A new ban on abortions after six weeks in Texas has Democrats sounding the alarm about the importance of upcoming Senate races, given the chamber’s role in confirming federal judges.
After the Supreme Court declined to weigh in Tuesday when asked to stop the Texas law, the ban took effect at midnight. It does not include exceptions for cases of rape or incest.
“This attack on women’s health care is a powerful reminder of the stakes in next year’s election — and why we must defend a Democratic Senate majority with the power to confirm or reject Supreme Court justices,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokeswoman Jazmin Vargas said in a statement Wednesday.
“The freedom for women to make our own health care decisions is on the ballot in 2022,” Vargas added. The National Republican Senatorial Committee did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Ben Ray, a spokesman for EMILY’s List, which backs female candidates who support abortion rights, also said in a statement to CQ Roll Call that the latest ban puts the spotlight on Senate races.
"Texas' radical law and the court's failure to intervene shows yet again how important it is to elect pro-choice Democratic women at every level of government,” Ray said. “That's especially true in the Senate, where Republican candidates will be facing voters that strongly support Roe v. Wade and want doctors and families, not a politician's wild-eyed agenda, to determine a patient's medical decisions."
Candidates weigh in
Democratic Senate candidates were quick to emphasize that the abortion ban demonstrates the need to expand their party’s razor-thin majority. The Senate is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting tie-breaking votes, giving Democrats control of the chamber.
Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, a top GOP target next year, tweeted, “The extreme abortion law in Texas is exactly why we need to keep a Senate with the power to appoint Supreme Court justices that respect a woman's right to choose.”
Other Democratic candidates said the new ban in Texas underscores the need to eliminate the Senate’s 60-vote threshold to end debate on legislation, known as the filibuster.
“Say it with me: End the filibuster. Codify Roe v. Wade. The Senate should come back and do it — now,” tweeted Pennsylvania Senate candidate Val Arkoosh, who chairs the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.
One of Arkoosh’s opponents in the Democratic primary for the open seat, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, said in a statement, “Democrats in the House and Senate should vote like Democrats and scrap the filibuster and pass the Women’s Health Protection Act immediately.” He was referring to the bill that would “protect a woman’s ability to determine whether and when to bear a child or end a pregnancy.”
Most Democratic challengers and those running in open seat races support abolishing the filibuster. Former North Carolina state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, a top Democrat in that state's open seat race, has made some positive comments about the filibuster but supports exempting voting rights legislation, according to The Daily Beast. Beasley has been endorsed by EMILY’s List.
A campaign issue?
Democrats noted Wednesday that the public largely supports abortion rights and that the issue also energizes women voters.
Cecile Richards, a former president of Planned Parenthood who now co-chairs the Democratic group American Bridge 21st Century, said in a statement that abortion bans “are a reminder of how important it is for Democrats to turn out the women who delivered victories for the party in 2018 and 2020. This diverse group of women will decide who controls Congress and local legislatures across the country.”
A majority of adults — 54 percent — surveyed in a recent NBC News poll believe abortion should be legal, including 59 percent of women. But polling on the issue can vary depending on how the question is phrased.
An anti-abortion group, Susan B. Anthony List, said it was excited to see the Texas law take effect and would "stand with our allies on the front lines serving mothers and families.
"The American people are eager to humanize our extreme, outdated abortion laws," the group said, adding that with other states also enacting abortion restrictions, it expects the high court to restore "the rights of states to protect our most vulnerable."
Democrats are optimistic about their chances of expanding their Senate majority next year, even though midterm cycles are typically difficult for the president’s party. President Joe Biden won six of the eight states that Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates as Senate battlegrounds.
But abortion can be a thorny issue in some states with culturally conservative streaks, such as Pennsylvania. The state’s Democratic senator, Bob Casey, who is not up for reelection, is one of just two Democrats who have not co-sponsored the Women’s Health Protection Act.
The issue is expected to continue to come up on the campaign trail as the election cycle moves forward.
The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments this fall in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which will determine whether a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy can go into effect. The case would determine whether states can implement bans before the point of viability. Abortion-rights supporters are also litigating another Texas abortion law, as well as restrictions in states such as Tennessee and South Carolina.
Sandhya Raman and Herb Jackson contributed to this report.