Thursday, May 30, 2024

Abortion And The US Elections

The Court ruled last week that a 160-year-old near-total abortion ban is enforceable. This verdict is a legal bombshell in an election year. Abortion has become a key electoral issue in the country. A  majority of women in America want to control their own decisions regarding sex and reproductive health. This has wide support among younger and liberal voters

By Kenneth Tiven

The verdict is a 1864 Civil War-era law before Arizona’s statehood. This is the revenge of the patriarchy because the idea that abortion law must be controlled by overwhelmingly male-dominated legislatures and courts reflects the Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that overturned the historic Roe vs Wade verdict in 2022 by the US Supreme Court, backed by judges appointed by former president Donald Trump. It is an interesting spin to say that the new policy protects the will of the citizens. 

The Arizona Supreme Court put its decision on hold for 14 days, saying: “Physicians are now on notice that all abortions, except those necessary to save a woman’s life, are illegal.” Arizona’s Democratic governor is a woman who will veto anything the Republican legislature might pass related to abortion. This scheme by a Republican-dominated State Supreme Court dodges that problem. The 1864 law was never repealed. The Arizona Supreme Court put its decision on hold for 14 days to send the case back to a lower court to consider “additional constitutional challenges” that haven’t yet been cleared up.

Meanwhile, presidential hopeful Trump has suddenly withdrawn his oft-repeated support for a national ban on abortion and said it is a state issue. The answer is political, not philosophical. Election analysis of 2020 and 2022 data is everywhere on the Internet and makes it clear that a majority of women in America want to control their own decisions regarding sex and reproductive health. This has wide support among younger voters and liberal voters.

Trump’s team probably thinks it is a good time for a campaign recalibration. Yet, he continues to take all the credit for appointing three conservative Supreme Court justices to craft the overturning of Rose vs Wade. That 1973 case provided the basis for a national right to abortion for women in the USA, subject, of course, to state regulations. Conservatives on  the Court’s bench have dramatically shifted its legal reasoning based on a theory called originalism which asks the justices to consider the founding fathers’ 18th-century perspectives in adjudicating today’s issues.

Abortion is not mentioned in the US Constitution, but has almost always been a matter for individual states to determine. The irony is that Trump, for most of his life, was a liberal Democrat. He adopted the language of a conservative Republican with anti-abortion ideals in 2008. As always with him, it was transactional, a switch as part of his vociferous opposition to Barack Obama’s election as the US president. This enhanced his appeal to white evangelical Christians, who are a big component of his Make America Great Again support.

The abortion issue—and all aspects of family planning—has become in American politics something that affects nearly everyone in a stressful way. For many people, especially women, it is a question of personal freedom—the right to make their own medical decisions. For those who see it as a religious issue, it is the freedom to do God’s work, even if it oppresses someone. 

India has a different approach. In 2022, India’s top court legalized abortion, upholding the right of a woman to an abortion up to 24 weeks into pregnancy regardless of marital status, a decision applauded by women’s rights activists. “The decision to have or not to have an abortion is borne out of complicated life circumstances, which only the woman can choose on her own terms without external interference or influence,” the Court ruling said. This updated the 1971 Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act.

Democrats believe that abortion—a woman’s right to choose—is a winning issue in 2024. Simon Rosenberg, a Democratic strategist is convinced this will make a difference. “Leaving it to the states is an absurd place, for Trump is still responsible for ending Roe, for stripping the rights and freedoms away from the women of America, for unleashing the escalating assault on reproductive freedom across the country, for sanctioning and green lighting the most extreme abortion bans in the country; and now his allies on the right are going to feel betrayed by him. It is a squirming, ‘I got no place else to go’ position, one that confirms how much trouble MAGA (Trump’s electoral mantra to Make America Great Again) is in right now.” 

That may overstate it, but Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina really annoyed Trump by saying: “The states’ rights only rationale today runs contrary to an American consensus that would limit late-term abortions and will age about as well as the Dred Scott decision.” That 1857 Supreme Court ruling said enslaved people were not citizens, not entitled to federal protection, and that Congress could not prohibit slavery from any federal territory. It was a major factor in precipitating the Civil War of 1860. Republican responses to Trump’s announcement were limited, continuing a pattern of apprehension when it comes to commenting on abortion, an issue that has been a political lightning rod since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs Wade. 

Donald Trump has no “religious conviction” leading him to oppose abortion and he knows the Dobbs decision and everything stemming from it doesn’t help Republicans. This is the first election for Trump since losing to Biden by seven million votes. Will this politically transparent attempt to lure back women voters work? What Trump might do if elected is clearly still in play.

The back story of how abortion became a political issue is revealing. In the 1960s, most Protestant churches accepted abortion as a reality, including the Southern Baptist Convention, one of the largest denominations. Baptists and Roman Catholics had long agreed that life begins at conception, but unlike their Catholic counterparts, Baptists generally did not develop biblical and theological arguments regarding unborn children. By the mid-20th century, average church members had only “a general feeling that abortion was wrong,” explained Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University, a private Christian college in Alabama.

What changed their attitude was the Civil Rights Movement. Because many leaders of government and civil organizations in the South were privately opposed to integration, they were receptive to the idea of joining with working-class Northern Catholics, opposed to abortion on religious grounds. This would create a sizable national approach, mask the segregationist aspects, and perhaps create a political force. One of the people who helped organize this was Pat Buchanan, a conservative writer and TV host who ran and lost in primary elections for president. He had recognized the utility of this approach uniting North and South and sold it to conservative religious figures.

Seeing an opportunity, President Joe Biden’s campaign and Democrats across the country argue that Republicans would usher in a national ban on abortion if they regain federal power. Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Majority leader said: “Let’s wait a few weeks and see what his new position will be. Senator Tammy Baldwin, who faces a competitive election this year in the pivotal swing state of Wisconsin, was explicit in her criticism: “Millions of women across Wisconsin have lost the freedom to control their own bodies because of Donald Trump.”

Trump claims he wants abortion to be a state issue, but there are multiple issues either way. Jesse Southerland, federal policy director at Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group, said: “No matter how you square it, there is no way to take Congress or a federal role out of the equation,” saying “Even Biden believes that abortion is a federal issue. Why doesn’t the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party believe that?” 

Republicans could win control of both the White House and two branches of Congress in 2024. Passing legislation into law on any contentious social issue requires a win across the board in November. Slightly more possible for Democrats, but a difficult electoral challenge ahead that may alter the USA more than imagined by those original founders. 

—The writer has worked in senior positions at The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and CNN and also consults for several Indian channels


News Update