This is the moment the Conservatives have been waiting for.
Oral arguments to the Supreme Court on Wednesday represent the best opportunity right-wing leaders have had in decades to gut the landmark Roe v. Wade of 1973, which codified a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion before a fetus could survive outside the womb.
If successful, it could validate years of often painstaking work that ultimately transformed the Republican Party from an alliance of pro-business leaders into a coalition of cultural conservatives and evangelicals who turned the abortion issue into a a national flashpoint. Even if the judges don’t explicitly overturn Roe, they could open the door to a flurry of new restrictions that would appeal to the Right.
Carried by a court now dominated by a conservative 6-3 majority, some prominent Republicans were already expressing their confidence on Tuesday.
“We are asking the court in no uncertain terms to make history,” former Vice President Mike Pence, who laid the groundwork for a presidential race in 2024, said during a speech in Washington. “We call on the United States Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law.”
Judges will assess whether to enforce a Mississippi law that prohibits abortion after 15 weeks, with few exceptions, well ahead of the currently established “viability” point of around 24 weeks. The court is also considering challenges to a Texas law that bans abortions after six weeks – before many women even know they are pregnant.
The court could decide to uphold the current precedent, could leave the law in effect, thereby removing the current viability standard, or could overrule Roe entirely.
âThis is the first time they’ve clearly had a majority of pro-life judges,â said Carol Sanger of Columbia Law School, an expert on reproductive rights. âSo they have the voices if they choose to use them. “
The court ruling, which is expected by the end of June, could drastically change the contours of next year’s midterm elections, providing new leadership for Democrats, who broadly support the right to vote. abortion and have struggled to rally around a unifying issue this year.
Scuttling Roe “will surely embolden the efforts of conservatives in many states to craft laws that they believe might not have stood up under Roe,” William Martin, professor of religion and public policy at Rice University who studied the rise of the anti-abortion movement. , said in an email. “Conservatives will see this as the achievement of a long sought-after goal, but it can come at a significant cost, as Republicans probably already have most voters for whom abortion opposition is the ultimate test.”
Yet for conservative activists, the case is the culmination of decades of work to elect Republican state legislatures, pass new barriers to abortion access, and support anti-abortion judges, including the new one. super conservative majority in the Supreme Court.
“Tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear the biggest case of the pro-life movement in two generations,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group that sponsored Pence’s speech and plans to spend $ 10 million on TV and digital commercials in Washington, DC and the battlefield states to promote the case.
âI think this is the moment we’ve all been waiting for,â said Heather Weininger, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life, an anti-abortion nonprofit in Battlefield State. “This is truly the supreme moment when we can go back to the days of protecting life at the time of conception.”
Weininger said the issue would likely be “crucial” in his mid-term state, especially since he has a GOP-controlled legislature and a Democratic governor, Tony Evers, who is running for re-election. US Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, has yet to decide whether he will run for another term, but he has suggested it could be his last, and Representative Ron Kind, a Democrat from Wisconsin, is seen as particularly vulnerable.
âIf that decision comes out next summer, it will be a key issue in all of these races,â said Weininger.
If Roe were to be toppled or severely curtailed, it would be thanks to former President Donald Trump, a most unlikely person who helped social conservatives achieve their long-awaited goal. Trump ran in 2016 promising to appoint judges who would overthrow Roe – a pledge that helped the three-time-married former reality star gain the support of prominent evangelical leaders as well as other conservatives.
Trump followed up, appointing three conservative justices who transformed the court and made it easier to offer new challenges to abortion rights: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
Roe’s disappearance would likely prompt at least 20 Republican-ruled states to impose sweeping bans; perhaps 15 states ruled by democrats would reaffirm their support for access to abortion.
It remains to be seen to what extent the question will be politically motivating. In the race for governor of Virginia – the biggest election of the year – only 6% of voters called abortion the biggest problem facing the state, according to AP VoteCast.
The question appears to be more important to Republicans. Nationally in 2020, VoteCast found that the 3% of voters who said abortion was the most important problem facing the country voted for Trump rather than Democrat Joe Biden, 89% at 9%. In the race for governor in Virginia, the margin was much tighter, with Republican Glenn Youngkin winning 56% of those who said abortion was the most important problem facing the state, compared with 44% who voted for Democrat Terry McAuliffe.
Still, Republicans are eager to get ahold of the issue, especially as they are fighting for support by 2024.
Monday, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, another potential presidential candidate, has pledged that if the state loses an appeal in a legal battle over a law that would require women seeking abortions to seek medical advice. first the crisis pregnancy centers, which generally advise women not to have an abortion. , she would try to get the Supreme Court to consider the case.
âWe have a few opportunities here to advocate to undermine and remove Roe v. Wade,â said Noem, who also signed a legal argument in the Mississippi case.
Associated Press editor Emily Swanson in Washington contributed to this report.