In Rhode Island, Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat running for a second term, has called for a special legislative session to codify abortion rights into state law. In Wisconsin, former state Rep. Kelda Roys, battling in a crowded Democratic gubernatorial primary, has declared that if federal protection of abortion rights is eliminated, she would pardon anyone charged with violating the state’s 169-year-old law criminalizing the procedure.
In Florida, ex-congresswoman Gwen Graham, in a five-way contest for the Democratic nomination for governor, has put reproductive freedom front and center in her campaign, saying she would veto any legislation that restricts abortion — and not-so-subtly reminding voters that she is the only female candidate of either party in the race.
Most of the attention surrounding the U.S. Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh has focused on the fireworks taking place in the Senate.
But the truth is, Republicans probably will have the votes they need to confirm a stalwart originalist from the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia and give the high court a sharper rightward tilt. That means big consequences outside Washington, where the politics of this Supreme Court choice are heating up the governors’ races underway this year in 36 states.
“This is an issue for all of us, and the states are obviously where the action is,” said Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, who is up for re-election. She has blasted her GOP opponent, state Rep. Knute Buehler, for saying that “abortion in this country is mostly settled as a legal matter.”
If Roe v. Wade is overturned — or, as is more likely, chipped away — states will have more leeway to impose restrictions or outright prohibitions.
That has been happening already, of course. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research organization, 19 states last year adopted 63 new restrictions on abortion rights and access.
But some are poised to go much further. Four states have “trigger laws” that would automatically outlaw abortion if Roe were rescinded. Another 10 — such as Wisconsin, where Roys is running — retain unenforced bans that were on their books when the Roe decision was handed down in 1973. Courts have blocked five states’ efforts to ban abortion after six or 12 weeks gestation, or in all but a limited number of circumstances.
All of these seemed like hypotheticals until June 27, when Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had been the court’s swing vote on abortion, as well as a host of other highly charged social issues, announced his retirement.
Democrats have long struggled to motivate their base in years when there is no presidential candidate on the ballot and to energize their voters about state-level races, which have been the basis for so much Republican activism. “We’ve been asleep at the switch for two decades on this,” said Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, who heads the Democratic Governors Association.
This issue could spark hard-to-mobilize voters, particularly younger ones who have never lived at a time when abortion was not freely accessible. With Roe the law of the land, nearly all the legislative momentum has been on the other side. Only nine states currently guarantee the right to an abortion before fetal viability, or when necessary to protect the life or health of the woman.