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At Stake: Reproductive Rights


Whatever the outcome of the current panic, Dobbs and the end of Roe v. Wade are an important part of the campaign and election. For the past half-century or so, Supreme Court decisions have extended the scope of rights. Dobbs revoked the right of more than half the population to bodily autonomy. Some of us are angry about that.

Heather Cox Richardson discussed Dobbs in three of her daily columns the week of June 24, the second anniversary of the declaration that women’s health and lives are subject to the ignorance of male legislators. We’ve seen the stories about pregnancies gone wrong and women bleeding out in the parking lot because doctors are afraid to treat them under threat of imprisonment. That is still going on today.

For women and people with female reproductive organs, this issue doesn’t go away. Our bodies remind us every day. All of us have struggled with the possibility of bearing children, and now those options are being taken away, along with treatments for pregnancies gone wrong. The remnants of our uterine linings that flow every month, or the memories of that, remind us that six members of the Supreme Court and the Republican Party loathe us for that.

It’s never been about the innocent babies. Richardson quotes Phyllis Schafly in 1972, a woman who had her own career but didn’t want the rest of us to.

The ‘women’s lib[eration]’ movement is not an honest effort to secure better jobs for women who want or need to work outside the home,” she said. It “is a total assault on the role of the American woman as wife and mother, and on the family as the basic unit of society. Women’s libbers are trying to make wives and mothers unhappy with their career, make them feel that they are ‘second-class citizens’ and ‘abject slaves.’ Women’s libbers are promoting free sex instead of the “slavery” of marriage. They are promoting Federal ‘day-care centers’ for babies instead of homes. They are promoting abortions instead of families.”

From that same column:

As state laws prohibiting abortion took effect, voters worked to protect abortion rights. In seven states, including Republican-dominated Kansas, Kentucky, and Ohio, voters have protected abortion rights when they were on the ballot. Pollster Tom Bonier today called abortion rights “the most powerful single issue in politics.” 

Bonier recalled looking at the Kansas vote and finding such a surprising statistic he thought he had miscalculated. After Dobbs, almost 70% of the people in that state registering to vote were women. He said he has “never seen a registration surge among any specific group like this before, and [doesn’t] expect to again.” He went on to find substantial gender gaps in registration in states where access to abortion was at risk, but not in states where it seemed secure. 

In 2022, Bonier said, “[i]n states and races where abortion rights were perceived as at stake, Democrats overperformed massively,” including in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Arizona, but in states like New York and California, where abortion rights are protected, “the election was as you would have expected in a ‘normal’ midterm.” Bonier added that abortion rights “is likely more salient now than it was in 2022.” 

And now we can add Arizona and Arkansas (Arkansas?) to the list of states in which there will be votes on abortion rights in November. These ballot measures will bring out people who will not vote for Trump, as they have in recent elections. Richardson:

As the votes indicate, Dobbs has created a huge problem for Republicans, especially as Trump continues to boast that he is responsible for overturning Roe, a boast that the Biden campaign is highlighting. Voters eager to protect abortion rights are moving away from the party toward a more moderate and popular position on abortion.

It has also created a problem for the party on the hard right. Having lost the abortion issue as a way to turn out voters, leaders are whipping up the party’s base with ever-increasing extremism. In the realm of reproductive rights, that extremism has led MAGA Republicans to call for national bans on abortion, contraception, and in vitro fertilization (IVF).

And no-fault divorce.

There is an argument going on within the Republican Party, which recognizes how damaging their demand to be in everyone’s panties is to their election chances. Two anti-abortion fanatics were denied a place on the platform committee, and the platform may be modified to look more reasonable. Trump alternates between pride in his role in destroying Roe and saying he never heard anything about it. He has refused to take a position on the measures the women-hating wing of his party wants to pass, but you can bet that if they get them through Congress and he’s President, he’ll sign them.

The danger is that low-information voters will take from this argument that Trump is moderate on reproductive rights. We have to make clear that that is not the case. We’ve got a lot of people on our side in that. Taking rights away from one group seldom stops there.

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