When President Biden announced his reelection campaign in a video Tuesday, one of the first images in the launch video showed a protest sign with the words “abortion is healthcare.”
On the same day as the campaign launch, Vice President Kamala Harris rallied with abortion-rights groups, signaling that on day one, Mr. Biden and Harris would put the fight over abortion access at the forefront of their reelection bid, an effort to capitalize on the Democratic Party’s success in highlighting the issue during the midterm elections.
After the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade, which had legalized abortion access across the country for half a century, Democrats and abortion access advocates were able to turn the setback into an advantage in the midterm elections, securing wins in multiple key 2022 races.
In every race where abortion was directly on the ballot, voters leaned toward protecting abortion access. In Michigan, voters not only moved to protect abortion rights in the state constitution, they also reelected Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer. In Pennsylvania, Democrats won the governor’s race and Senate race, flipping the seat from red to blue.
Exit polling confirmed the prevalence of the issue in the election with 27% naming abortion the most important issue – only behind inflation at 31%. The question of abortion access helped Democratic candidates win across competitive battleground races and minimized their losses.
Amid questions over whether the issue would continue to have traction, liberal Judge Janet Protasiewicz practically campaigned on abortion access in her bid for the Wisconsin Supreme Court this month. She won by double digits
“It’s going to be the top issue in the election, if not one of the top two issues,” said Mini Timmaraju, president of the organization NARAL Pro-Choice America of 2024. “I think the issue of abortion is just going to get more and more salient to voters, but I also think we as a movement have done a good job of connecting the dots between reproductive rights and our fundamental democracy.”
Timmaraju was glad to see the Biden campaign’s emphasis on the issue. One day after the launch, the campaign released its first 2024 ad in battleground states. It focuses on “basic freedoms” and has a line about the right of women to make their own health care decisions.
A campaign official stressed that the president’s 2024 message taps into an essential question of whether people want more or less freedoms. “It’s clear people want more,” the official added, noting the issue mobilized Americans voting in the 2022 midterm races, the recent election in Wisconsin and a referendum in Kansas.
Harris has been a leading figure in the administration on the issue – holding events and meetings on reproductive rights across the country since before the June 2022 Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe.
“These extremist, so-called leaders would dare to tell us what is in our own best interests,” Harris said Tuesday to a boisterous packed crowd at her alma mater Howard University. “Well, I say, I trust the women of America. I trust the people of America to make decisions about their selves.”
Neither Harris nor Mr. Biden is heading into the campaign with strong approval numbers, but among the duo’s highest approval is Harris’ 61% among people under the age of 30 according to the latest CBS News poll. At the same time, Tufts University polling found abortion was the top issue influencing young voters in the 2022 midterms. Harris’ line of attack against Republicans serves as a preview of how the campaign plans to frame the issue of abortion in the months ahead.
It comes as Republican 2024 presidential hopefuls have been at odds over abortion access. Former President Donald Trump says it should be a state issue. Former Vice President Mike Pence advocates federal abortion restrictions. GOP candidate Nikki Haley’s stance is not yet clear. She gave a speech Tuesday on abortion that was light on specifics, arguing before an anti-abortion rights group that she would be the consensus candidate. Sen. Tim Scott signaled he’d consider backing a 15-week federal ban.
Abortion rights advocates are ready to seize on the GOP’s struggles on abortion.
“They’re getting more and more wobbly,” said Timmaraju. “They don’t know what they stand for so if anything changes in our messaging, it’s going to be a little harder against the GOP.”
But while Democrats rally behind protecting abortion rights, they have made little progress on protecting the right at a federal level. Mr. Biden promised on the campaign trail in 2020 to codify Roe; his administration has taken steps to expand access to medication abortion and protect contraception access through executive action, but Democrats’ efforts to pass legislation have failed. The Women’s Health Protection Act codifying Roe failed in the Senate last year, since they lack the super majority necessary to consider it.
Abortion rights advocates like Timmaraju acknowledge that the inability to act is a concern. Democrats are arguing that they need to elect a few more members of Congress to get the job done.
“When we finish this election cycle, we’ll have Democratic pro-choice majorities, and we’ve got to demand that they protect the rights of women in this country,” Butler said.
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