If you want to make a point about the future of abortion, there’s no better place to make it than Indiana. Not only has its border with Ohio become a kind of front line of reproductive rights, but on Monday the state legislature there began the first post-Dobbs special session in any state to consider a new law to all but ban abortion.
So Vice President Harris traveled to Indianapolis on Monday, leading a roundtable of lawmakers to object to what the legislature, which has large Republican majorities, seems almost certain to do.
If and when that law is passed, responsibility for enforcing it will be in the hands of the state’s Republican attorney general, Todd Rokita, who has already shown his zeal for climbing into the gutter in the abortion wars. When news broke recently that a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio went to Indiana for an abortion, Rokita reacted by threatening the doctor who treated her with prosecution on highly dubious grounds; that doctor has prepared a defamation suit against Rokita.
But Rokita might not be deterred. We’re already seeing that the fight over abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade will occur in many states and forums. At the heart of this will be attorneys general.
The evolving battle over abortion at the state level has prompted some Democrats to adopt a reading of the substantive and political challenges ahead, centered on the notion that races for state attorney general just got much more important.
They point out that conservative groups pushing red states to adopt tougher antiabortion laws have advanced model legislation that centralizes much prosecutorial power against violators with state attorneys general.
That’s in part because local prosecutors in some bluer areas of red states — including in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas — have gone on record declaring they won’t use resources to prosecute women who get abortions or the medical personnel who perform them.
One of them is Ryan Mears, the chief prosecutor of Indiana’s Marion County, which includes Indianapolis. So it isn’t hard to foresee dramatic fights between AGs and prosecutors in liberal cities (which can be found in even the most conservative states).
Meanwhile, this could also affect blue states where abortion is legal. Democratic incumbent attorneys general are on the ballot in states including Michigan and Wisconsin. If they are replaced by Republicans, and a Republican gets elected governor in those states, GOP-controlled legislatures in them could severely restrict or ban abortion, then centralize more enforcement power with incoming GOP attorneys general.
“Extremist Republican groups continue to push model legislation to ban abortion, and the central enforcer in that model legislation is state attorneys general,” Sean Rankin, the president of the Democratic Attorneys General Association, told us in a statement.
Meanwhile, Democrats are running to unseat GOP attorneys general in states including Georgia and Arizona. If they can win, Democrats argue, they’d be able to slow the antiabortion enforcement tide. As Rankin put it: “Democratic AGs are the last line of defense.”
Which shows another area where Republicans might suffer politically from the backlash to the Supreme Court’s decision: Since public opinion is with the Democrats on this issue even in some conservative places, putting AGs at the forefront could backfire on the antiabortion forces, potentially resulting in the election of more Democrats.
Nevertheless, in conservative states, ambitious attorneys general will likely see being as draconian as possible on abortion as a good means to raise their profile among GOP primary voters and attention from right-wing media. And since many AGs start thinking about running for governor a few minutes after taking office, we’re likely to see battles focusing on how these laws are enforced, and against whom.
All of which is yet more evidence that the Supreme Court’s conservative justices might not have quite realized what they meant when they told us they were merely returning the abortion issue to the states to be decided by the people and their elected representatives. What they really did was set off a war that will go on for years to come, and unfold in all kinds of unforeseen and ugly ways.