Shock quickly turned to sadness for Victoria Lowe.
The 37-year-old attorney, who works outside a cafe in suburban Bucks County, Pennsylvania, said she couldn’t believe the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion that women have had all their lives. She started crying.
“I don’t understand how they could come to this conclusion,” he said.
On the heels of one of the Supreme Court’s most important rulings, it was too soon to tell how profoundly the political landscape had changed. But in this politically competitive corner of one of America’s biggest swing states, embattled Democrats are hoping to harness the excitement of women like Lowe to restore what has been a brutal election year environment.
For much of the year, the threat to abortion rights has seemed somewhat theoretical, overshadowed by more tangible economic challenges, notably inflation and rising gas prices. But the Supreme Court decision ensures that abortion will be a central issue in American politics for the foreseeable future.
That’s especially true as restrictions begin to take effect. Pregnant women considering abortion had already been dealing with a near-total ban in Oklahoma and a ban after about six weeks in Texas. Clinics in at least eight other states — Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, South Dakota, Wisconsin and West Virginia — stopped performing abortions after Friday’s decision.
In Pennsylvania, the future of the procedure could depend on the November election. For now, women here will continue to have access to abortion up to 24 weeks. However, Republicans are poised to change state law if they maintain control of the legislature and take over the governorship in November. Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor, opposes abortion without exception for rape, incest or the life of the mother.
Democrats in Pennsylvania and beyond initially seemed to rally behind their collective outrage, fear and sadness.
They planned widespread protests. From the White House on Friday, President Joe Biden urged protesters to keep the peace, even as he described the court’s ruling as “wrong, extreme and misplaced.”
The Democratic president also called on voters to make their voices heard this fall: “Roe is on the ballot.”
At the same time, members of the Democratic National Committee raised the possibility of a silver lining within the historic high court coup.
“Democrats have a real opportunity right now to tap into this anger, to tap into the sadness,” Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee said during a DNC subcommittee meeting. “We are laying the groundwork to ensure that Democrats stay in the White House, so that next time, there is a vacancy in the bench, in the federal bench anywhere, that we have a Democratic president making that appointment.”
Democrat-aligned groups moved to deploy the resources to warn about the stakes in this year’s midterm elections. NARAL Freedom Fund and Priorities USA Action immediately spent $300,000 on digital advertising.
Republicans, for their part, tried to downplay their enthusiasm for winning the decades-long fight against abortion rights, knowing the ruling could energize the Democratic base, particularly suburban women. Before Friday’s ruling, Democrats close to the White House were increasingly pessimistic about the party’s chances of occupying the House or Senate in November.
Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, said she expected abortion opponents to turn out in large numbers this fall, even if Democrats might be motivated by Friday’s ruling.
She called it “a great day for unborn children and mothers.” “Just because it’s been a so-called right for 50 years doesn’t mean it’s right,” Tobias said.
Polls show that relatively few Americans wanted to see Roe ousted.
In 2020, AP VoteCast found that 69% of voters in presidential elections said the Supreme Court should drop the Roe v. wade how is it Still, recent polls tend to show other issues rising above abortion as the most important issues facing the country.
Thirteen percent of Democrats named abortion or reproductive rights as one of the issues they want the federal government to address in 2022, according to a December poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. That’s more than less than the 1% of Democrats who named it a priority for 2021 and the 3% who included it in 2020.
Other issues like the economy, COVID-19, health care and gun control ranked as top priorities for Democrats in the survey. But the exponential rise in the percentage citing reproductive rights as a key concern suggests the issue was resonating with Democrats when the Supreme Court considered overturning Roe.
The fight for abortion rights, and the related political consequences, are now moving to the states.
Thirteen dark red states have so-called “trigger laws” that will now ban abortion almost immediately, but the future of abortion access is less certain in several other more moderate states with Republican-controlled legislatures: Arizona, Georgia, Florida , Michigan, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin, among them.
In many cases, GOP legislatures have already passed restrictive abortion laws, including so-called “heartbeat” bills that would ban abortions before most women know they’re pregnant. Some of the legislation is tied to the courts, while others have yet to make it through Republican legislatures. Now that Roe has fallen, such laws, or more restrictive bans, could only be stopped by a veto by a Democratic governor or a Democratic-backed court challenge, if at all.
Some states, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Texas, have decades-old pre-Roe abortion bans that would presumably now take effect if not further challenged in their state courts.
Despite initial hope among Democrats that the turmoil would energize their base, some on the front lines of the party’s uphill middle fight aren’t so sure.
Jamie Perrapato, executive director of the pro-Democratic group Turn PA Blue, points out that Democrats achieved a record turnout in Pennsylvania in last year’s off-year elections. But so did the Republicans, who ultimately dominated negative electoral contests across the state.
“I feel sick. I hope this wakes people up. I hope they realize, as terrible as it is, you can’t bury your head in the sand,” Perrapato said. “But I don’t know. It’s a really dark time.”
Back in Bucks County, Lowe said he votes Democrat and planned to vote in November even before Friday’s decision. Abortion rights are an important issue for her, even as inflation rises.
“I would say it’s more important to me than the gas issue,” he said. “This is such a personal and fundamental human right that it is bigger than economics.”
Sitting next to Lowe in the cafe, Margaret Pezalla-Granlund, 56, also choked up when asked about the Supreme Court decision. Although they were strangers, Lowe offered her a handkerchief and the women wiped their eyes together.
Pezalla-Granlund was especially worried about her 15-year-old daughter. “She’s going to grow up in a really different situation than I was and she expected her to,” she said.
Such concern was not limited to Democrats.
Not far away, Karen Sloan, 75, was smoking a cigarette outside a cafe in the city of Bristol, on the Delaware River. As a self-described Republican who supports abortion rights, she said Friday’s ruling upset her.
“I just can’t believe it,” Sloan said. “I am not saying that it is right to take a human life. But there are circumstances in which it has to be done.”
He said he would have voted in November even before the ruling, but now plans to support candidates who support abortion rights. For her, the problem exceeds high gas prices and inflation.
“You’re taking someone’s rights away and that’s more important to me,” Sloan said. “It’s a big thing in the United States for women.”
AP reporters Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina; Marc Levy in Harrisburg; and Hannah Fingerhut in Washington contributed.