Voters again defend abortion rights. Republicans should be scared.


As she made the media rounds before last fall’s midterm elections, House Minority Whip Katherine Clark said, she was “repeatedly’’ asked one particular question during interviews — “Haven’t Democrats put too much emphasis on abortion?’’

Her answer, she said, was always the same: “No.’’

We know how that turned out. Democrats held onto the Senate and flipped a seat in Pennsylvania. And while they lost the House, it was by a much smaller margin than many predicted. That’s because access to safe and legal abortions has become a deciding factor for many voters.

Concentrating on continuing threats to abortion rights is what helped Janet Protasiewicz, a Democrat, defeat Dan Kelly, her Republican opponent, in the most expensive and closely watched judicial election ever. Her win gives the Wisconsin state Supreme Court a liberal majority as that court prepares to decide on a statewide abortion ban.

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned last year, few issues have had a greater impact in elections than reproductive rights. Voters support candidates who support abortion — and that will be key for Democrats heading into 2024.

In the end, it wasn’t even close in Wisconsin, a swing state. Protasiewicz beat Kelly by 10 points. At her victory celebration, she said, “Our state is taking a step forward to a better and brighter future where our rights and freedoms will be protected.’’

It’s stunning to think that only months after the Supreme Court’s conservatives dismantled nearly 50 years of settled law on reproductive rights, political pundits and others in the media insisted that voters had already moved on from abortion and were preoccupied with the economy and inflation.

Days before the midterms, a New York Times headline read: “At Campaign’s End, Democrats See Limits of Focus on Abortion’’ The subhead claimed that “shock and outrage over the fall of Roe v. Wade has faded as confusion has spread, deflating Democrats’ hopes that the issue could carry them to victory.’’

It was as if many had forgotten about Kansas. Only weeks after the Supreme Court’s antiabortion decision, voters in that state overwhelmingly rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have effectively banned abortion in the state. It was the first post-Roe test at the polls.

Turns out that even in solidly red states, people don’t like seeing their rights taken away. That was a harbinger of Democratic victories buoyed by the fight for reproductive rights. And their opponents don’t know how to stop it.

“Republicans had better get their abortion position straight, and more in line with where voters are or they will face another disappointment in 2024,’’ said a Wall Street Journal editorial after the Wisconsin election.

Make no mistake: The GOP has its abortion position straight. It’s focused on eroding and erasing abortion rights as quickly as possible. In recent days, Florida’s state Senate passed a six-week abortion ban a year after probable Republican presidential candidate Governor Ron DeSantis signed a 15-week ban into law. Should this even more strident bill reach his desk, he’ll likely sign it to buff his credentials within his party’s most extreme corners.

Governor Brad Little of Idaho signed a so-called “abortion trafficking’’ law that makes it a crime to help a minor leave the state to get an abortion or receive abortion pills without permission from a parent or guardian. In Arkansas, with its near-total abortion ban, Republicans rejected Democratic proposals to allow exemptions for child victims of rape or incest or in cases of fetal abnormalities incompatible with life.

Republicans have quickly moved from talking about common-sense abortion laws to criminalizing doctors, forcing children to have children, and risking the physical and psychological health of those who need to terminate a pregnancy.

Voters aren’t having it. They’re pushing back against candidates and measures increasingly out of step with polls, proving that a significant majority of Americans support reproductive rights. And their stance acknowledges what Republican absolutism will not — abortion is an economic issue. It’s a health care issue. And it’s no one’s business beyond the patient, their family, and their doctor.

“If the government is going to come in and decide if and when you are going to have children no matter what your doctor recommends, no matter what your faith is or your own personal circumstances, there is no line of government intrusion that can’t be crossed,’’ Clark said during a recent conversation with the Globe editorial board. “People understand this is [a] fundamental freedom, and I think Democrats have really captured that in their messaging around abortion.’’

Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.

Image Credits: The Boston Globe