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Are Joe Biden, Democrats, Ready to Fight in a Post-“Roe” World?

The end of Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood is the story of a death oft foretold. Ever since Amy Coney Barrett took Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court, the extinguishing of a constitutional right to abortion was predictable. Yet somehow the Biden White House seemed sideswiped on Monday, May 2, when Politico posted a leaked draft from Justice Samuel Alito of a majority decision ending Roe and Casey.

According to a dispiriting report in The Washington Post, Biden’s team was taken aback by the leak and scrambled to come up with a response. But, the newspaper reports, after “marathon meetings and phone calls among White House officials, government lawyers, outside advisers and federal agency officials, a sobering reality settled in: There’s little the White House can do that will fundamentally alter a post-Roe landscape.”

The claim of powerlessness from the White House has some basis in reality. There are certainly executive actions the Biden administration can take to shore up reproductive freedom (such as providing federal funding to help poor women who need abortions to travel to jurisdictions where it remains legal). But these are Band-Aid solutions—and also subject to legal challenge. Although the Democrats control the White House and both houses of Congress, they don’t have the votes necessary to overcome a filibuster and codify abortion rights into law. Two key Senators (Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin) have made it clear that they are no-go on abolishing the filibuster. In any case, the Democratic Senate includes two members who have traditionally been anti-abortion—Manchin and Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, whose father, Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey, was the named defendant in the decision paired with Roe that established the right to abortion.

But do the headwinds against them mean they should capitulate? In fact, given the lay of the political terrain, Democrats should see the abortion fight as a way to energize their party. Poll after poll shows Roe is popular: In a Fox poll from early May, 63 percent of voters wanted Roe to stay, against 23 per cent who want it overturned.

Even more significantly, a Yahoo News/YouGov poll from the same period showed that making the abortion issue salient will help Democrats in the midterms. According to this poll, in a generic question of congressional preference among registered voters, Democrats got 44 percent, against 39 percent for Republicans. Yahoo goes on to report that “when voters were asked to choose instead between a ‘pro-choice Democrat’ and a ‘pro-life Republican,’ GOP support fell to 31 percent while Democratic support held steady—more than doubling the gap between the two candidates, to 13 percentage points.” Another poll, from CBS, suggested that if Roe is overturned, 37 percent of Democrats say they are more likely to vote in the midterms, against only 16 percent of Republicans.

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