The politics of abortion: what do we know?

By Dave Andrusko

With the end of the current Supreme Court term rapidly approaching, understandably, everyone is on pins and needles. The draft opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, called for the 1973 Roe and the 1992 Casey decisions to be “overruled.” As Justice Alito wrote

The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision – including the one on which the defenders of Roe and Casey now chiefly rely: the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. That provision has been held to guarantee some rights that are not mentioned in the Constitution, but any such right must be “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.” The right to abortion does not fall within this category.

We’ve been inundated in polling data since Politico reported on Justice Alito’s draft opinion in early May. We’ve reported on all the major ones.

The New York Times’s David Leonhardt’s column today is headlined “The Politics of Abortions.” He began with the conclusion that Democrats have drawn –that Roe’s reversal will be a boon to pro-abortionists:

With the country possibly on the verge of its biggest change in abortion policy since the 1970s, many Democrats see a major political opportunity. They think the court’s decision — if, in fact, it overturns Roe, which remains uncertain — can help the party do better in this year’s midterms than many analysts have been predicting. In the long term, Democrats hope that they can channel public opinion to enshrine abortion access into law.

However, there were “caveats” for Leonhardt:

But there are also at least three reasons to wonder whether abortion will prove to be as potent as Democrats think.

First, the recent Wall Street Journal poll suggesting that most Americans oppose any abortion restrictions may be an outlier. For years, other polls have repeatedly shown that a majority of people — women and men — support abortion access in many cases but also want significant restrictions (such as after the first trimester).

As a recent Pew report put it, “Relatively few Americans on either side of the debate take an absolutist view on the legality of abortion — either supporting or opposing it at all times, regardless of circumstances.” The Democratic Party’s position is near one end of that spectrum, which can make it harder for the party to win over swing voters on the issue.

That final sentence is critical and one we have talked about a gazillion times. The Democrats’ posture on abortion is objectively extreme. It’s abortion on demand throughout the entire pregnancy and paid for by the public. It is not in harmony with the public —not at all.

The second caveat is the peculiar, off-putting language that Democrats now use in talking about abortion:

Second, the politics of gender identity are dividing Democrats, which may make it harder for them to agree on a clear message. Historically, Democrats have described abortion access as a matter of women’s equality. But some progressives now oppose using the word “women” when talking about abortion, because a small percentage of pregnant people are transgender men.

My colleague Michael Powell described this debate in The Times last week, and he quoted some experts who argued that language like “pregnant people” alienated many people. “Activists are adopting symbols and language that are off-putting not just to the right but to people in the center and even liberals,” Steven Greene of North Carolina State University said.

So even the way they talk about abortion is extreme and offensive to common sense.

Third, Leonhardt writes, “abortion may not be the main issue on most voters’ minds, even if the Supreme Court overrules Roe. ‘It is a very huge issue for the base of the party,’ Chuck Rocha, a Democratic strategist and former union organizer, told Politico. ‘But it doesn’t have the same sway as we think it does.” That may be especially true when inflation is high and President Biden’s approval rating is low.’”

You know pro-lifers will be overjoyed by a Roe reversal and will go to the polls this November in massive numbers to elect candidates who agree that protecting unborn babies is of paramount importance. What does the latest Harvard/Harris abortion poll, conducted May 18-19, tells us about the possible impact of the abortion issue on the upcoming mid-term elections?

They asked, “If the court rolled back Roe v. Wade entirely leaving all abortion laws to the states would you favor or oppose that change?” Almost exactly even: 49% would favor this reversal, 51% would oppose.

They compare these results to the results of a November 2021. 46% would favor rolling back Roe, 54% opposed—a net gain of 3%.

How much had people heard about Justice Alito’s leaked draft opinion? “Have you heard or not heard about a recent Supreme Court draft opinion that was publicly leaked which showed the court overturning federal abortion rights granted by Roe vs. Wade and allowing states to decide abortion rights on their own?”

Almost exactly three-quarters (76%) had heard.

And then the politics of the leaked opinion: “Are you more likely to vote Democrat or Republican because of this leak, or will it not make a difference?” 34% said Republican, 32% said Democrat, and 34% said it would make no difference.

Fascinating. The public is much closer to the pro-life position than the media would have you believe.