The political world’s attention in recent days has largely been centered on the Russia-Ukraine crisis and Ketanji Brown Jackson’s historic Supreme Court nomination, the outcomes of which will have major implications for the future of Joe Biden’s presidency.
But there’s another issue simmering below the surface at the moment that could also go a long way in shaping the political environment heading into this year’s midterm elections: abortion.
After the US Supreme Court allowed a restrictive abortion law in Texas to remain in place, saying that abortion providers could still challenge the law in federal court, and took up a case on another in Mississippi – which is a direct challenge to the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade ruling – Republican-controlled states have felt emboldened to pursue their own limitations on the procedure.
Four such states took further action on the hot-button issue just this week. In Idaho, GOP Gov. Brad Little signed a bill that bans abortion after roughly six weeks and allows family members of the fetus to sue abortion providers. Idaho is the first state to fully enact a law modeled on Texas’ restrictions.
In Oklahoma, the Republican-controlled state House on Tuesday passed a bill seeking to greatly restrict abortions in that state, with exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape, sexual assault or incest. The legislation would also allow private individuals to pursue legal action against people accused of performing or facilitating abortions in violation of the law.
In Arizona, a battleground state where Republicans are in full control of the state government, the state House sent a bill to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk that would effectively ban abortion after 15 weeks, which mirrors Mississippi’s law.
And in South Dakota, GOP Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill on Wednesday that further restricts access to abortions through medication, making the state one of the most difficult in the country to get abortion drugs in.
On the other side of the aisle, Colorado lawmakers sent a bill to Democratic Gov. Jared Polis’ desk on Wednesday that would affirm the right to an abortion.
In each of these cases, partisans took action to appease their bases. But the politics of abortion – which hasn’t been a major issue in recent elections – would become much more nationalized and complicated if the US Supreme Court scales back or overturns Roe v. Wade later this year.
After hearing oral arguments in December to a challenge of the Mississippi law, which bans most abortions after 15 weeks, the court’s conservative majority appeared likely to uphold the measure and expressed skepticism about Roe v. Wade. A final decision is expected this summer, just as the midterm campaign season will start to heat up.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned and abortion laws are left to the states, the issue would quickly shoot up on voters’ priority list. In an otherwise treacherous political environment, Democrats see an opening on the issue: A recent CNN poll found that 69% of Americans said they do not want to see the Supreme Court completely overturn Roe v. Wade.
But Republicans would be sure to portray Democrats as extreme on the issue as well and try to pin down what restrictions on abortion the party supports.
The Point: There are countless political issues that will pop up between now and November. Abortion is one that will only become more prominent – and contentious – as Election Day draws closer.