Democrats in Minnesota and across the U.S. are hoping more voters who oppose bans on abortion will do something they haven’t always done – vote with that issue at the center of their decision making.
Polls generally show a large majority of voters in support of keeping abortion legal, though support rises and falls with additional questions on how far into gestation and for what reasons. But Democratic candidates do not run as strongly on pro-abortion rights sentiment in suburban and rural parts of the state, suggesting voters rely on other issues to make decisions at the polls. Friday, when the U.S. Supreme Court released its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, Democrats were disappointed but also heartened that the issue might finally become top of mind in swing districts.
“In the past we have always talked about this issue as a potential threat but now we know the court has stripped away basic human rights for Minnesotans,” said Sen. Erin Murphy, the St. Paul DFLer who is leading her caucus’ campaign effort. When the court said it was up to each state to make the law on abortion, it made majority control of the Legislature vital to abortion politics, she said.
Abortion was less of in issue in the past, not just because the decision that found abortion was constitutionally protected was decades old, but because even anti-abortion justices said they wouldn’t change the precedent, Murphy said. That, she said, has changed.
Polling taken before the ruling and after the ruling does suggest voters are more likely to change their minds about how to vote now that the ruling is official and not speculative, even speculation based on the leaked draft opinion in May.
The statewide MinnPost/Change Research poll found widespread support for maintaining Roe as the law of the nation. Though support was stronger in the Twin Cities than in Greater Minnesota, there was majority support across Minnesota. In the past two election cycles, the suburbs are the swing districts. The poll broke out responses of voters who live in the seven-county metro area exclusive of the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Some 69 percent of respondents in the suburbs opposed a total ban on abortion. By contrast, 75 percent of those within the two largest cities responded that way as did 61 percent of voters outside the two cities and the seven-county suburban/exurban areas.
Abortion supporters are hopeful but uncertain whether that support translates into votes.
“You are asking the question that is on all of our minds,” said Emily Bisek, vice president of strategic communications for Planned Parenthood North Central States. “We don’t yet know if abortion is moving up as a priority for voters. There is much speculation that Dobbs will change that.”
Moses Bratrud, the communications director for the Minnesota Family Council, said abortion is a unique political issue.
“I think someone could easily call themselves pro-choice but pull the lever for a pro-life candidate without feeling any contradiction,” Bratrud said. “I think there are hundreds of thousands of people in Minnesota who have heretofore thought that abortion was, in some cases, a sad necessity, but who are more than willing to be convinced otherwise. They want the pro-life movement to show them that women don’t need abortion – that it is a net demerit to our society. That is the work we are engaged in, and I think it will show at the ballot box.”
Republican candidates celebrated the decision but also said they would rather talk about other issues.
Endorsed GOP candidate for governor Scott Jensen accused Gov. Tim Walz of favoring “up-to-the-moment-of-birth” abortions.
“I would ask Minnesotans to carefully reflect on that position, along with many other distinctive differences like gas prices, public safety and inflation and choose better leadership that offers positive solutions,” Jensen said in a campaign statement. Walz’s staff did not respond to specific questions about his position, saying only that state law regulates when abortions are legal and non-medical abortions are not permitted past around 24 weeks. A campaign spokesperson said the governor doesn’t support abortion up to the moment of birth and accused Jensen of distracting voters from his position against abortion even in cases of rape and incest.
Endorsed GOP attorney general candidate Jim Schultz issued a similar statement, praising the court decision but saying DFL Attorney General Keith Ellison “will use the decision to distract Minnesotans from the disastrous policies they have enacted”. He cited inflation, gas prices and violent crime.
Walz and Ellison have both taken officials actions to defend access to abortion, both for current residents and those who might travel from states that ban or limit access. Walz signed an executive order directing state agencies to not aide other states seeking to prevent or punish those who travel for abortion.
And Ellison said Friday his office would not only defend those who seek to exercise the right to travel between the states but would follow those who travel to Minnesota back to their home states to defend that right.
“If somebody comes to Minnesota and avails themselves of their constitutional rights and goes back home, I will follow them there and file motions in court if somebody tries to prosecute them for getting an abortion in Minnesota.” Ellison said.
A 1995 state supreme court case found that the state constitution’s privacy protections would allow a woman to get an abortion in the state. If anti-abortion Republicans win control of the governor’s mansion and the Legislature, they couldn’t pass laws that would overrule that case. A GOP Legislature could, however, send a constitutional amendment to voters that would ban or limit abortion. Governors have no say in constitutional amendments. And a GOP governor could fill any state supreme court vacancies with judges who might rule differently on future abortion-related cases.
In an article posted Monday on the Center for Politics site at the University of Virginia, Kyle Kondik writes that the underlying fundamentals of the 2022 election favors the GOP. The primary factor is that incumbent president’s party have lost ground in Congress during the first mid-term election in 37 of the past 40 elections. The three times they gained ground was when popular presidents had significant issues in their favor.
While President Joe Biden’s popularity is extremely low, Kondik asks if the abortion issue would be significant in turning voters away to issues the favor Republicans – inflation, gas prices and crime – to one that favors Democrats like abortion.
“As we digest the Supreme Court’s monumental decision on Friday to jettison Roe vs. Wade and remove the constitutional right to abortion that the court initially put in place a half century ago, we have to wonder — could this be another extraordinary circumstance that confounds the usual midterm effect?,” Kondik wrote.
Kondik summarized the GOP viewpoint like this: “Roe vs. Wade going away isn’t going to suddenly make Biden popular, nor is it going to crowd out the very real problems going on in the country that weigh Biden (and Democrats) down.”
But he noted that the first generic ballot poll to be taken post ruling — would you vote for a Democrat or a Republican for Congress — gave Democrats their first advantage in some time, an advantage that did not materialize when the ruling leaked.
“The generic ballot did not really change when the Dobbs opinion was leaked back in early May, although that was a hypothetical decision, whereas this is a real one,” he wrote. “We’ll have to see whether this is the start of a new trend, or just a blip.”
Kondik also wrote that when the popular status quo changes, voters tend not to reward the party they think disrupted the status quo.
“The Supreme Court, dominated by Republican appointees, has just changed the status quo on abortion, and the status quo on abortion was, broadly speaking, popular.” Kondik wrote.