A nation divided on abortion?

Abortion will continue to be a key issue in U.S. politics, with the nation divided on what role the government should have in reproductive rights. In a Pew Center poll from August 2020, 46% of President Donald Trump’s supporters and 35% of challenger Joe Biden’s supporters described abortion as a very important factor in their voting.

In terms of the presidential race, for some voters, the election has been a referendum on abortion. In his last term, President Donald Trump instituted various changes that have hindered reproductive rights. He reintroduced the “global gag rule,” meaning U.S. government funds will not go to foreign groups that provide or inform about abortions, and similarly within the U.S., federal family planning dollars cannot go to organizations that provide or inform about abortions. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently signed the “Geneva Consensus Declaration,” which asserts that there is no international right to an abortion. Joe Biden has pledged to rescind the “global gag rule,” but has wavered on other policy matters like the Hyde Amendment which means that taxpayer money cannot be used to fund abortions except where there is rape, incest, or danger to the mother, a policy that impacts low-income women in particular.

With the passing of eminent Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the month before the election, the stage was set for abortion to be at the forefront of the pre-electoral period. Republican politicians were determined to replace Ginsburg before the election, even though nine months before the 2016 election, they obstructed President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court candidate, Merrick Garland. The president’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, joined the Supreme Court just before the election took place. In his 2016 campaign, President Donald Trump promised to install judges who would overturn the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationally, Roe Vs Wade, and in the confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, there was much speculation about how she might rule if Roe vs Wade was challenged in court. Barrett’s record on rulings in the federal court related to abortion is mixed, and it remains unclear how she would rule in a case to overturn Roe Vs Wade.

This pre-election maneuver means that the political outlook for Roe vs Wade is far more precarious than it has ever been, and this has been bolstered in some states where amendments for the 2020 election are undermining reproductive rights. In Louisiana, an amendment was passed which creates language in the state constitution stating that abortion is not a right. The amendment passed by 62% of the vote, and it lays groundwork so that if Roe vs Wade is ever overturned, abortion will definitely be illegal in the state of Louisiana. Twenty-two states in the U.S., including Louisiana, have already banned abortion after 20-24 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of life or health endangerment. These amendments create confusion about whether abortion is available or not. Other states have voted down amendments that sought to restrict reproductive rights. In Colorado, 60% of voters rejected a law that would have made abortion illegal after 22 weeks of pregnancy (except in life endangerment) and also would have criminalized doctors for performing them. These differing results suggest the U.S. is a nation divided in beliefs about abortion.

America’s views about abortion, however, have remained steady over the last 50 years. 50% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in certain circumstances, 29% believe it should be legal under any circumstances, and 20% believe it should be illegal. Only 0.5% of Americans believe that abortion is one of the most significant problems in the country. The majority believe that abortion should be legal under most circumstances, which begs the question, why has the anti-abortion movement gained such ground?

A consistent campaign by anti-abortion movements has sought to place sympathetic politicians in office. One take-away from this election is that there has been a significant surge in Republican women in office, many of them anti-abortion in their views. Abortion, however, has also become a rallying cry for pro-choice campaigners; for example, the unexpected numbers of Democratic voters in Georgia might be in part because of t, which helped to execute a get-out-the-vote campaign for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.

Overall, the 2020 election has yielded mixed results for anti-abortion movements. If Roe vs Wade is taken to the Supreme Court, it is unclear what the result will be, and there are more anti-abortion politicians in office. It is clear however from statistical analysis of views on abortion and the result in Colorado that a ban on abortion is not what most Americans want, and if the race for the presidency was a referendum on abortion, the result is not what anti-abortion movements would have hoped for.