Abortion emerges as critical issue for at-risk Senate Republicans


It didn’t take long for Sara Gideon to take advantage of Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on abortion in her career against Senator Susan Collins.

When Collins, a Republican from Maine, cast a deciding vote to confirm Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh before the Supreme Court in 2018, he did so on the premise that he would uphold a precedent to preserve abortion rights. But on Monday, Judge Kavanaugh disagreed with a decision that did that, arguing that the court should have ruled differently than it did in an almost identical case four years ago.

“Do you still think Brett Kavanaugh believes Roe v. Wade is an established law, @SenSusanCollins?” Gideon, Collins’ likely Democratic opponent, tweeted.

Collins, a rare Republican who supports abortion rights, faces the toughest campaign in her Senate career of more than 20 years, largely as a result of her vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh, and the new ruling has taken what may be one of its greatest vulnerabilities and put it directly in the center of public attention.

She is not alone: ​​The ruling, which struck down a Louisiana law that could have left the state with a single abortion clinic, reverberated quickly across Washington and beyond, adding a new focus on one of the most divisive issues in the American politics to critical Senate races that will determine which party controls the chamber in 2021.

Advocacy groups, both for and against the right to abortion, said they would use Monday’s ruling, and especially the fact that those appointed by President Trump, Justices Kavanaugh and Neil M. Gorsuch, dissented, to try of motivating voters. And political strategists said that while many voters’ views on abortion were set in stone, Monday’s ruling had brought it back into the national conversation after months of focusing on the coronavirus and racial inequality.

“Everyone who voted badly, we go for you,” wrote Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a tweet that named Ms. Collins and Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who voted to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.

Collins said in a statement that he supported the ruling and was “reading too much about this specific decision” to say that Judge Kavanaugh’s dissent indicated that he would vote to ban abortion.

“As Judge Gorsuch noted: ‘In truth, Roe v. Wade is not even in question here,'” he said. “And while Judge Kavanaugh requested an additional investigation in this case, he gave no indication in his dissenting opinion that he supports the overthrow of Roe.”

Collins, Gardner, and Tillis are viewed as three of the most vulnerable Republicans in the Senate. And Ernst and Graham’s seats, while not as competitive, have become more than they were a few months ago as President Trump’s popularity has eroded.

High-profile Democratic lawmakers like Senators Kamala Harris of California and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York quickly applauded the decision on Monday as a victory for reproductive rights. But in a sign of what’s at stake in November, Democratic officials and Senate candidates like Gideon also moved quickly to condemn his Republican opponents and to emphasize that if Trump wins another Supreme Court election, the next ruling It could be the Other way.

“Republican leaders will continue to pursue women’s rights and anyone seeking reproductive care to make decisions about their own bodies, their own families and their own future,” top members of the Democratic National Committee said in a joint statement. “Democrats are doing everything in our power to turn the Senate around, defeat Donald Trump and make sure Roe remains the law of the land.”

Almost all sitting Republican senators voted to confirm Judge Kavanaugh, including those who participated in competitive races this year. Senator Martha McSally of Arizona, a Republican who is in a tough battle against Mark Kelly, a Democrat, had not been named to her Senate seat at the time of the October 2018 vote, but indicated that she would have voted in favor. .

A spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee said the party “values ​​the life and health of the mother and unborn baby” and tried to use conservative anger at the ruling to boost participation in the fall.

“It is regrettable to see the Supreme Court trample on the states’ prerogatives with this decision,” spokeswoman Mandi Merritt said in a statement. “It is cases like this that serve as a reminder of why President Trump should be reelected so that he can appoint more conservative judges who will not legislate from the bench.”

The Louisiana law in question requires abortion doctors to have hospital admission privileges, and Republican lawmakers argued on Twitter that the court had struck down legislation that “fundamentally protects women.” Supporters of abortion rights argue, and the majority opinion of the Supreme Court agreed, that requiring abortion providers to have admission privileges does not make women safer.

Mallory Quigley, a spokesperson for the pro-life list Susan B. Anthony, said in an interview that she believed the ruling could underscore what is at stake in the election for voters who oppose abortion but align with Democrats on other issues. .

Trump nominated two judges who “made the right decision on the largest abortion case in which they had an opportunity to rule,” Quigley said. “Whoever wins these elections will have the opportunity to appoint one or two Supreme Court justices in the next four years, and we must ensure that he is President Trump, backed by a majority in the pro-life Senate.”

Jenny Lawson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, framed Monday’s decision less as a victory than an averted catastrophe, and said in a statement: “Access to abortion is no longer being decimated in Louisiana, for now, but that’s only because the two named by Donald Trump’s Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, did not get away with it. “

Democratic and Republican pollsters said they believed voters for whom abortion is a key issue already had a lot of energy and were unlikely to be moved by Monday’s decision.

But Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, said that in Maine, Judge Kavanaugh’s dissent could undermine Ms. Collins’ long-standing argument that she is an independent voice within the Republican Party, something that Maine voters tend to assess.

The abortion problem itself could draw some women out of Ms. Collins’ suburbs, she added, especially in the Portland area, but the issue of independence could be greater across the state.

Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, said undecided voters would weigh the strength of their abortion convictions against concerns like the coronavirus pandemic and racial justice. “There are so many issues that have dominated our discussion almost to the exclusion of everything else,” Ayres said.

Monday’s ruling on abortion could “increase its importance a little, as we are talking about today in June,” she said. “The question remains whether it will be like this in a month or two or four from now.”

Republicans currently have a 53-47 Senate majority, which means Democrats must win three or four seats, depending on who wins the presidency, to give them control of the chamber. They have at least as many goals in mind.

In Colorado, Mr. Gardner will try to apprehend John Hickenlooper, a well-known former two-term governor and mayor of Denver, or Andrew Romanoff, a former speaker of the state House of Representatives who has mounted a vigorous Democratic primary challenge and offered a statement on Monday. in support of the court’s decision, saying: “We cannot rest until reproductive rights are fully protected by federal law.”

On Monday night, the Colorado Democratic Party issued its own statement attacking Mr. Gardner as someone who “has crossed over to restrict reproductive rights for years” and condemning his votes to confirm Judges Kavanaugh and Gorsuch. A spokesperson for Mr. Gardner’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Hickenlooper welcomed the news of the court ruling on abortion, but also sought to keep the focus on the fall.

“We need to elect pro-abortion leaders at all levels of government,” it said in a statement. “And we can start by changing the seat of the Colorado Senate.”

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