#Roevember is coming: Will women's anger over Roe impact next week's American midterms?
Women's fury over the loss of reproductive rights seems to have faded from the headlines. But in the grassroots, women are planning a revolt. Is a blue tsunami coming?
Way back in September, when Twitter was still trump-free, when Ye was still just a beloved musician named Kanye, and when Nancy Pelosi thought she was safe in her home — WAY WAY back — some of us were talking a lot about how Roe was overturned. It was all over my social media feed. And in fact, one of the newspapers I write for regularly commissioned an essay from me about whether Roe was going to impact the midterms elections.
By the time my editors responded to my submission, the essay was no longer relevant. “It’s gone from the headlines,” they told me.
“You should see my twitter feed,” I responded. “Women are still angry. And still planning to vote.”
And then other things exploded.
Here we are. Just a week before the midterms — and only days before the Israeli national election, which ALSO may be signaling the end of democracy and the onset of fascist, racist rule — and it does, in fact, feel like Roe is old news.
Who has space in their brains for so many sources of panic? It’s too much…
Nevertheless, I wrote this essay, and I think it’s still relevant, and even the Musk-Trump-Ye dominated twitterverse is filled with women’s righteous anger. So I’m posting my essay here. Let me know what you think in the comments.
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One of the lessons from the overturning of Roe and its elimination of guaranteed protections for women’s reproductive rights in America may be: careful what you wish for. Republicans, who have been screaming about abortion since the 1980s when Ronald Reagan was president, assumed that overturning the landmark 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling would embolden their predominantly Christian-right, pro-patriarchy voter base. But if recent events — and my Twitter feed — are any indication, the explosive June Supreme Court Dobbs v Jackson decision to reverse Roe may potentially have the opposite effect by empowering terrified women and their allies – on all sides of the political aisle.
The first surprise in this turn of events was not the actual overturning of Roe; anyone paying attention to American politics since Trump was elected could see coming. Rather, the first real shock came five weeks later when residents of Kansas – historically one of the most conservative, anti-abortion states in America – that voted to keep abortion legal.
The significance of this vote cannot be overstated. Kansas has historically been one of the fiercest and bloodiest anti-abortion states. Moreover, the state legislature is completely Republican dominated, it has pioneered some of the harshest abortion bans in the world, and anti-abortion activists have been using voter suppression tactics to keep young and progressive-leaning residents from voting.
But while pundits and pollsters blindly assumed that Kansas was going to be an easy win for Republicans, Dobbs was sending grass-roots tremors. After trigger-law bans in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi had already taken effect, Kansas became the last stop for abortions. Women were traveling for hours or days to cross over into Kansas. Moreover, on the day of the Supreme Court decision, voter registration surged 1,000 percent, and there was a massive increase in volunteers offering to canvas for pro-women political organizations – even in the counties that had voted overwhelmingly for Trump. According to the polling company TargetSmart Dobbs transformed the Kansas electorate and drove voter registration for Democrats. Among Kansans who registered to vote in the wake of Dobbs, Democrats held an eight-point advantage, and 70% of those newly registered voters were women. According to Tom Bonier, CEO of TargetSmart, “[B]efore Dobbs, women outnumbered men by a three-percentage-point margin among new voter registrations. After Dobbs, that gender gap skyrocketed to 40 points. Women were engaged politically in a way that lacked any known precedent.”
Significantly, Dobbs has also shifted campaign language. Some pro-abortion groups in Kansas used Republican rhetoric to make a feminist point, such as protecting women’s rights to be “free from government interference” on health care. Some crafted a Christian-centric feminist message, such as “Trust women – Jesus did.” But the campaign to woo women voters also cut straight to women’s gut fears, such as, “Birth control is next”. Women, apparently, were scared – and angry.
The Dobbs ruling arguably highlights for some voters how out of touch the Republican leadership is with women’s real lives. To wit, according to a recent Gallup poll, more Americans identify as pro-choice (55%) than at any point since the mid-1990s, and for the first time ever, a majority (52%) said abortion was morally acceptable. That is, Dobbs increased support for abortion rather than decrease it.
These events potentially signal a shift that will impact the November midterms, which until recently were expected to see a Republican take-over of both the House and the Senate. According to a new poll by the conservative-leaning Wall Street Journal, Dobbs has energized voters in the direction of Democrats, as support for legalized abortion has grown and made pro-abortion voters more likely to vote. Similarly, Bonier, in describing the gender gaps among new registrants since Dobbs, tweeted, “This isn't just a blue state phenomena. In fact, it is more pronounced in states where choice is more at risk, or has been eliminated by the decision.”
Other signs are keeping Democrats hopeful that Kansas was just the beginning. In a special House election in New York in August, for example, Democrat Pat Ryan defeated Republican Mark Molinaro by campaigning on the abortion issue. A combat veteran, Ryan seemed an unlikely feminist hero, but he told crowds that he did not risk his life fighting to protect American freedoms around the world “only to see them stripped away at home”. Molinaro did not mention abortion at all – and lost. He – like other Republican candidates are actively pivoting away from abortion to other talking points on inflation and Joe Biden. That is telling.
Other post-ruling Congressional elections in formerly Trump-dominated districts in Nebraska and Minnesota showed definite signs of Republican ebbing, though not yet a complete flip. As in Kansas, in both Nebraska and Minnesota, the campaign discourse revolved around abortion.
Still, Trump supporters are notoriously hard to move. If they haven’t changed their minds after their guru’s troubling history with tax fraud, sexual assault, impeachment (twice!), death threats to his own Vice President, possibly spying for Russia, stealing nuclear secrets, leading a violent coup attempt, or general stupidity, it seems that nothing will.
But the question is, do these trends also apply to women, especially those who see in Dobbs a threat to their own lives? Analysts have been known to minimize or discount women’s experiences – like this one in the New York Times. But women may just be the missing link.
Some key pollsters are arguing that women’s voting around the abortion issue could transform a whole series of upcoming elections, such as in California, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Democratic pollster Molly Murphy, whose firm conducted the WSJ poll with Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio, the ruling changed the abortion debate “from hypothetical to real”, which directly impacts women’s reproductive lives from all sectors of society. As a result, the ruling “injected new Democratic energy into a midterm election that Republicans expected to be dominated by economic issues”. Similarly, Sarah Longwell, a moderate Republican strategist, explained that the Dobbs decision has made abortion personal – and most women have personal stories about complications with reproduction issues. Even Republican women, she said, are often “deeply uncomfortable with the idea of getting between women and their doctors on decisions that could put their lives at risk.” Another analyst, Errin Haynes, interviewed several Republican pollsters and concluded that “The moment feels existential for many women, including independents and swing voters.”
As Bonier wrote in this week’s New York Times, “In my 28 years of analyzing elections, I had never seen anything like what’s happened in the past two months in American politics: Women are registering to vote in numbers I never witnessed before. I’ve run out of superlatives to describe how different this moment is…This is a moment to throw old political assumptions out the window and to consider that Democrats could buck historic trends this cycle.”
Let’s hope so. Let’s vote like our lives depend on it. I think they actually do.
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