“Since Roe v. Wade, Republicans by and large want to bury their heads in the sand, hoping that nobody is really paying attention. But that’s not what’s happening. Millions of women -- millions and millions of women -- were outraged over it.”
This observation — or warning — wasn’t made by a left-leaning political pundit but by the staunchly anti-abortion Congresswoman Nancy Mace of South Carolina. While she proudly touts a solid pro-life voting record, Mace has long sounded the alarm that political agendas centered on extreme abortion restrictions lose elections. She’s right.
For nearly 50 years, abortion wasn’t the primary issue driving voters to the polls because Roe’s protections prevented radical candidates from fulfilling their campaign promises to annihilate reproductive freedoms. But less than a year since Roe fell, it’s an issue that’s galvanized millions of Americans. After the 2022 midterms, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that almost half of all voters nationwide said overturning Roe v. Wade had a major effect on the candidates they supported. Exit polls showed that voters in some swing states ranked abortion as the most critical issue in that election.
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We’ve also seen how consequential abortion is as an electoral issue outside the midterms, a significant indicator for 2024. Last August, voters in Kansas flatly rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have said there was no right to abortion in the state. It was a landslide victory for reproductive rights, winning nearly 60 % of the vote in a state long considered an anti-abortion stronghold. More recently, in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, voters chose — by a double-digit margin — Janet Protasiewicz as their newest justice, who campaigned on restoring abortion rights in the state.
Protasiewicz’s win also showed that voters elect candidates who focus on a comprehensive vision for the future, not those who attempt to send us back in time by resurrecting archaic laws. Again in Wisconsin, the decision to overturn Roe effectively restored the state’s abortion ban from 1849, which generated tremendous chaos and confusion for providers, patients and lawmakers.
Last September, Arizona reenacted an abortion ban from 1864 — a law almost 50 years older than the state itself. And, of course, the long-dormant Comstock Act of 1873 is the cornerstone of the argument to ban medication abortion. How can we expect anyone in the 21st century to understand and abide by laws crafted to address Civil War-era issues?
Meanwhile, pro-choice voters swept abortion ballot measures in six states in the 2022 midterms — including one in Michigan that would help block the state’s ban from 1931. Anti-abortion activists are fully aware that this is a losing issue for them with voters, so they rely on and have weaponized the courts to carry out their unpopular agendas.
Ever since Roe was overturned, abortion has become a “black light” issue of sorts — one that can authenticate a candidate or reveal their hypocrisies. As demonstrated in the last election, anti-abortion candidates have engaged in an ideological and rhetorical tap dance around the issue to — temporarily — avoid recommitting to their previously staunch “pro-life” views. They clearly know how their constituencies truly feel about abortion, but they don’t care. Many of these candidates have tried to maintain their anti-government, misogynistic street creds by defaulting to the classic “states’ rights” dog whistle — a transparent excuse to allow states to enact discriminatory laws.
We're now in the midst of a collision course heading into 2024, pitting extremist leaders forcing a radical anti-abortion agenda against the growing majority of Americans who support a woman’s right to choose. But the record is clear — abortion is the decisive issue in elections.
Nunes is the president of the National Organization for Women (NOW): now.org. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.