Reversal of the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide could produce an upheaval in U.S. politics and would put candidates who oppose abortion rights at risk of defeat in many parts of the country, a leading House Republican said yesterday.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the Government Reform Committee, said the desire of GOP conservatives to see a newly constituted Supreme Court eventually overturn Roe v. Wade could produce a political backlash, particularly in the suburbs. "It would be a sea change in suburban voting patterns," Davis said at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Davis's comments came days after the revelation that Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., President Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court, had written in a 1985 memo that he did not believe there was a constitutional right to abortion. Alito has since told senators that those views would not influence his actions if he is confirmed.
But the comments underscored the potential collision between the long-sought goal of religious and cultural conservatives to undo the court's 1973 abortion rights decision and the political implications for the Republican Party's aspirations of expanding its majorities in Congress and holding the White House after President Bush's term ends.
Davis, who previously chaired his party's congressional campaign committee, also offered a critical analysis of the state of his party, saying that while there is time for a turnaround, the president and the GOP must find a way out of their current problems or face major difficulties in the 2006 midterm elections.
He complained that until last week, when Bush lashed back at critics who have accused him of misleading the country before the Iraq war, the White House has been too passive. "Until the president spoke last week, nobody's been defending anything," he said. "It's just been a complete retrograde operation on the part of the White House the last couple of months. They have a story to tell; nobody's been telling it."
Davis claimed that that frustration over the war in Iraq and Bush's and Vice President Cheney's continued refusal to publicly address the CIA leak investigation continue to serve as a drag on the party. "I think the vice president and the president both right now probably are not helpful in a lot of marginal congressional seats," he said.
Were the Democrats not so disorganized, he said, Republicans would be in even more trouble. "This is nothing more than an organized conspiracy to seize power," Davis said of the Democrats. "This is not a group of people who are of like mind" on the issues, he said.
Davis's warnings on abortion grow out of the experience of Virginia Republicans in 1989, when the high court ruled that states could begin to restrict access to abortions. That fall, Democrat L. Douglas Wilder won the governor's race, with strong support in Northern Virginia.
"If Roe v. Wade is overturned," Davis said, "you're going to have a lot of very nervous suburban candidates out there. . . . It's easy to say you're for a culture of life, but the answer is what do you do about it at that point."