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Abortion Politics

Susan Estrich on

Beware what you wish for, my Republican friends. After decades of campaigning against Roe, you are, finally, about to see what it means to be on the wrong side of abortion politics.

In the wake of Roe, most Democratic politicians were terrified of abortion voters because most of them -- especially the single-issue voters -- were anti-choice. The preferred formulation for even the most liberal politicians, the one I wrote for Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1980, was that "I am personally opposed to abortion, but I support Roe v. Wade as the law of the land."

The law of the land. It was, for 50 years, even as the anti-choice movement constantly whittled away at its guarantee, both at the state legislative level, by passing onerous regulations, and at the practical level, by scaring providers away, literally.

For most of those years, we warned that we were one vote away from losing Roe. And we were. But it is very difficult to energize a sleeping giant -- that is, young voters -- with an argument that is based on being, perpetually, it sometimes seemed, one vote away.

That we stayed one vote away for so long, that the four hardcore conservatives could not count, for instance, on the chief justice joining them, is a testament to the respect for the law of the land, once established, and the wisdom of not politicizing the court.

The court today is held in lower esteem than at any time in recent history. Blame Bush v. Gore for revealing that the emperor had no clothes. Blame Justice Samuel Alito and his majority for revealing that the justices make the law according to their own politics.

The question is not what will happen in hardcore red states; most have trigger laws on the books, meaning that prohibitions will automatically go into effect if/when Roe is overruled. And in hardcore blue states, it is a measure of just how dramatically abortion politics has changed that even Republican governors of those states are vowing to protect Roe at the state level.

 

When it comes to abortion politics, think purple. Think states like Ohio, which just nominated a hard-right Trumper for Senate, who may well face a very motivated pro-choice electorate. Think states like Florida, whose Republican governor is desperately trying to out-Trump the Trump and must now contend with a pro-choice electorate. While abortion polls are notoriously easy to manipulate (let me write the questions and I can tell you what the answers will be), every poll shows strong majority support for maintaining Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. That may not include the full scope of protection that Roe is intended to afford until viability, but it surely does not mean writing reproductive freedom out of the Constitution.

The older you are, the more likely you are to vote. If you want to know why Social Security is the third rail in American politics, just check out the numbers for voters by age. I learned in practice: When I ran Get out the Vote in Florida, decades back, I had ambulances taking people to the polls; they were that committed to voting. On the other hand, put a voting booth right on campus and most of the students will ignore it. Why? The answer I used to get was that it didn't matter, which was never true. It is certainly not true in the wake of Alito's opinion. If young people voted in the same number as old people, college would be guaranteed for every student who qualifies. And abortion would be legal.

We are no longer one vote away. We have lost. The midterm may well turn on single-issue voters, but this time, the voters with the greatest motivation to vote are those who are pro-choice and must now look to politics and not the court to protect their rights.

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To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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