During the past four decades, the politics of abortion have been a very effective organizing, fundraising, and recruiting tool for the Republican Party.
Beginning with Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, the marriage of abortion opponents with Republicans has served to divide Americans culturally into two camps for which there is little debate on either side.
Since then, no Republican presidential nominee has ever been for abortion rights. Conversely, no Democratic presidential nominee since the 1980s has ever been anti-abortion, at least as a matter of public policy.
But, as a rule in American politics, the side that feels the most aggrieved is the one that is more passionate politically. And as long as the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision protecting abortion rights remains the intractable law of the land, those on the anti-abortion side have been more animated.
This may all soon change. The newly conservative Supreme Court agreed Monday to take up a Mississippi law that could effectively gut Roe v. Wade. The decision could not only change the nation’s abortion laws, but also energize abortion rights activists.
The timing is horrible for Republicans. The court will take up the matter this fall and announce a decision in the summer of 2022, right in the middle of the midterm elections.
No one is quite sure how the court will rule. But this is the first time since the Roe decision that conservatives have a 6 to 3 supermajority on the court.
Even if the justices don’t overturn Roe next summer, the move could fire up the Democratic base, who some political observers suspected would be less engaged with President Trump no longer in the White House.
The political implications could be huge. Democrats hold the slimmest of majorities in the US House and Senate in recent history. History suggests that with a Democrat in the White House and the party holding only a narrow majority in the House, control should easily flip to Republicans. Recent changes to redistricting, which added five new House seats in Republican states, will only help the GOP’s chances.
The Senate, currently evenly split at 50, is another matter. Only a third of the Senate is up in 2022 and it looks possible for Democrats to keep the majority even against historical headwinds favoring the party out of power.
If, however, abortion emerges as a central midterm campaign issue, it could really help Democrats -- particularly with the key voting group of suburban women. One survey of women voters in suburban Atlanta found that 78 percent of them backed abortion rights, including 45 percent of Republicans.
If Republicans get what they want on abortion next summer in the form of a Supreme Court ruling, a byproduct could be a Democratic-controlled Washington for another two years that passes a host of measures Republicans don’t want -- including federal legislation on abortion.