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SCOTUS Adds Abortion Fight to Midterms 05/18 06:13

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- In agreeing to hear a potentially groundbreaking abortion 
case, the Supreme Court has energized activists on both sides of the 
long-running debate who are now girding to make abortion access a major issue 
in next year's midterm elections.

   For many evangelicals, the case could serve as a validation of more than 
four decades of persistent work and a sometimes awkward relationship with 
former President Donald Trump, whose three Supreme Court appointments sealed a 
6-3 conservative majority. If those justices unite to uphold a Mississippi law 
banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, it would mark a first step toward 
the possible demise of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which established a 
nationwide right to abortion at any point before a fetus can survive outside 
the womb, roughly 24 weeks.

   Abortion rights advocates, meanwhile, are urgently warning that the case is 
the biggest threat to decades of rulings that have consistently upheld, with 
some caveats, a woman's constitutional right to decide whether to end her 
pregnancy.

   Since the Roe decision, abortion has become a defining theme in American 
politics, emerging as the sole issue that some voters use to assess which 
candidates they'll support. The Mississippi case could emerge as another 
turning point -- with unpredictable results. Abortion opponents may become 
further emboldened if their long-desired goal moves closer to reality, while an 
unfavorable decision could spur supporters to intensify calls for dramatic 
changes to the judiciary.

   For now, both sides say they are fully engaged.

   "This is huge -- it's saying that for the first time in a long time that we 
have a pro-life majority on the Supreme Court," said Katherine Beck Johnson, a 
lawyer with the conservative Family Research Council. "It will encourage the 
voting base to get out and vote Republican."

   Jennifer Dalven, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's 
Reproductive Freedom Project, said the high court's decision to hear the case 
was "really alarming."

   "For more than 40 years the Supreme Court has said states can't ban abortion 
prior to viability," Dalven said. "There is simply no way for the court to rule 
for Mississippi without gutting Roe v. Wade."

   The case probably will be argued in the fall, with a decision likely in the 
spring of 2022 during the campaign for congressional midterm elections. Many 
abortion-rights groups urged their supporters to start mobilizing now.

   "There's never been a more important time to elect Democratic pro-choice 
women to local and national office," said one of those groups, Emily's List. 
"If the Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade, we'll need all the help we can 
get."

   Even if the court does not explicitly overrule Roe, a decision favorable to 
Mississippi could lay the groundwork for allowing more restrictions on 
abortion. Bills have been enacted in multiple Republican-governed states that 
would ban abortion as early as six weeks, and also in cases where a decision to 
abort was based solely on a diagnosis of Down syndrome.

   Nationwide polls have repeatedly shown that most Americans support the 
premise of Roe v. Wade. An April poll from the Pew Research Center found that 
59% of Americans think abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 39% 
think it should be illegal in most or all cases.

   Some abortion opponents, noting those surveys, are skeptical that the 
Supreme Court would fully overturn Roe.

   "The Supreme Court has never led public opinion but followed it when it 
comes to major issues like slavery, gay marriage and women's rights," said the 
Rev. Robert Jeffress, a Dallas megachurch pastor who has been a close ally of 
Trump.

   "As long as 70% of the American people oppose the overturn of Roe, it will 
never happen," he said. "Realistically, conservatives can hope that the court 
uses the Mississippi case to chip away at unrestricted abortion in our country."

   Charles Camosy, a professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham 
University, also acknowledged those poll findings. But he noted that the Gallup 
poll has repeatedly found that more than two-thirds of Americans say abortion 
should be illegal after the 12th week of pregnancy -- a time frame that is in 
force in several European countries.

   "I doubt the court's majority is willing to totally undo the legal right to 
abortion," he said. "More than likely is they will rule that a 15-week 
limitation does not pose an undue burden on a woman's right to abortion."

   White evangelicals, who remain among Trump's most loyal backers, had 
celebrated his overhaul of the federal courts and his reshaping of the Supreme 
Court as perhaps his greatest accomplishment. But there remains trepidation 
after the court surprised them by failing to rule their way in past cases.

   "Trying to predict what the Supreme Court is going to do on a state statute 
on abortion regulation is like trying to predict the path of a hurricane, only 
more difficult, because there are a lot of things at play," said Ralph Reed, 
chair of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and a longtime ally of Trump.

   Reed acknowledged that abortion is only a top issue for a small minority of 
voters but argued that in many competitive congressional and gubernatorial 
elections, "it could theoretically be the difference."

   "It's not necessarily the issue that ranks highest in terms of determining 
one's vote, but it still matters in terms of intensity and enthusiasm," he said.

   Among 2022 U.S. Senate races where the issue could be a key factor are those 
in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

   If the Mississippi ban is upheld, "pro-lifers would be energized," said 
Michael New, an abortion opponent who teaches social research at Catholic 
University of America.

   "It would show that the strategy of supporting pro-life candidates for the 
presidency resulted in a Supreme Court that was sympathetic to legal 
protections to preborn children," he said. "Pro-life state legislators in other 
states would likely pass similar 15-week abortion bans, confident that these 
bans would also be upheld."

   The Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological 
Seminary, said he was optimistic the Mississippi ban would be upheld, giving 
abortion-rights groups a chance to mobilize their supporters with warnings of 
Roe's demise while infusing abortion opponents with a new sense of optimism.

   "Pro-life voters are looking for progress," Mohler said. "What serves to 
deflate the vote of pro-life Americans is frustration at the impression of the 
lack of progress."

   Mallory Quigley of the Susan B. Anthony List, which seeks to elect 
anti-abortion candidates, predicted the issue would be a "huge motivator on 
both sides" going into the midterms.

   As far as Republicans, she said, "It's motivating to see how past electoral 
choices are impacting policy today and then moving forward, what more is to be 
done."

   Abortion-rights supporter Kelly Baden of Strategic Initiatives and Services, 
a strategy center for state legislators who champion progressive values, said 
the wave of anti-abortion legislation in Republican-led states "shows how much 
we've already lost and how dire our circumstances already are."

   "But we have the power to take it back," she said. "If and when the courts 
let us down, we can and must show up at the voting booth."

 
 
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