The White House is bracing for the Supreme Court to chip away at the landmark 1973 abortion case Roe v. Wade as the justices consider the constitutionality of a Mississippi law banning the termination of pregnancies after 15 weeks.
The majority's inclination toward upholding the Mississippi law, evident during oral arguments Wednesday, has rattled advocates of legal abortion but has some Democrats believing it will boost the party in next year's midterm elections.
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The Supreme Court overturning or undermining Roe, which established that pregnant women have a constitutional right to choose to have an abortion, could derail Republican aspirations for the House and Senate in the 2022 midterm cycle, according to former Democratic consultant Christopher Hahn. The party in power has historically performed poorly in such elections and Democrats are defending small majorities.
"The White House and the entire Democratic Party needs to treat any decision made by the court that reduces a woman’s right to choose as if the 'Republican Court' has destroyed choice in America," Hahn told the Washington Examiner. "Make every Republican candidate across the nation answer for the court's actions. Let them try to explain any nuance in the ruling."
But Democrats must clarify their abortion-rights talking points when speaking to voters, according to Hahn, host of the Aggressive Progressive podcast.
"Democrats fail when their messaging requires explanation," he said. "This case could give the Democrats a simple message that could motivate women, particularly younger women, to vote in record numbers."
Democrats now openly embrace their support for legal abortion instead of relying on diluted phrases such as "reproductive rights." That includes President Joe Biden, the country's second Catholic commander in chief. Biden's stance even caused him personal embarrassment last summer when conservative bishops moved to deny him Holy Communion over the issue.
Republicans are successfully appealing to many parents by empathizing with their concerns about school mask and vaccine policies, as well as the teaching of critical race theory. An example is Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin's win last month in Virginia. But abortion access in states such as Mississippi and Texas, which has passed its own heartbeat law, combined with more tangible warnings regarding the perceived dangers of a conservative-dominated Supreme Court may undo Republican gains with the demographic.
"A woman’s right to make our own health care choices will be a defining issue in the 2022 midterms, and for voters it will reinforce the stakes of protecting and expanding our Democratic Senate Majority with the power to confirm or reject Supreme Court justices," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokeswoman Jazmin Vargas wrote in an email blast to reporters.
The White House has remained relatively mum about the Mississippi abortion law, enacted in 2018 and contested in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. That is despite the potential advantage of a political distraction amid the emergence of the omicron COVID-19 variant, rising consumer prices, and Biden's flagging poll numbers.
But when asked about the Mississippi law multiple times this week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki regurgitated the same prepared statement concerning Biden's support of Roe and calls for Congress to codify Planned Parenthood v. Casey's pre-fetal viability abortion threshold through the House-passed Women’s Health Protection Act. But she did repeatedly describe the Mississippi measure as "blatantly" violating the right "to safe and legal abortions."
"The Department of Justice filed a brief in the case and will participate in the oral argument. And he is committed to working with Congress to codify the constitutional right. That's what he's focused on," she said.
Biden told reporters he did not listen to Wednesday's Mississippi abortion law Supreme Court proceedings, reiterating that Roe was "the rational position to take." Psaki later confirmed Biden would be briefed on the Dobbs oral arguments, the ramifications of which, Democrats claim, will affect 36 million women in 26 states.
But anti-abortion activists, such as March for Life President Jeanne Mancini, welcomed Wednesday's developments after almost 50 years of Roe's "chaotic rule."
"The tragedy of abortion ends the life of a child who, by 15 weeks, has a heart that pumps 26 quarts of blood per day and can feel pain — and deeply wounds her mother," she said.
For Megan Wold, a former Ohio deputy solicitor general and clerk to Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, the bench hinted Wednesday that Roe had been wrongly decided, that Roe had been undercut by scientific facts and legal evolution, that abortion is not mentioned in the Constitution, and that the country does not have an abortion rights history or tradition.
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"These views support overruling Roe," she said. "No justice proposed a new standard to replace Roe, and six justices suggested a willingness to eliminate Roe’s key viability holding. It is clear that the court is likely to substantially weaken Roe or, more likely, to overrule Roe altogether."