With bad things accumulating like Ukrainian mud around Democrat midterm chances, nobody seems to be talking about the elephant in the room. Its name is Roe, and if national abortion rights are overturned, it could help destroy the Democratic party. A Supreme Court decision is expected soon.
The signs of significant change are clear. Texas is already effectively restricting abortions after six weeks (Idaho passed similar legislation.) Florida restricts most abortions after 15 weeks. If Roe is gone, 26 states are expected to ban or limit abortion. Four states support the Mississippi law the Supreme Court is now reviewing in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
The Mississippi law is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Court decision which made abortion a woman’s right through the second trimester. The Court will likely announce later this spring a decision to overturn or significantly weaken Roe, clearing the way for each state to create its own restrictions. It will also signal the end of an era dominated by Democratic party social policy.
Politically the loss could be part of a death spiral for Dems. “Protecting Roe” has been a central Democratic talking point for decades and if that protection fails, especially under a Democratic president and with Democratic House, it will not go down easy. The decision may have as much effect on the midterm elections, and possibly 2024, as any other factor. A lot of Democratic support from educated women is tied to abortion rights. With the party already losing/having lost working class voters and many Hispanics, they cannot afford to jettison too many more blocs. And somebody is going to be blamed.
The most likely blaming gambit by the Dems will be self-destructive, to scold voters, saying if the dumb rednecks hadn’t elected Trump we would not have three new conservative judges on the Court. Scolding and mocking voters was a signature of Hillary’s campaign and look where it got her; “deplorables” is forever an American election meme now.
And even if the Democrats were to 3-D print a viable candidate for 2024 out of soy-based beef substitute, he could not bring enough new blood to the Court (only Justice Breyer was the obvious candidate to retire) to change the balance quick enough to rally Roe. So the most obvious Dem slogan, elect us and we’ll repack the Court with liberals, is at best a solution decades away even if everything goes well. There is no will to expand the Court outside of the NYT Op-Ed pages.
Dems will not mention it, but the real blame lies in 50 years of Congress refusing to codify Roe’s judicial creative writing into actual law that could withstand a transition to a conservative Supreme Court. Over the decades the Democrats when in the majority treated abortion, as they did same-sex marriage for many years, as a third rail. They supported it but would never risk the votes by actually touching it.
A loss on Roe will beg the question in many Blue voters’ minds of why bother to elect Democrats at all. The Democrats of course don’t see it that way; “I think the country hasn’t seen the rage of women speaking out,” said Representative Jackie Speier. Representative Pramila Jayapal said “I think it’s going to mobilize people to go to the polls. You will see an outcry like you’ve never seen before.” Righteous anger? Maybe. But Democrats will have quite a battle convincing these angry voters that yes for sure this time promise they’ll actually do something to protect abortion rights other than whine about losing them and holding Handmaidens Tale watch parties.
The other question Democrats will need to confront is what do Americans really want? In a nationwide survey, 56 percent said they would support restricting abortions after 15 weeks, what the Mississippi law at the center of Dobbs aims to do. Hispanic voters, who Democrats are already losing, are divided on the issue of abortion and vote Red in notable numbers. Same sex marriage finally became so widely supported that even Democratic candidates in purple areas could safely jump on the bandwagon. Not so with abortion.
There are other players the Democrats might want to spread a little blame on as well. In the case of Dobbs now at the Court, their champion Justice Sotomayor failed to lay a legal glove on her opponents at the oral arguments. While the conservative and swing justices walked their colleagues through case after important case where precedent was overturned, she whimpered like an unprepared 1L that precedents she supported were untouchable.
Sotomayor went on to chide her colleagues if they overturned Roe the whole Court would lose credibility and take on a “stench.” She spoke like someone running for election in San Francisco, not a sober justice building a case her colleagues would sign on to. She seemed to forget at oral arguments the justices aren’t really talking to the attorneys before them; rather, they’re talking to each other through the lawyer at the lectern. But at least her no doubt snarky formal dissent will earn her comparisons to the Notorious RBG.
Speaking of RBG, perhaps she deserves a dainty teaspoon of blame. Her hubris in a) thinking she would live forever and b) assuming Hillary would be anointed and choose her successor lead directly to Donald Trump’s signature political triumph, turning the Court right. The blood of the martyr Breyer waters RBG’s grave site.
Which also suggests Barack Obama, who failed to fight for his Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland a few years ago, shares some blame. Claiming Obama could not effectively fight for his nominee because of Republican opposition again begs the question of why bother to elect a Democrat at all if they’re just going to fail and blame the other party for their failure. You’re just not a very good politician if you can only get things done with a super-majority.
More broadly, blame should Roe fall lies in part with the feminist movement and the far-left of the Democratic party. They long ago insisted on including the contentious issue of abortion in with the basket of more broadly supported women’s issues, such as equal pay.
They then turned away many middle-of-the-road voters and “purple” women by tying abortion rights into all sorts of issues which do not enjoy consensus dealing with LGB and incessantly, trans people. “America’s anti-abortion agenda is also anti-trans” announced one queer media outlet matter-of-factly. “Banning trans people from public life and banning abortion are all about installing a regime of gender roles.” For those whose idea of “a regime of gender roles” means basic biology not same-sex toilets the argument is as non-inclusionary as an NFL steam room.
As if to double-down on the idea, many Democrats are ginning up scare tactic ploys, saying if Roe falls same sex marriage is next along with a slate of basic civil rights. This strategy, which insists on pairing the broad political spectrum among gay and lesbian voters with a narrow radical feminist perspective, fails to account for the fact Roe was a cobbled together compromise using the 14th Amendment to create a “right” to abortion, which really made no one feel things were settled. Cases like Obergefell v. Hodges, which made same-sex marriage legal, and Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned laws criminalizing same-sex relationships, rest on much different and sounder precedent.
Any politician seeking to build support instead of acquire virtue points tries to make the tent bigger. Instead, Representative Ayanna Pressley, basically saying hold my beer to Hillary “Deplorable” Clinton, stated “Pro-life laws hurt our lowest income sisters, our queer, trans and nonbinary siblings, black, Latinx, AAPI, immigrants, disabled and indigenous folks. And none of this is happenstance… These bans are rooted in a patriarchy and white supremacy.”
And no progressive commentary is complete without the now-obligatory Nazi reference. It was feminister has-been Gloria Steinem who added ahistorically “You know, Hitler’s first official act was banning abortion.” The basic line “all men are pigs and rapists” did not build support for feminist issues in the 1960s, it did not build support for the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, and it is not helping today.
In one article of so many on such themes, the writer begins by asking why more men don’t overtly support women in the abortion fight. She then calls any opposing views from hers “Taliban-adjacent,” claims the government is over-represented by men, and cites the need to destroy the patriarchy. She goes on to mock men who claim they understand women’s issues because they have daughters. Hmm, sister, if you don’t see why you’re not building up support among us dudes after that, I can’t mansplain it.
The real problem for the Democrats is if the Republicans can claim victory in overturning Roe, they will empower their base in new degrees; a signature victory for many social conservative and evangelical voters was delivered. Those evangelicals who held their noses and supported Donald Trump will have new found reason to look past his gross person; he came through for them on an important issue. In response, “Vote for us, we lost Roe on our watch” is not a very inspiring Democratic campaign slogan.
Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent. This article has not been submitted to the Department of Homeland Security Disinformation Board. Parental discretion is advised.