The States Poised to Be the New Abortion Battlegrounds

There could be a significant pro-choice backlash if the Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade. Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

It’s likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will reverse or severely curtail federal constitutional abortion rights in its upcoming decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization this spring or early summer. In that event, some states are already poised to enact new laws (some of it “trigger” legislation that goes into effect automatically) that severely curtail reproductive rights. These state actions could help mobilize Americans on both sides of the abortion-policy barricades for the November midterms. But the biggest political battles are likely to break out in states where lawmakers hell-bent on banning some, if not all, abortions collide with constituencies in which a majority favor maintaining the status quo.

At Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Louis Jacobson endeavored to identify such abortion battlefields, choosing states with four criteria:

— Does the state have a law in place that would ban or curtail abortion if Roe is overturned?

— Does the state have majority support, or at least plurality support, for abortion rights according to polling?

— Does the state have a GOP-controlled legislature that might be tempted to restrict or ban abortion if Roe is overturned?

— Does the state have at least 1 competitive gubernatorial or senatorial race in 2022?

Seven states look very likely to meet all these ingredients for a post-Roe backlash to Republican anti-abortion legislative activity: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. They all have Republican-controlled legislatures. Every state but Michigan has red-hot Senate contests this year, and all but North Carolina have competitive (or potentially competitive) gubernatorial races. All of them, of course, are likely to be presidential battleground states in 2024.

Jacobson also identifies three other states — Florida, Iowa, and Ohio — that could become major post-Roe abortion battlegrounds depending on how aggressively the reigning Republicans conduct themselves and whether statewide election contests become truly competitive.

In each of these states, Democrats are likely to draw as much attention as possible to any unpopular anti-abortion legislation that emerges. Meanwhile, Republicans will be under intense pressure from their base to push abortion restrictions up to, or even beyond, the levels that the federal court finds acceptable.

Such predictions always come with provisos. It’s possible that the Supreme Court will produce a less sweeping decision that simply opens up constitutional “space” for abortion restrictions that aren’t wildly controversial. That would create a different political atmosphere than a decision that, for example, validates “heartbeat” laws (like Texas’s) banning all second-trimester and some first-trimester abortions. And there will be voices in both parties seeking to turn down the election-year temperature over abortion policy as a distraction from issues that cut more cleanly in the direction of Democrats or Republicans.

But if 49 years of abortion politics fought on the margins of a fundamentally protected medical procedure come to an abrupt end, the odds are high that the issue will exert a powerful, if unpredictable, effect on public opinion. It may spur voters who don’t often participate in midterm elections, particularly young people who have never known a world in which reproductive rights were so seriously in doubt, to reconsider their indifference. It could get wild and woolly, and the fact that so many abortion battlegrounds are already electoral battlegrounds will feed the furor.

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The States Poised to Be the New Abortion Battlegrounds