The rise of the pro-choice majority

Cold War babies like me were taught to abhor communism as children.

My earliest memory of such instruction came from a teacher who raged against what she claimed was communism’s demand that people inform on family, friends and neighbors, turning them over to the secret police for actions or views critical of the regime.

I shudder to think what those now deceased teachers would say about Republicans in Texas, and elsewhere, encouraging citizens to intervene in their neighbors’ most intimate decisions by suing them for giving a friend a ride to an abortion clinic or being a woman who received one.

This disastrous policy, designed to outlaw abortion while enabling recent Republican Supreme Court justices to parry well-founded accusations of perjury in their confirmation hearings, is a dagger pointed at the political heart of the GOP.

Though it was never counted as one of the most important problems facing the country (which tells you more about the limits of that poll question than about the fundamentals of American politics), abortion played a lead role as culture developed into our central line of political cleavage.

In earlier days, Democrats used it as a cudgel to win races in culturally progressive locales, while Republicans successfully pummeled abortion rights advocates in culturally conservative areas. 

In recent years, two facts emerged clearly: First, the vast majority of Americans are what the political class would call pro-choice (even if voters themselves are not fluent with the term).

Second, 50 years after Roe v. Wade, relatively few voters saw a fundamental threat to the right to choose, reducing its salience as a voting issue.

Public opinion is clear.

A 2019, ABC/Washington Post poll found just 24 percent wanted their state to “make it harder for women to have access to abortion,” with 32 percent preferring their state make it easier and 41 percent advocating no change.

At least two polls inquired specifically about limiting abortion to about the sixth week, noting that’s when fetal heartbeat is first evident. Just under 60 percent opposed such a law, while an average of only 36 percent supported it.

Support for maintaining Roe v. Wade is even stronger.

Earlier this year, a Quinnipiac poll found 63 percent agreeing with the “Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that established a woman’s right to an abortion,” while just 28 percent disagreed. 

Last year, 62 percent told ABC/Washington Post pollsters the Supreme Court should uphold Roe, while just 24 percent wanted it overturned.

In short, while support for President Biden and congressional Democrats stands in the mid-40s today, some 60 percent would vote for Roe.

Despite strong support for abortion rights, the issue has not played a central electoral role recently because Americans presume it is settled. The Texas law, and the Supreme Court’s refusal to block it, turns that assumption on its head.

In May, Quinnipiac asked about the possibility of Roe being overturned “within the next few years.” Only 28 percent judged that outcome likely.

Our own polling of progressive donors earlier this year detected similar complacency. Among activists totally committed to abortion rights, just 30 percent were really worried that the right to choose may be taken away, placing it far below a host of other concerns.

But Texas legislators, their imitators across the country and the Supreme Court have sounded a thunderous wake-up call.

With the threat now acute and the long-dismissed possibility of losing the right to choose a reality, the pro-choice majority will rise up to donate to Democrats and vote against Republicans. They’ll protect a woman’s right to choose and resist laws that turn neighbor against neighbor. 

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for over 20 years, as president of the American Association of Political Consultants, and is president of Democratic Majority for Israel.

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