life after roe

Are Anti-Abortion Voters Tuning Out After the Fall of Roe?

These activists excited by the reversal of Roe v. Wade may find something else to do if their states ban abortion. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

For 49 years, many pro-choice Americans tuned out anti-abortion agitation in Congress, state legislatures, and the campaign trail, sure in their knowledge that the Supreme Court would block virtually all pre-viability abortion restrictions. Yes, the anti-abortion lobby was constantly pushing laws and regulations designed to shut down clinics and generally restrict access to abortions. But it seemed safe to presume that the procedure would mostly remain legal.

But, of course, the end of Roe v. Wade a little over a year ago completely upended those presumptions and abortion’s issue salience in elections. People on both sides of the issue are currently highly mobilized in certain states where reproductive rights are changing drastically owing to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling. But generally speaking, it’s those who have lost abortion rights who seem most energized. Indeed, as a new analysis from FiveThirtyEight explains, conservative Evangelicals’ traditional passion on the abortion issue has now been matched and even exceeded by Americans who are not religiously affiliated and who are strongly united in favoring legalized abortion:

Pew found that in 2020, only 31 percent of nonreligious Americans said abortion would be very important in deciding how they would vote; in 2022, more than 6 in 10 (63 percent) said abortion would be very important. In that same period, the share of white evangelical Protestants who said abortion was a very important voting consideration fell by 7 points …

And a Pew survey found last year that religiously unaffiliated Americans are much more united in support for legal abortion than white evangelicals are in opposition (84 percent vs. 74 percent, respectively). 

But these are all national numbers. Fifteen states have banned all or most abortions. Five other states have draconian bans at least temporarily hung up in the courts. And four more have less draconian but still restrictive abortion bans in place. So who is likely to be marching in the streets in those states? Probably not the happy, perhaps complacent, winning side. And that could matter in 2024, as FiveThirtyEight notes:

What about white evangelical Protestants? Abortion is still clearly an important issue to many of them, even if it appears to have declined in salience in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision. But in a swift reversal, the issue of abortion is now much more complicated on the right than on the left. Evangelicals disproportionately live in places where abortion is now banned or heavily restricted, so it may become less of a political priority for them because the anti-abortion movement has accomplished its goals in their area. And while it’s true that white evangelicals strongly oppose abortion, there is not universal support for complete bans that some states have implemented.

It could even matter during the 2024 Republican primaries, in which candidates are already debating controversial topics like the necessity of a national abortion ban that would override less restrictive state policies. For example, abortion was traditionally a very big issue in the Iowa caucuses, which begins the GOP nominating process. Right now, that state has a six-week abortion ban that has been blocked by the Iowa Supreme Court. If it remains blocked, a national ban may be more attractive to anti-abortion voters frustrated by the difficulty they’ve encountered in securing a ban. If Iowa governor Kim Reynolds and Republican legislators can get a ban through the state courts, though, a national ban may seem less urgent. Similar calculations may play out in other key primary states as the 2024 contest unfolds.

Abortion-rights activists could complicate things in red states as well: A strong effort is underway in Florida to put a constitutional amendment that would overturn Ron DeSantis’s six-week abortion ban on the 2024 ballot. It’s not a good look for the governor to be fighting that effort at home as he is barnstorming around the country advertising Florida as a sort of conservative Eden.

Due to the Dobbs decision, we’re heading into the 2024 election with a seething and uncertain reproductive-rights landscape. Momentum seems to be on the side of abortion-rights voters who are angry at the Supreme Court and reactionary governors, legislators, and presidential candidates. But the path ahead will be treacherous for anyone who assumes too much about the electoral impact of this drastic change in Americans’ fundamental rights.

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Are Anti-Abortion Voters Tuning Out After the Fall of Roe?