One Year Following Anti-Abortion Ruling, the White House Continues to Spotlight the Issue

One year ago, Democrats suffered one of the most stinging political defeats in recent memory as the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. 

On Saturday’s anniversary of the decision, the White House called attention to the issue with events designed to tap into continuing dissatisfaction over the overturn of the longstanding ruling. 

“I don’t think people are tired,” said the White House point person on gender policy, Jennifer Klein, in an interview with The Associated Press. “I think people might be mad. I think there’s a lot of fear out there. But I feel like that turns into power.”

First Lady Jill Biden met this week with women denied abortions despite claiming their health was at risk. Vice President Kamala Harris appeared in a Dallas hourlong televised special and will travel Saturday to North Carolina for a speech. 

Friday, President Biden will appear at a rally with an abortion rights group in Washington. The vice president, her husband Doug Emhoff, and First Lady Jill Biden will also be in a rare joint appearance by all four. 

The high court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization opened the door for a wave of abortion restrictions across the U.S. The limits also affect how women get medical care for pregnancies and miscarriages. 

More constraints could be on the horizon as conservatives seek to limit access to a commonly used abortion pill, mifepristone, in a separate legal case. 

While Republicans have struggled to find their political footing on the issue, Democrats recognize that the loss of abortion rights may have helped them prevent more significant defeats in last year’s midterm elections and that the issue could prove as potent as President Biden runs for reelection next year. 

“People keep thinking and hypothesizing that the issue is going to diminish in its power. Well, not really,” said a pollster who has worked with the president, Celinda Lake. 

“Twenty years from now, we may point to this as a realigning moment,” said Lake. “It’s moved a lot of suburban women out of the Republican Party and into independents.” Lake also said younger voters could end up “more Democratic for the rest of their lives.”

President of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, Marjorie Dannenfelser, drew the opposite conclusion from the midterms. 

“We had a poor showing, in my opinion, because Republican leadership took on the ostrich strategy,” said Dannenfelser.

She said their mistake was not celebrating the victory and campaigning on what Dannenfelser described as a compromise of restricting abortions after 15 weeks. She said liberals want “unlimited abortion, paid for by taxpayers,” and “that aggression…on the part of the abortion lobby is going to come back and bite their candidates.”

“You get consensus and contrast that with an extreme, and you win,” said Dannenfelser.

A Gallup survey conducted last month showed that support for abortion drops the further the mother is into the pregnancy, from 69% of U.S. adults saying it should generally be legal for the first trimester to 37% for the second trimester. 

VoteCast: Overturn of Roe v. Wade more motivating to supporters than opponents

In general, the issue appears more motivating for supporters than opponents, according to VoteCast. The survey was conducted of more than 94,000 voters nationwide for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago. 

During the midterms, 37% of those voting for Democrats said the overturning of Roe v. Wade was the most critical issue for them compared to 13% of those voting for Republicans. 

Klein said there is no reason to believe that Republicans are interested in a compromise after implementing stricter bans in several states over the past year.  

“They want to pass a national abortion law,” said Klein, while maintaining that the White House wants to turn Roe v. Wade into law.

However, accomplishing the White House’s goal seems out of reach while the GOP controls the House. Democrats do not have enough support in the Senate to advance legislation independently. President Biden has taken limited steps with executive orders; however, none can override state restrictions. 

“It’s hard,” said Klein. “I mean, there is only so much an administration can do. And we are using all tools in our toolbox.”

Biden, who has said he is Catholic, said the Supreme Court “went too far” with Roe v. Wade in 1974. However, since then, he has often described abortion rights as a matter of personal liberty. 

Vice President Harris has been leading in abortion since the Dobbs decision. Since the decision, Harris has hosted almost 50 meetings in 16 states to discuss reproductive rights. She has focused on local lawmakers. 

Alexis McGill Johnson, leader of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said she does not doubt that advocates will remain energized going into the 2024 election year. 

“I think there’s something really insulting in the way pundits have conjectured, ‘Oh, they’re not going to care about their rights being gone next year,’” said Johnson. 

“Our literal ability to control our bodies has been given to politicians,” she said.