The Political Implications of Overturning Roe v. Wade {Guest Post}


The following is part three of a guest post from Sri Preston Kulkarni, a democratic nominee for Texas’ 22nd congressional district in 2018 and 2020.  

Parts one and two of this series discussed the policy and legal/philosophical implications, respectively, of overturning Roe v Wade. Part three will pivot to the political impact.

Knowing what the stakes are, what can and should we do about it?  Well, obviously with a 6-3 SCOTUS, this ruling will not get changed under the current court. And with the current 50-50 Senate, there is no chance of changing the composition of the court prior to one of the current 6 conservative justices stepping down (or 2 if it is Roberts who steps down). At the very least, Democrats must hold the Senate in the fall. Otherwise, McConnell has already shown that he will just hold open any Supreme Court seat until another Republican is elected President. The stakes for the statewide Senate races in PA, GA, NV, AZ, WI, NH, NC, FL, OH, and MO in November all just got much higher.

From a campaign perspective, I saw many approaches to this issue across the cycles that I ran for Congress.  Some consultants advised Democrats to avoid the issue entirely.  That is neither a tenable nor a good strategy now.  Almost 70% of Americans (depending on the poll) oppose overturning Roe. While those numbers are not evenly distributed, support for keeping Roe is still very high in swing states (in FL the numbers are 57-34, GA 68-24, and even in TX, which demographics say will be a swing state in 2024, support for Roe wins 54-35).

This does not mean people will come out to vote automatically because of the ruling.  On the contrary, Democrats will have to work very hard to make sure that voters understand the stakes, because the GOP has always been much better at branding and marketing, which always wins over policy in elections.  As one example, I've seen some activists say that Democrats should call themselves "pro-abortion" to de-stigmatize abortions.  I could not disagree more.  I can't see how Democrats using the slogan "pro-abortion" would help de-stigmatize this very difficult decision, but it will certainly lose them votes. "Pro-life" or the "party of life" sounds very appealing to people who are on the fence.  "Pro-abortion" does not.

Here I have to add one specific point. IF we talk about this as only a women's issue, we will shoot ourselves in the foot. I have seen some activists even tell men not to participate in the discussion, as it doesn't concern them. Regardless of the policy or the philosophy, when it comes to politics, this issue most certainly does involve men. There is not a huge gap by gender on the "Pro-life" vs. "pro-choice," spectrum, as there is on some other issues.  Surprisingly, about as many men identify as "pro-choice" as women, and slightly FEWER men identify as "pro-life" than women.  Bottom line: we must organize and activate male voters on this issue as well as female voters, if we are going to win in November.

Regarding WHAT we should say, I'm sure that there are a thousand opinions on this, as well. Some people have suggested that we go as aggressive as the Republicans, who sent out mailer after mailer showing pictures of babies, telling people that a vote for me was a vote for murdering those babies.  (The converse of this would be sending out mailers saying, or even showing, the women who will die because of this ruling.) This may actually be the most effective strategy. It would certainly create an emotional response, which is more important than a logical one in campaigns.

However, my suggestion would be to find a slogan that is easy to remember, easy to repeat (ad nauseam) on media and social media, and easy to associate with the Republican Party. (This is what they do to Democrats so effectively every time, while we try to come up with nuanced messages or attack lines that fall flat.)  If you've read this far, you probably have guessed what I think the most successful line will be: FORCED BIRTHS. (I used it several times above).  Saying that Republicans are FORCING WOMEN TO GIVE BIRTH is easy to remember and say, and can easily be used to evoke all sorts of images, from the Handmaid's Tale to the Taliban to the Dark Ages (all of which are completely appropriate in my opinion).  I think we should call the GOP the PARTY OF FORCED BIRTHS every single day until the association is permanent.

While there very well may be a better slogan out there, the one thing we cannot and should not do is cede this ground as a "reasonable compromise" (a la Peggy Noonan). There are too many issues where Democrats have tried to present their party as the "reasonable" option only to have the Republicans spend billions labeling them as "radicals" "communists" "extremists" etc. with the result that any "reasonable" policy by Dems gets associated with the "far left", the Overton Window expands, and then independents assume that the compromise solution must still be halfway in the middle of Democrats and Republicans (ie what used to be a very conservative position under Reagan or Bush is now considered "centrist" and the new conservative position is book banning or not letting migrant children go to school).

This is an issue where Democrats should not back down, they should not be embarrassed, and they should not cede the moral high ground. Most Americans (by 20-30% margins) know that this ruling and the GOP positions are extremist. But they need to be reminded, constantly, what the stakes are for not doing anything about it. More women are going to die, more poor women are going to be abused, and the Republican Party has become so extreme that they are letting the government interfere between women, their doctors and their faith [don't leave out this word]. Americans do not force women to give birth like the Taliban…or the Republican Party. That is the message.

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