On Tuesday, the Alabama legislature voted to ban nearly all abortions, including for victims of rape and incest. It’s the strictest abortion regulation in the country, one that clearly runs afoul of Roe v. Wade. Supporters say that’s by design. As my colleagues wrote, “those who backed the new law said they don’t expect it to take effect, instead intending its passage to be part of a broader strategy by antiabortion activists to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.”
The measure sets up a contentious culture war, one that could play a major role in the 2020 election. And experts say it has the potential to help Republicans — but also Democrats.
Putting abortion front and center like this could help motivate social conservatives to get out and vote. That’s good news for Trump — few groups have supported the president at higher rates. He won the support of white evangelicals by more than 80 percent in 2016. White Catholics supported the president by 60 percent. More recent polling shows the president continues to enjoy huge support among these voters. For many of them, Trump’s appeal is linked at least in part to his opposition to abortion.
The onetime pro-choicer has endorsed a raft of antiabortion positions and candidates, leading longtime abortion foes such as his vice president to label him “the most pro-life president” in U.S. history. The court fight for the Alabama ban could give Trump opportunities to highlight his work on the issue, and to make a case for reelection pegged to the need for conservative judges.
Republican strategist Doug Heye, a former Republican National Committee communications director, told The Fix that this could be key to Trump’s message.
“This is about putting the case out here to see where the Supreme Court will go. And I think the thought on that is that the Supreme Court, for conservatives, is a pretty advantageous place. And they now want to see what is workable under a new court,” he said. “One of the things that we learned very clearly about 2016 is that the courts are much more important to conservatives than they are to liberals. For any Republican who was reluctant to back Trump, they voted with courts in mind as their number-one issue."
But it’s a strategy that could leave Trump struggling with independent voters, a group he is already losing, and of course, with women, a demographic from whom the right has seen decreased support since Trump won. Most independent voters (60 percent) and women (60 percent) say abortion should be legal in most cases.
And while the court issue rallied conservatives concerned about judicial overreach, Democrats’ 2018 midterm strategy relied heavily on mobilizing women uncomfortable with the Trump administration’s policies toward women and the president’s alleged mistreatment of women. The party can double down on that strategy in light of this issue in 2020.
Democratic strategist Maria Cardona, former Democratic National Committee communications director, said Democrats are going to mobilize the base by keeping what conservative state legislatures are attempting to do at the forefront of voters’ minds until the election.
“The Republicans want to make this issue front and center, but I don’t think it’s very politically savvy to do so. Seven in 10 Americans do not want Roe v. Wade overturned, so the Republicans are pushing their own personal, political convictions in a bill that is unconstitutional, that is dangerous for America’s women and families and that is completely reprehensible from a humane standpoint.”
Abortion has long been one of the main battles in American culture wars, and the recent decisions from state legislatures show that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are prepared for further battle on the issue. Ultimately, these decisions will be left up to the courts — but also to voters, who decide which lawmakers will represent them at their state capitals.