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Midterms: Will anger over Dobbs decision lead to higher turnout at the polls?

Crystal Graham
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Millions of women and supporters turned out to demonstrations and rallies across the country when Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court in June.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas also signaled that he would vote to limit access, availability and affordability of contraceptives using the same standard that overturned Roe v. Wade if it came to him – leaving women to worry that the availability of their contraception could be at question in the future.

Since the Dobbs decision in which the Court overturned Roe, many states are looking to tighten restrictions on abortion access or ban it entirely with no exception for rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in jeopardy.

Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate Mehmet Oz is a physician. He said in a debate with Democratic challenger John Fetterman: “I want women, doctors, local political leaders, letting the democracy that’s always allowed our nation to thrive to put the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves.”

“Local political leaders”? Many strategists said Oz lost the debate with this one answer because a personal decision between a woman and her doctor most certainly shouldn’t include the input of a local elected official.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is on the record agreeing with the Supreme Court’s decision.

“I agree with that this is a decision for states to make by elected officials, by the citizens of Virginia, and that’s why, right out of the box, I called for a 15-week pain threshold bill to be formed and crafted by a bipartisan group of legislators,” Youngkin said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “I think this is what it’s all about, is this is a moment for our country to have a discussion around this. and each state will decide something different. And I think that’s the, that’s the real value of the Supreme Court’s decision.”

The big question is: Will the anger, worry and disbelief over Dobbs translate into more young people and Democrats turning out to vote?

According to a Christopher Newport University poll, 79 percent of Democrats and 48 percent of Republicans in Virginia believe abortion is an issue of importance.

State Del. Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville), in comments to CBS19, said abortion right should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind on a national level.

“Every member of the General Assembly will be running for election next year in the House and the Senate, and if Virginians want to continue to keep abortions safe and legal here, then we’ve got to send reproductive rights champions back to Richmond,” Hudson said.

Impact in Virginia

Youngkin announced his support for a ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy almost immediately after the Supreme Court decision. He has asked legislators to bring him a bill in the 2023 General Assembly, vowing to sign any bill to protect life.

“I believe we can get a 15-week pain threshold bill done in Virginia for the first time,” Youngkin said in the interview with “Face the Nation.” “Think about it, this was a state again, that just 18 months ago was talking about enabling abortion all the way up through and including birth, and now we’re able to talk about a 15-week pain threshold bill where a baby feels pain.

“This is a remarkable moment for us. And it’s an opportunity, I’m not going to let go,” he said.

Youngkin has asked two state senators and two members of the House of Delegates to work on a bipartisan bill related to abortion in the 2023 General Assembly.

Under current Virginia law, abortion is legal in the first and second trimesters of pregnancy. An abortion is allowed in the third trimester if the pregnancy “is likely to result in the death of the woman or substantially and irremediably impair the mental or physical health of the woman.” Minors must have parental consent for an abortion.

State Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) intends to introduce a bill in the General Assembly – the Life Begins at Conception Act – to ban abortion in the state. This idea isn’t new and has been introduced before but generally hasn’t made it out of committee.

In addition to bills at the state level, localities are also juggling the impact of Dobbs.

For example, in Bristol, elected leaders are pushing a zoning law that would prohibit new abortion clinics within city limits after an abortion clinic in Tennessee relocated across the state line due to strict abortion bans in place in Tennessee.

Pre-election voter turnout

Pre-election voting is surpassing 2018 levels as many states including Virginia have expanded access to mail ballots.

In total, more than 21.4 million ballots have been cast in 46 states, according to data from Edison Research and Catalist, according to CNN.

Voter turnout appears to be high on both sides of the aisle, according to Catalist’s Michael Frias in a statement to CNN, and enthusiasm for voting is very high.

“In the past, we’d expect to see a big Republican enthusiasm advantage in a midterm when we have a Democratic president, but after Republican-appointed justices overturned Roe v. Wade, we’ve seen increased enthusiasm from Democratic voters, too,” Frias said.

The fallout from Dobbs does seem to be one of the key issues driving both parties to vote.

Biden’s promise to codify Roe v. Wade

President Joe Biden said his first act in the New Year will be a bill to codify Roe v. Wade into law.

“If we elect more Democrats to the Senate and keep the House Democratic, imagine the possibilities,” said Biden on his Facebook page. “We’ll codify Roe v. Wade, protecting a woman’s right to choose.”

But the chance of that bill succeeding in Congress depends largely on the results of the mid-term elections.

“If we elect two more Democratic senators and keep control of the House, here is my promise to the American people: The first bill I will send to Congress will be to codify Roe v. Wade. When passed, I will sign it in January – 50 years after Roe was decided the law of the land,” Biden said.

Currently, there is a 50-50 split in the U.S. Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote. Moderates Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have made it challenging to push forward with much of the Biden agenda.

In the House, Democrats have an eight-seat advantage over Republicans, with three vacant seats. With mid-term elections looming on Nov. 8, however, the balance of power is subject to change.

“Right now, we’re short a handful of votes, so the only way it’s going to happen is if the American people vote in November,” Biden said.

The message from the president if clear. If the Dobbs decision upsets you, you have to vote next week.

“The unbelievable fact that the Supreme Court didn’t just fail to preserve a constitutional freedom – it took away a right,” Biden said. “If you care about the right to choose, you have to vote.”

If Republicans gain seats in the House and Senate, it could lead to a divided government, meaning it would be hard for the Biden administration to pass any more of his agenda in the next two years.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.

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