Friday, February 3

Abortion, the ‘political bomb’ in the US election year


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“Vote, vote, vote.”
Joe Biden
He appeared yesterday before the media in Madrid at the press conference that closed his participation in the NATO summit, but he could not avoid the matter that eats up the attention of the United States. And, in his calculations, it could change the lost direction of his presidency: the Supreme Court ruling that eliminates constitutional protections of abortion.

The president once again asked for the vote as a recipe to turn around a historic decision, which infuriates part of the country and which another party celebrates. “This fall, ‘Roe’ will be on the ballot,” he reacted last week as soon as the Supreme Court announced its decision, which knocks down the precedent established in 1973 by the same court with the ruling ‘Roe v. Wade’.

Biden was referring to the legislative elections this November, in which the whole world has a lot at stake. Congress is renewed -in the case of the Senate, only a third of the seats-, where the Democrats have meager majorities in both chambers. Republicans could win positions in both and further complicate Biden’s remaining presidency and eventual re-election.

But there are also many elections in the states, from governorships to seats in the state legislative chambers, in races that are decisive for the regulation of abortion in the country. The decision of the Supreme, in essence, returns authority to regulate abortion to states. Half of the states in the country already have comprehensive abortion bans or restrictions in place, or will do so in the near future.

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Several Democratic gubernatorial candidates in states where legislatures are controlled by Republicans — Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin — have sold themselves as the “last line of resistance” against abortion bans.

The jolt from the sentence could be electoral shock therapy for Biden and the Democrats. His prospects for this election are bleak: the president is tanking in the polls (39% support in a recent ‘USA Today’ poll, his lowest point), inflation is runaway and strangling families, violent crime is triggered since the pandemic and there is a crisis on the southern border, with a record number of arrests of undocumented immigrants.

“The gist here is that if this matters to you, and if the polling data is correct and you think the court’s decision is a scandal or a major mistake, vote. Go and vote,” Biden insisted yesterday in Madrid, referring to the polls on support for ‘Roe’. One from the end of April of ‘The Washington Post’ and ABC News ensures that 59% of Americans thought that ‘Roe’ should not be touched, compared to 28% who defended that it should be knocked down.

It is indisputable that opinion polls show a greater degree of support for the protection of access to abortion -although with many nuances regarding the time of pregnancy or the circumstances to perform it- than for its prohibition or strong restriction.

What is not clear is what impact this will have on the elections, what importance voters will give it when leaning towards one or another candidate. Democrats trust that it will mobilize the young vote, which usually stays at home in legislative elections. And that it is also decisive in certain moderate suburban electorates -especially women-, who were key, for example, in Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in 2020. But it remains to be shown that abortion counts more than the price of the shopping basket or what it costs to fill the tank of the car.

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Biden’s undisguised call for voting as the only way to preserve abortion has, however, angered the leftist sectors of his party. They accuse him of timidity and of wanting to take advantage of the banner of abortion for his own electoral benefit.

Measures requested by the activist left

The president has not seen favorably the battery of radical measures demanded of him by the activist left: expand the number of judges to dilute the conservative majority; declare a national emergency; subjecting the magistrates to ‘impeachment’ or impeachment for breaking the precedent or opening abortion clinics in federally owned territory, such as national parks.

Yesterday, however, he opened his hand for the first time to a drastic measure: to make an exception to the ‘filibuster’, the Senate rule that requires a majority of 60 votes for most laws and that the Republicans use to block the majority of initiatives.

Moderate Democrats – including Biden – have always been reluctant to eliminate the ‘filibuster’ (among other things, because it could come back to haunt them if the Republicans regain the Senate). But the president has been open to exceptions -such as in the regulation of access to the vote- and now he does so with abortion. Leftists like the deputy Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, the most visible face on the left, celebrated the announcement. “So talk,” she wrote on Twitter.

But it won’t be that easy: there are moderate Democratic senators, like Joe Manchin or Krysten Sinema, who have been reluctant to remove the ‘filibuster’ in any case. And even Manchin voted against signing abortion access protection into law this spring.

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For the more conservative Republican electorate, the sentence is proof that their vote has an impact and could cement their commitment to the polls. For those who are playing the election in close states or districts, it could be a problem. Trump himself – key to the matter, he gave the court a conservative turn with the three judges he nominated – has confessed in private, contrary to what he has said in public, that the sentence “is bad for Republicans.” The polls will have to confirm it.

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