The Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on Friday dramatically altered the political landscape, casting out decades-old, nationwide protections for abortion rights and kicking the decision back to the states.
The decision could upend the 2022 midterm elections and reverberate in other contests for years, with policy differences on abortion suddenly gaining salience and state governments priming to act.
And while Senate and House candidates will wage fierce battles over abortion policy around the country, the issue will be especially front and center in state contests — including for governor, state attorney general and state legislative posts, positions that now come with wide latitude to set abortion policy state-by-state.
In most polling ahead of Friday’s opinion, a majority of Americans opposed overturning Roe v. Wade — but issues like inflation and the broader economy have been top of mind for many voters, so it will take time to see how the Supreme Court’s move affects the midterms. Here are five contests where Friday’s decision could have the biggest impact, in 2022 and beyond.
Pennsylvania has a rare mix of factors putting it at the forefront of the fight over abortion policy.
The state is a perennial battleground, Republicans control the state legislature, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is term-limited, and abortion is currently legal in Pennsylvania up until 24 weeks — but the state Supreme Court has not recognized it as a proactive right, and there are no state laws protecting it.
Wolf has vetoed several abortion-related bills during his two terms, and Democratic state Attorney General Josh Shapiro has vowed to defend abortion access in the state if elected governor. However, GOP state Sen. Doug Mastriano has said he will push to ban abortion in the state if he is elected governor and Republicans retain control of the state legislature.
“As we approach a critical election cycle here in Pennsylvania, I cannot stress enough how important it is to exercise your personal right to vote. Elections matter,” Wolf said in a statement on Friday.
Shapiro has already made it a major part of his campaign: Even ahead of the ruling, Shapiro went up with ads Thursday highlighting Mastriano saying, “My body my choice is ridiculous nonsense.”
Kansas governor — and a ballot measure campaign
Kansas will host one of the earliest electoral tests for abortion following Friday’s Supreme Court ruling.
The state Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that abortion was constitutionally protected in Kansas — but voters could enact a ballot measure to reverse that during the state’s August primaries. The state constitutional amendment that would state that there is no right to an abortion in Kansas and that the state legislature has the right to pass laws regulating abortion.
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly supports abortion rights and opposes the amendment, while Republican state Attorney General Derek Schmidt, her likely general election opponent, supports the amendment. Money has rushed into the state ahead of the vote.
And voters will effectively get a second shot weighing in on abortion in their state, when Kelly and Schmidt face off for the governorship in November. Kelly has vetoed legislation that would have added restrictions to abortion, and the GOP-controlled state legislature has sometimes struggled with veto overrides.
While the Kansas ballot measure is specifically about abortion policy, another August election could turn into a fight over abortion rights. A special election to replace New York Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado in Congress is scheduled for late August, and Democratic Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan has quickly sought to make the race a referendum on the Supreme Court decision. He released an ad that the campaign says will go on the air in the coming days: “How can we be a free country if the government tries to control women’s bodies?”
Abortion rights could play a major role in the Michigan governor’s race, which is expected to be one of the most contested gubernatorial contests in the country.
There, the state is currently in limbo over its abortion laws. Michigan had a pre-Roe law that banned nearly all abortions in the state — but that law, which hasn’t been enforced since the early 1970s, has been temporarily blocked by a state court.
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has cast herself as a bulwark against restrictions to abortion rights. She filed a separate lawsuit earlier in the year asking the state Supreme Court to throw out the state’s 1931 law banning most abortions and to rule that the state constitution includes a proactive right to an abortion.
On the other side, the Republican field jockeying to challenge Whitmer has largely supported outright abortion bans, presenting voters with a fairly binary choice at the polls.
And in the state, pro-abortion rights groups are rushing to try to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would codify some legal protections. “We’ve pursued this three-pronged strategy because we don’t know which one might be successful,” Whitmer told POLITICO earlier this month. “We don’t know if any of them will be. And I think that’s why this is such a stark, kind of scary, confusing moment for a lot of people who are waking up to just how precarious this moment really is.”
“Today is not just a day for celebration as it is an affirmation that life is precious, but it is a day for action,” conservative media commentator Tudor Dixon, one of the Republican contenders for governor, said in a statement Friday.
Other battleground governor races — like Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ reelection in Wisconsin — could see a similar dynamic. But in Wisconsin’s case, abortion could already be potentially illegal in the state by November. Wisconsin, too, has a pre-Roe law that could ban abortions, and many in the state believe it could now be in effect. Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul — who like Evers is up for reelection this year — has, however, said he will not enforce it.
While the immediate policy-making decisions on abortion will fall to individual states, Friday’s decision could also have a big impact in races for Congress as well. And Wisconsin may end up being the most emblematic of that shift, with the ruling potentially shaking up GOP Sen. Ron Johnson’s reelection — as well as the Democratic primary fight to challenge him.
There, Johnson — who praised the overturning of Roe v. Wade on Friday — has also downplayed the political ramifications. “I just don’t think this is going to be the big political issue everybody thinks it is, because it’s not going to be that big a change,” he told The Wall Street Journal ahead of the ruling, saying people could drive across state lines if they had to.
Democrats in the state disagree, and have been attacking Johnson over the issue well ahead of Friday’s decision.
But it also could be a defining factor in the fight among Democrats to be the one to challenge him. There, a crowded field is jockeying for the right to face him in November, including two statewide elected officials, a Milwaukee Bucks executive and more. The Democratic candidates have all promised to try to codify protections into federal law, and many have railed against the filibuster. But even minute differences among the Democratic candidates — and how fiercely they elevate them — could define the rest of the contest.
“To me, I think that what I have seen is that this is a critical issue, and voters are going to look for who’s actually going to get this done and prioritize this in the U.S. Senate,” state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski told reporters shortly after the ruling.
Virginia’s 2023 legislative races
Republicans broke up Democrats’ hold on Virginia state government last year, with GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin leading a ticket that flipped all the major statewide offices and the state House.
Now, the state could see a major shift in abortion policy. Youngkin praised the Supreme Court decision in a statement on Friday, and he said he plans on asking state lawmakers to propose abortion legislation when they return to session in January. “I’m proud to be a pro-life governor and plan to take every action I can to protect life,” Youngkin said in his statement.
Youngkin, who was meeting with The Washington Post editorial board as the decision was handed down, said he would look to ban abortion at 15 weeks in the state — with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother — but acknowledged that a 20-week ban may be the realistic cutoff to attract more support in the state.
There is a narrow, but realistic, path toward Youngkin’s goal in the state. Republicans control the state House by a handful of seats. And while Democrats have a narrow 21-19 majority in the state Senate, there is an anti-abortion Democrat who has weighed supporting at least some restrictions.
Later next year, the state’s 2023 elections will decide control of both chambers. Those races could serve as a referendum on the legislation put forward in the next session — and, if Republicans win more seats, could also offer the GOP the opportunity to go further with new bills in the future.
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