How to talk about abortion rights now

Posted on May 4, 2022

Thanks to the Supreme Court, abortion has become one of the top political issues in America. If you’re involved in federal or state elections in any way, be ready. Even local officials will have to answer. So, what do you say?

First understand what Americans believe. A recent Washington Post-ABC News Poll found that the public favors upholding Roe v. Wade by a margin of 54-to-28 percent. The same poll found that 70 percent believe that “the decision whether or not a woman can have an abortion should be left to the woman and her doctor” while only 24 percent say that decision should be “regulated by law.”

Those are good results for our side. But clearly, the difference between those two questions demonstrates there is a substantial slice of abortion rights voters who do not know what Roe v. Wade is. So don’t just say “I support Roe v. Wade.” You’ve got to include some language that explains what you mean. For example:

Say . . .
I support the fundamental right to an abortion declared by the U.S. Supreme Court nearly 50 years ago in the case of Roe v. Wade. Difficult decisions about abortion should be left to the woman and her doctor. Politicians should not be allowed to interfere.

In many states, you can get even more people on your side by raising the issue of pregnancy caused by rape or incest. Last year’s Texas abortion ban, and many other right-wing state laws and proposed laws, have no exception for rape survivors. Almost 80 percent of Americans oppose such a harsh restriction.

Say . . .
The law that [person/group] supports would force women who were raped to give birth to the rapist’s child. That’s cruel, that’s wrong, and that’s what happens when you let politicians [like person] interfere in people’s personal, private, intimate decisions.

You must understand that the upcoming SCOTUS ruling flips the politics of abortion in progressives’ favor. Previously, most voters didn’t think abortion was a key issue because they believed (to some extent wrongly) that they were protected by the Constitution. But even more, the anti-abortion side was able to weasel around their unpopular position by highlighting popular half-measures. Abortion waiting periods are popular. Restrictions on abortion clinics poll well. Right now, Fox News is trying to reframe the issue away from Roe v. Wade to restrictions after 15 weeks. Don’t let that reframing happen.

How do we do that? Go on the offensive. Now! Get your groups, get candidates, get reporters to pin down conservatives about their positions on abortion. Don’t let them squirm away. Don’t let them delay to some future time when they have poll-tested talking points.

Abortion is an issue that can swing 2022 elections. This is mostly because the issue can greatly increase turnout by progressive-leaning voters. (For heaven’s sake, the right-wingers are going to turn out anyway.) Democrats lost Virginia and nearly lost the New Jersey governor’s race in 2021 because infrequent progressive voters, especially younger voters who are disappointed with Biden, didn’t show up. Proudly wave the abortion issue and they are far more likely to vote. There are also some less-crazy conservatives who still value personal freedom and might switch votes over abortion rights.

Americans have never understood abortion rights very well, and pollsters generally do a poor job with the issue. But it has always been clear that an outright ban on abortion is extremely unpopular. Only 14 percent of Americans and just 21 percent of Trump voters think that “it should never be allowed” (YouGov – see page 92). Those of you who have shied away from this issue year after year, it’s time to stand up and fight.