It’s been just under a year and a half since the United States Supreme Court rolled back the federal right to reproductive healthcare in its landmark Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, ending half a century of government-protected abortion access established under 1973’s Roe v. Wade ruling. In that time, the political ground has shifted somewhat, with Republicans underperforming in the 2022 midterms to gain narrow control of the House of Representatives, even as Democrats solidified their Senate majority — a sign that blowback from the conservative push to restrict federal abortion access may have hindered the GOP’s electoral aspirations across the country.
But If the results of the 2022 midterms were indeed impacted by that year’s SCOTUS bombshell ruling, where does that leave voters in 2023? Questions about abortion access are once again playing a central role in today’s off-season elections in states like Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, showcasing “the effectiveness of both parties’ approaches,” The New York Times reported. Will the fallout from Dobbs continue to animate Democrats, or can Republicans regain the momentum that brought them to this moment to begin with? And throughout it all, what will today’s election results mean as the nation braces itself for 2024, and a potential rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump? Whether an explicit ballot measure, as in Ohio, or simply a rhetorical cudgel to frame political opponents as extremists as both Democrats and Republicans have done elsewhere, the fight over abortion rights continues to play out today at polling places across the country — and could be a sign of things to come ahead of next year’s general election.
Tuesday’s races will show “how powerful the issue still is” and will not only have major implications for abortion access but for how Republicans will “navigate this critical issue ahead of 2024” according to The Daily Beast. The outcome will either show that abortion remains a major motivator for Democrats, or, in what is “perhaps the current operating assumption” among some GOP campaigns, will show that the issue has “faded enough from voters’ minds” that Republicans can move on to other topics.
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Abortion remains a “very, very powerful” stimulant for Democrats, as well as a “very fruitful persuasion issue for swing voters,” Democratic pollster Angela Kuefler told The New York Times. The open question for both parties is “how far into conservative areas Democrats’ arguments will be effective” and what, if anything, Republicans can do to counter that push. In Virginia, for instance, where Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has been stymied by Democrats’ narrow state Senate majority, conservatives have focused on flipping that chamber in part by framing a proposed ban on abortions after 15 weeks as something “where Virginians come together around reasonableness,” Youngkin told ABC’s This Week. The goal is to “prove there is a middle ground that is enough to keep the GOP’s anti-abortion base on board while also winning enough votes from abortion rights supporters who are open to some restrictions,” explained CNN’s John King, describing Youngkin’s campaign rallies as looking “very much like a presidential test run.”
Pennsylvania’s race between Republican Carolyn Carluccio and Democrat Dan McCaffery for a vacant state Supreme Court seat has also been defined in no small part by questions about abortion access. While Carluccio has “insisted that abortion law in Pennsylvania is settled” she has also “received the backing of several anti-abortion groups in the state,” The Hill reported. McCaffery, meanwhile “has touted his endorsement from Planned Parenthood.”
What next? Of all the states holding elections this week, Ohio is the only place where abortion access itself is on the ballot, with an amendment for voters to “decide whether to enshrine reproductive rights in their state Constitution,” according to the Associated Press. Ohio is “the most conservative state to date where we’re pushing for proactive state constitutional amendments,” ACLU strategist Carolyn Ehrlich told the outlet, even as anti-abortion organizers look to 2022 to “apply those weapons and learning in other states going forward,” SBA Pro-Life America state public affairs director Kelsey Pritchard explained.
In Virginia, however, lessons from this week’s election may be more “difficult to untangle,” GOP consultant Brian Robinson told NPR. Unlike Ohio, “this is not a referendum.”
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