first time around wasn’t a fluke.)
NBC News’ exit polling from Tuesday found abortion was a top issue for all voters, second only to inflation, with more than one-quarter of voters nationwide reporting it was the issue that mattered most to them.
It’s these data points, now made even clearer, that have been driving me to the mouth of madness in the run-up to this election. National Democrats’—meaning President Biden, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi on down—response to the overturning of Roe was at best sluggish and at worst an absolute betrayal of their voters. They responded to conservatives turning their voting base back into second-class citizens overnight by hemming and hawing, doing nothing, and, perhaps even worse, allowing the idea that abortion was not a winning issue to take root. Democrats performed much better than expected last night—although the Senate and the House still hang in the balance—but can you imagine how the results would’ve looked if Joe Biden had spent every single day since Roe fell talking about nothing but the barbarism of an unelected, lifetime-appointed court outlawing abortion?
Voters’ passion about this issue was the Democrats’ saving grace last night, despite them doing nothing to earn our votes other than being the party that doesn’t actively want women who don’t wish to be pregnant to die. If the Democrats care about women, or even just about winning elections—both of which remain open questions—they’ll remember the lessons of Tuesday night, and back their words up with real action.