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A year after Dobbs leak, Democrats still see abortion driving 2024 voters

Rep. Salinas: ‘There's more on the line than ever’

President Joe Biden and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., stand onstage during the EMILY's List annual gala Tuesday.
President Joe Biden and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., stand onstage during the EMILY's List annual gala Tuesday. (Olivier Douliery/AFT/Getty Images)

Democrats looking at the 2024 landscape say abortion access remains a high priority for voters and they expect the issue that they used effectively during last year’s midterm elections to stay relevant on the campaign trail. 

Instead of fading away more than a year after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade first leaked, Democrats say the rapid changes to laws in different states keep the issue in the headlines. Just this week, Republicans in the North Carolina legislature overrode a veto from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper related to a 12-week abortion ban, while an appeals court heard arguments about whether to overturn federal approval of mifepristone, a common abortion medication. 

Democrats had already signaled they would keep the focus on abortion as they seek to win back control of the House next year, but the party’s commitment to the issue was underscored when President Joe Biden made a surprise stop Tuesday night at a gala hosted by EMILY’s List, which raises money to support Democratic women candidates who back abortion rights.

Biden was there to honor former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who received an award at the event. He gave Pelosi a bouquet and said she would go down as one of the most “consequential” speakers because of her legislative record. 

In her own remarks, Pelosi said that focusing on abortion helped Democrats limit their losses in midterm elections last year, so that even though the party lost control of the House, it is well-positioned for the 2024 elections, when a net gain of five seats would flip control. 

“The candidates believed that they could win. And they made a distinction in their districts between themselves and their opponents, especially on the issue of a woman’s right to choose and freedom and democracy in our country,” Pelosi said. “So thanks to all of your help, we held them to five. That means it’s very doable for us to take back that House.” 

‘Conversation is nonstop now’

Freshman Rep. Andrea Salinas said abortion continues to energize voters. She said that she is making sure that she’s regularly talking about the issue with voters, as well as the local Planned Parenthood group. 

“Voters recognize that there’s more on the line than ever,” the Oregon Democrat said. “I think we’re starting to see the effects of the Dobbs decision and all of these states who are actually implementing bad policies that will cut off access for women, that criminalize women, that basically tell women that freedom for their own autonomy over their own body is not available to them. It’s becoming a reality. So the difference is, the conversation is nonstop now.”

Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Ore., says the conversation with voters about abortion rights “is nonstop now” as voters see states moving to impose restrictions.. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Ohio Rep. Emilia Sykes pointed to her home state, where lawmakers are looking to change the rules to make it harder to amend the state constitution, a move viewed by advocates of legal abortion as an effort to thwart an amendment specifying a right to abortion.

“As we continue to see Republicans double down on taking away the freedom to choose, you have to wonder why don’t they care about women, and it was such an unpopular position,” she said. 

Republicans in the legislature passed a resolution raising the threshold for passing constitutional amendments from a simple majority to 60 percent. The measure could come before voters in August.

Democrats denounced the move. “It’s wrong, it’s a clear power grab, and we know what the end goal is — to go around voters and pass unpopular policies like a total abortion ban,” Sen. Sherrod Brown tweeted.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican who is considering running for Senate against Brown and an opponent of legal abortion, said any effort to amend the state constitution and “bypass our legislative process should require broad consensus.”

Efforts to advance a similar provision in Missouri fell short last week, though Republicans there say they will try again in 2024. 

Changing the rules governing constitutional amendments is the latest strategy deployed by Republicans to limit abortion access. But it is far from the only one: Over the past year, Republican-controlled legislatures have sought to enact increasingly restrictive abortion policies.

While 19 states have passed legislation banning or restricting abortion since the Dobbs ruling, other efforts have fallen short. Voters in Kansas last year rejected a proposed amendment that would have said there is no right to abortion under the state constitution, while in Michigan, voters approved an amendment guaranteeing the right to an abortion.

Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, citing the number of Michigan State University students who registered and voted on Election Day, has credited the Michigan referendum with helping her to win what was expected to be a tight race by more than 5 percentage points. 

‘More and more extreme’

“One thing we’ve learned since Dobbs is that abortion is not a partisan issue,” said Jessie Hill, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland who specializes in reproductive rights. “Abortion rights are pretty popular even among Republicans, but what tends to happen in states like Ohio is that Republicans tend to win broadly because people don’t vote just on that issue. There’s the gerrymandering plus this mismatch between what individual Republican voters think about reproductive choice and how the Republican politicians vote when they get in office.”

“You might expect some type of compromise position to arise in some of these states,’’ Hill said. “I think that some of the Supreme Court justices imagined that was the world we’d end up in and it’s been just the opposite, especially in red states, where politics has pulled those legislatures toward more and more extreme abortion bans.”

Anit-abortion groups aligned with Republicans, such as the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, have argued that Republicans shouldn’t shy away from advocating for their position on abortion. The group is advocating for all Republican presidential candidates to support limiting abortion to the first 15 weeks of pregnancy and to advocate for that standard nationwide. 

“Pro-life leaders are building a culture of life, protecting unborn children, and providing vital support for moms and families,” SBA Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement Wednesday. “We’re not even close to done yet. The pro-life movement will press on to save more lives in the states and push for a federal gestational protection so that California, Illinois, New York and others cannot continue their extreme abortion-on-demand policies that mirror what occurs in North Korea and China.”