Democrats see in the Supreme Court's leaked decision on Roe v. Wade a shot at winning culture wars

Democrats see in the Supreme Court's leaked decision on Roe v. Wade a shot at winning culture wars
Pro-choice activists protest in response to the leaked Supreme Court draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in front of the US Supreme Court May 3, 2022 in Washington, DC.Alex Wong/Getty Images
  • Republicans have fueled electoral controversy over parents' rights and COVID restrictions.
  • But now the Supreme Court is poised to overturn abortion rights, changing the game for the midterms.

Republicans planned to ride to electoral victory this fall on a wave of parental fears and dissatisfaction with schools, teachers' unions, and COVID restrictions.

The Supreme Court was poised over the summer to weigh in on one of the most polarizing issues of all, overturning abortion rights. But now that an authentic draft of the conservative majority's opinion has been leaked ahead of schedule, it has accelerated concerns, and a decision to gut Roe v. Wade could supersede all other culture wars when Americans go to the polls in November. Democrats are counting on it.

"I think this does eclipse many, if not all, of the other divisive issues that have up until now been at the forefront of social debate in our midterm election season," said Democratic strategist John LaBombard, of Rokk Solutions. "My expectation is that this is a clarifying moment for both Democratic voters and independent voters. And it's not going to be a good one for the Republican candidates who have to defend it."

Democratic Party leaders plan to hammer home the importance of abortion rights to voters, Assistant Democratic Leader Sen. Patty Murray of Washington told reporters at the US Capitol following the release of a draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade.

"We are going to make sure that anyone who has not felt the weight of this moment yet, who doesn't think this could happen, who doesn't think it matters to them, gets the message loud and clear," she said. "We're going to make sure that every single person in every single state understands this impacts you, your choices, your rights."


Democrats have struggled to mount an aggressive defense against Republican-fueled controversies over mask mandates, controversial books, and the teaching of race and gender in schools — culture war issues that have played out in chaotic school board meetings and helped Democrats lose the Virginia governor's mansion last year. But they find themselves on surer footing with challenges to abortion rights, especially as they are threatened in state courts and legislatures and now the Supreme Court. Democrats have a history of championing reproductive rights and most Americans support maintaining Roe v Wade.

"It isn't popular to ban abortion or contraception," tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat. "It isn't popular to bully gay kids. It isn't popular to ban books. It isn't popular to attack Disney. Democrats shouldn't be afraid to call out Republicans for their extreme, hard right turn. We can run on this and win."

Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan told reporters at the US Capitol that "reproductive freedom is a major issue that will be a part of campaigns all across the country."

When asked about how striking Roe affects the electoral landscape, the Michigan lawmaker who runs Senate Democrats' national reelection campaign, said it's "an issue where the American people are aligned with Democrats."

The issue could play a role in at least one upcoming Democratic primary — that of Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, who opposes abortion rights and is the most conservative House Democrat. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York on Tuesday sought support for Cuellar's progressive opponent, Jessica Cisneros, on Twitter in light of Cuellar's position.


But for Democrats, the issue will get more attention in general election campaigns, given that most party members support abortion rights and are known for taking that position. "It's just baked in with the electorate," said LaBombard, a former aide to Democratic Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and former Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri. "If you ask an everyday voter, which party supports maintaining and retaining the right of a woman to get an abortion, it's Democrats."

Democrats see in the Supreme Court's leaked decision on Roe v. Wade a shot at winning culture wars
Pro-choice protesters rally in front of the Supreme Court after news broke that Roe V. Wade is set to be overturned in Washington, D.C. on May 2, 2022.Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Democrats led by President Joe Biden are now pushing to make abortion rights law, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer calling the issue "as urgent and real as it gets." Both chambers would have to pass a bill codifying abortion rights. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, told reporters the Senate should move to end the filibuster, at least on this one issue, to win the votes.

"I think the overwhelming majority of the American people understand that it would be an outrage to overturn Roe v. Wade and deny women a very fundamental right that they've had for 50 years," Sanders said.

The leaders of the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Democratic Governors Association, and Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee put voters on notice in a rare quintuple joint statement.

"The Republican attacks on abortion access, birth control and women's health care have dramatically escalated the stakes of the 2022 election," the committees' leaders said. "These elections will now determine whether cruel new restrictions on abortion will be put in place: whether states will be allowed to criminalize abortion and ban it even in cases of rape or incest."


LaBombard said Republicans will now have to explain why, after the Supreme Court decision, they support the status quo, "which includes some rather draconian state restrictions on abortion services," he said.

Democratic voters, who may have at times been "agitated and anxious about how much the Democratic Party has achieved this Congress and in this administration," will have even more clarity about the stakes in the midterm elections, he said.

"And I think you will see an increase in the share of independent voters in the states and districts that really matter to who gets the majority in both chambers, recognizing Republican candidates who are frankly out of the mainstream on this issue," he said.