The politics of the abortion issue

By Amanda M. Perez

The politics of the abortion issue

By Amanda M. Perez
Alabama’s new abortion law puts the issue of women’s rights in the spotlight for the upcoming 2020 elections.

With Alabama passing the country's most restrictive abortion ban, several other states including Missouri and Georgia are already passing their own strict abortion legislation. As the upcoming election looms, presidential candidates are pushing women's reproductive rights as one of their main topics on their agenda. Gregory Koger, a University of Miami political science professor, analyzes how these laws are already shaping the campaign trail.

How do you think the new Alabama abortion law will reshape each party’s agenda in the 2020 campaign?

Each party already has their well-defined view on access to abortion. Democrats support it, while Republican oppose it. We are already seeing the effects of the Alabama law. It has increased the salience of abortion as a main issue on the campaign trail. Presidential and Senate candidates are using this issue to get the attention of voters who share their views on abortion.

In what ways do you think the Democratic candidates are using this in their favor on the campaign trail?

Numerous Democratic presidential candidates have publicly denounced the Alabama law and cited it as a reason to elect a Democratic president in 2020. Additionally, it provides the basis for fundraising appeals by dramatizing how important this election is. This is giving potential donors around the country a chance to express their opposition to the Alabama law by making contributions to Democratic candidates.

How are Republican hopefuls reacting to this new Law?

Republicans are staying silent on this topic. Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader of the Republicans in the U.S. House has spoken up to criticize the law, and President Trump distanced himself from the Alabama law over the weekend. I think for Republican politicians there is an interesting gap between what is in their electoral interest and what is in their policy interest. The Alabama legislature crafted a law which directly challenges Roe v. Wade. To do that they had to take a position that is not only unpopular in Alabama, but unpopular across the nation. The law is far more extreme than what the Republican Party as a whole is trying to pursue. For Republican national politicians, it’s difficult because they need to distance themselves from a purely anti-abortion law without antagonizing their pro-life base.

How will the two extreme laws (the liberal New York abortion law and the conservative Alabama abortion law) affect the vote of the upcoming election?

It highlights abortion as a political issue in 2020. It will motivate people to go to the polls. It will give incentive for people in both parties to go out and vote, including conservative evangelicals in the Republican Party and many women who are part of the Democratic Party. Women already favor Democratic candidates, and they’re already more likely to vote, but highlighting abortion policy and making it clear that Roe v. Wade is no longer necessarily safe, so women who aren’t voting, or who just take access to abortion for granted, may be more likely to vote and to prioritize abortion policy when they vote.

What are the similarities and differences between today and 1973 when Roe v. Wade was decided?

First and foremost, abortion is much more salient now as a political issue than it was in 1973. Now there are interest groups that are organized around supporting or opposing different stances of abortion. There weren’t nearly as much interest group organization around the issue back then. Secondly, interestingly enough, the parties have actually switched sides a bit. In 1973, there were anti-access and pro-access people in both parties, but the Republican Party actually leaned a little bit towards supporting access to abortion. The Republican Party’s stances shifted from 1973 to 1980 when evangelical Christians began moving into the Republican Party coalition. That’s when you actually started to see the Republican Party start to take a much stronger position on abortion. Democrats on the other hand used to include many pro-life Catholic voters, but also feminist activists who wanted access to abortion, and over the years has become more united around supporting access to abortion.