Could The Reversal of Roe v. Wade Be A Political Disaster For Republicans?
The controversial confirmation of conservative justice Brett “The Kegger” Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court leads many to believe the new conservative court majority will reverse Roe v. Wade. It should be noted this is no sure thing. A similar majority emplaced by Ronald Reagan had the chance to do so in 1992 with the case of Casey v. Planned Parenthood. However, the case did not follow the conservative script, as Reagan appointee Sandra Day O’Connor wrote a decision effectively affirming the central findings of Roe.
However, the new court majority may well be more ideological in this regard. I happen to believe Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, because my reading of the Constitution finds it utterly silent on the question of abortion. Still, reversing Roe now could very well be a ballot box disaster for Republicans.
It’s crucial to remember that reversing Roe will not in itself make abortion illegal anywhere. It will simply revert the question of abortion regulation to individual states. The nation would likely have 50 different, often very different, abortion codes. Some states will ban abortion in all, or almost all cases. Other states will keep abortion on demand legal in all, or almost all cases. Other states will have a continuum of compromises on the issue, restricting abortion in some circumstances but not others.
In all states the issue will be war. Elections for every state legislative office, and that of governor, will be driven by the abortion issue like never before. One effect of Roe is that its Constitutional fiat of the question has given elected officials relief from having to seriously face the issue. With the question resolved by the Supreme Court, it was mostly out of the jurisdiction of state legislatures, governors and the national congress. A reversal of Roe will change all that, to sweeping effect, creating a new political fault line and wedge issue for one of the most divisive topics in America.
I suggest that wedge issue will harm Republicans more at the ballot box. The simple truth is that a fairly strong majority of Americans favor abortion rights. The issue becomes even more interesting when you evaluate the question at the state level, where the real battles will be fought if Roe is reversed. To do this I used this Pew Research Center Poll that asked those surveyed, in all 50 states , if they believed abortion should be legal in all or most cases, or illegal in all or most cases.
To be sure, there was a great range in state views on this. The strongest pro-abortion rights state, Massachusetts, answered this in favor of legal for all or most cases by a whopping 74% to 22% margin. The strongest pro-life state, West Virginia, believed abortion should be illegal in all or most cases by a 58% to 35% margin.
States Strongly Opposed To Abortion Rights.
Strong majorities held pro-life views in most deep South states. Let’s focus first on states where the pro-life view was dominant, which I defined as a lead of more than 5% against abortion rights. Those states, and their percentages in favor of making abortion illegal in all or most circumstances, were:
West Virginia: 58%-35%
South Carolina: 52%-42%
These states strongly oppose abortion rights and, if Roe v. Wade is reversed, will likely pass laws reflecting that. Within them candidates to state office who even mildly support abortion rights will find tough going. Candidates for the United States Senate who support abortion rights will find it almost impossible to get elected.
However, these states control only 18 United States Senators. Currently, these 18 positions have only 3 Democrats sitting in them. They are Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the one Democrat who voted to confirm Kavanaugh; Doug Jones of Alabama, there by the fluke of Republicans stupidly nominating Roy Moore; and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, who is in a desperate race for reelection.
States Slightly Leaning Against Abortion Rights.
My next category of states lean towards opposing abortion rights but by a margin of 5% or less.
North Dakota: 51%-47%
South Dakota: 50%-48%
Kansas: 49%-49% (tie)
Kansas was the only state with a tie in the poll but I put it in this list because it tends to vote reliably conservative.
These nine states are more likely to have dynamic internal fights on the abortion issue resulting in compromises. While slightly pro-life in character, these states may elect candidates to national and state office from both parties. These nine states control 18 Senate seats. This brings to 36 the number of Senate seats in states either leaning towards the pro-life position or strongly favoring the pro-life position. Of the 18 Senate seats in these states, 16 are held by Republicans. The two Democrats are Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota (who is behind in her reelection campaign).
States Strongly In Support of Abortion Rights.
In this category are states strongly supporting abortion rights, by more than 5%. The first figure now represents those answering that they believe abortion should be allowed in all or most circumstances, the second figure are those who believe abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances.
New Hampshire: 66%-29%
New York: 64%-34%
Rhode Island: 63%-31%
New Jersey: 61%-35%
New Mexico: 51%-45%
These 28 states (per this poll) strongly support abortion rights. Even if we arbitrarily eliminate Oklahoma and Iowa from this list (because their results just don’t feel right) that’s 26 states controlling a majority of 52 Senate seats. Candidates for state office, and governor, who do not support abortion rights are likely to find very tough going under a new election regime where all candidates are subjected to the acid test of an abortion issue made relevant by the reversal of Roe v. Wade. In 22 of those states the pro-abortion rights position leads by double digits.
Of those 52 Senate seats ten are currently held by Republicans. The strongest pro-choice state with a Republican Senator is Maine’s Susan Collins, who held out to the last minute before before supporting Kavanaugh. In a state that supports abortion rights by nearly 2 to 1, Republican candidates like her are going to have a tough time. Fund raising efforts to oust her are already underway. The next strongest pro-choice state with Republican Senators is Alaska, with both its Senators Republicans. They are Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski. Murkowski was the one and only Republican who voted against confirming Kavanaugh.
Murkowski’s case underscores the dilemma such Republicans face on this issue, and will face even more if Roe is reversed, making it a much more direct issue for voters. While her state favors abortion rights by nearly 2 to 1, the state Republican Party is considering disciplining her for not supporting Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Another important point needs to be made about these 26 states: they alone control 309 electoral college votes, well more than the 270 required to win a Presidential election.
Please note the above map does not count for the Democrats any of the four states leaning in support of abortion rights, discussed below, and it eliminates both Iowa and Oklahoma from the Democrat side, even though the poll showed them strongly in favor of abortion rights. Yet all the strong pro-life states, and leaning pro-life states were credited to the Republicans in the above map, as were all the states slightly leaning in favor of abortion rights, to include the swing state of Ohio. The 22 states with double digit abortion rights support account for 269 of 270 necessary electoral college votes.
States Slightly Leaning In Favor Of Abortion Rights
Only four more states lean slightly in favor of abortion rights. They are:
North Carolina 49%-45%
Again, the most likely outcome in such states are compromise results on the abortion issue, restricting it in some ways but allowing it in others. In these states candidates from either party are likely to see some success.
These states represent eight more Senate votes and a total of 49 electoral college votes. Traditionally, Arizona and Ohio might be more toss ups while Nebraska and North Carolina are safe Republican states. However, the point of this article is that the reversal of Roe v. Wade may well alter traditional patterns of voting as the issue becomes more important to voters, because votes will actually impact abortion policy.
A reversal of Roe v. Wade will make the abortion issue more important to voters. This will be particularly true for pro-choice voters, who will suddenly lack the protection of the Constitution. They will be energized to seek remedy in their only remaining recourse, the ballot box. Arguably, this is how a democracy should work. However, this increased emphasis on the issue of abortion in deciding votes will likely work against a Republican Party that has increasingly defined itself, and most strongly so under this President, as the party opposed to abortion rights.
Republicans have worked hard to reverse Roe v. Wade. They may find it to be a case of “be careful what you wish for.”