Abortion Case Injects Supreme Court Into 2022 Election Fight

The U.S. Supreme Court’s agreement to take up a Mississippi abortion case has injected an unexpected culture-war issue into a 2022 midterm election season that both parties hoped would be a referendum on President Joe Biden’s economic plan.

Whichever side wins at the high court could end up losing at the ballot box. Both abortion rights groups and anti-abortion activists are gearing up to make Roe v. Wade an unavoidable issue as the races for Congress and state government offices heat up.

“Abortion just became one of the top issues of the 2022 midterm elections. See you on the battlefield,” tweeted Nikki Goldschein, associate director of the Planned Parenthood’s political action committee, which supports abortion rights candidates.

“This is the most consequential case for the court to take up since Roe v. Wade,” said Mallory Quigley of the Susan B. Anthony List, which backs anti-abortion candidates. “It’s encouraging for pro-life voters to see the fruit of past elections coming to bear.”

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider gutting the longstanding right to abortion by deciding if a Mississippi law to ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy is constitutional. The move suggests the court’s conservative majority, strengthened by three appointees of former President Donald Trump, might be ready to roll back the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

Abortion hasn’t played a key role in electoral politics for years. And if the court strikes down the Mississippi law, it could fade by election season. But a decision that threatens Roe v. Wade could fire up voters who haven’t been moved by the abortion issue for a long time, said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake.

“It has the potential to energize our side, and energize suburban women,” she said.

Republicans need those suburban voters, especially women who opposed Trump, to regain control of the U.S. House and Senate. GOP messaging has focused on Biden’s economic plan, which Republicans call a move toward socialism, and its funding through tax increases on people who make more than $400,000 a year. Suburban women may not hear that message if the court rules against abortion rights.

Pro-Choice ‘Complacency’

Abortion historically mobilizes conservatives more than liberals, reflecting the fact that abortion-rights advocates have believed the issue is settled law, while conservative anti-abortion activists are fighting for change.

A Gallup poll last year found that Americans who oppose abortion rights are more likely than those who believe in abortion rights to say that it is a threshold issue for them, by 30% to 19%, the largest gap in 20 years of the poll.

“There’s a complacency on the pro-choice side,” Lake said. “The feeling is that, ‘Mississippi could pass this law, but it’s not going to impact me.’”

Nearly half of voters in the Gallup poll, 47% of men and 48% of women consider abortion as just one of many important factors when voting. And a quarter of those voters do not see abortion as a major issue.

Discussion of the Mississippi law could change that. It’s one of a torrent of anti-abortion restrictions passed by Republican-controlled states in recent years. And there are more coming: Through the first four months of 2021, the liberal Guttmacher Institute tracked 536 bills introduced in 46 states that would restrict abortion — including 146 abortion bans.

Ruling During Midterm Primaries

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on the Mississippi law in the fall but likely won’t render a decision until spring or summer.

Abortion Case Injects Supreme Court Into 2022 Election Fight

That’s just as primaries and fundraising is gearing up for the midterm elections. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who supports abortion rights, faces challenges from the right after voting to impeach Trump.

The case will also heighten the urgency by some progressive groups to expand the number of justices on the court. Biden has appointed a 36-member commission to study whether the court should add four or more justices -- a plan critics have attacked as “court-packing.”

“The Roberts Court conservatives have issued their verdict on President Biden’s commission: They consider it a complete nothingburger,” said Brian Fallon, the director of the liberal advocacy group Demand Justice. “We do not have 180 days to squander on a faculty-lounge discussion to tell us what we already know: the Supreme Court is a looming threat to our democracy and in urgent need of reform.”

The death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last year — and her replacement by Barrett — led to a surge in donations and volunteers to Planned Parenthood’s advocacy arm, said Samuel Lau of Planned Parenthood’s PAC.

“Unless you get a bad decision it’s hard to get this to be an issue that really moves voters,” she said. “Most swing voters are not focusing on this issue at all. They’re almost single-mindedly focused on the economy and health care and getting their kids back to school.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.