This is the season of abortion alarm.
On Oct. 2 abortion-rights activists led a Women’s March focusing on “reproductive justice” in some 600 municipalities across the United States. The total number of participants nationwide—in the tens of thousands, according to the march’s spokespeople—was nowhere near the estimated 1 million that the original Women’s March, protesting Donald Trump’s then-brand-new presidency, drew in January 2017.
Still, the major Oct. 2 march attracted such celebrities as Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Schumer. Partners included the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the nation’s largest abortion provider, the Abortion Care Network, a trade organization for freestanding abortion clinics, and a range of feminist and other liberal-leaning groups.
As such, the nationwide marches may have represented grassroots liberal opposition to a rash of recent state restrictions on abortion. So far this year, state legislatures have enacted about 100 such restraints, according to the Guttmacher Institute. But the marches may also be part of something else: an effort by the Democratic Party, which has made abortion rights a key platform component, to turn abortion into an issue that will attract enough enthusiasm to distract voters in 2022 from the dismal performance to date of the party and its leader, President Joe Biden.
The protests were carefully timed: the Saturday before the Supreme Court opened its 2021–2022 term on Monday, Oct. 4. On Dec. 1 the court will hear oral argument in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a challenge to a 2018 Mississippi law banning most abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. The state of Mississippi has asked the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that found a constitutional right to unrestricted abortion up to fetal viability, now about 22 to 24 weeks.
Six of the nine current Supreme Court judges were appointed by Republican presidents, and their conservative judicial philosophies at least raise the possibility of their killing Roe. (Critics both conservative and liberal have maintained that the Supreme Court in Roe pulled the “constitutional right” to abortion out of thin air, as it is nowhere to be found in the Constitution itself.)
So there has been general panic in the liberal, Democrat-dominated, abortion-rights-supporting states. In 2002, California codified Roe v. Wade into its own state laws. In 2019, New York amended its laws to allow abortion pretty much until birth, with a handful of mild provisos. On Sept. 24 of this year, the House of Representatives passed a Democrat-sponsored bill, mainly along party lines, that would similarly remove nearly all individual state restrictions on and regulation of abortion until birth. It would be the most radical expansion of abortion rights in America to date, going well beyond Roe itself.
Adding to the apprehension is the most draconian of all the recent state abortion restrictions, the Texas Heartbeat Act, which went into effect on Sept. 1 and bans nearly all abortions once cardiac activity is detected in the fetus, usually at six weeks. Courts have struck down other state abortion bans, but the Supreme Court has so far let the Texas law stand because it contains procedural impediments to direct legal challenges by abortion providers. The Biden Justice Department has stepped in, however, and on Oct. 6 a federal judge granted the department’s request for a temporary injunction against enforcement of the Heartbeat Act.
The Texas law may be unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade—but only if the Supreme Court decides to keep Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. As such, the Texas law is a potential bonanza for Democrats facing electoral trouble for themselves and their agenda in 2022 and beyond. According to an Oct. 6 Quinnipiac University poll, Biden is underwater with U.S. adults, with only 38 percent approving his job performance and 53 percent disapproving. Biden’s disastrous handling of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and his frighteningly expensive approach to climate change are two bones of contention with voters. Add to them rising inflation and a stuttering economy.
Right now, Biden’s future fate and that of his party seem to hang on the Democrats’ ability to push his $3.5 trillion social-spending package through a sharply divided Congress by the middle of this month—a move that could well fail. There’s a strong chance that the Republicans will take back both houses next year.
So abortion rights—and the perceived threat to them from both the Supreme Court and states such as Texas—may well be the ideal distraction for the electorate, especially for politically moderate women who straddle mentally between distaste for killing a helpless human fetus and wanting an out in the event of a crisis pregnancy.
David Cole, a writer for Taki’s Magazine, argues that abortion alarm worked as a successful counter-strategy in the recent recall election for California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. Newsom was widely loathed for his oppressive pandemic policies, millions in fraudulent unemployment benefits paid during his tenure, and his inept handling of wildfire mitigation, but his chief Republican opponent, syndicated radio host Larry Elder, got talked into highlighting potential abortion restrictions as a campaign issue in a state that’s generally indifferent to the pro-life cause. “The biggest stumble of them all,” Cole wrote. Newsom beat the recall measure by a landslide.
The Women’s March organizers might have had a similar strategy in mind for the Oct. 2 protests. Their website discouraged participants from dressing up in long red cloaks as oppressed “Handmaids” from the television series, and from brandishing coat hangers, symbols of the dangerous amateur abortions in the days when the procedure was banned. Such theatrics, common in Women’s Marches of the recent past, might paint 2021 participants as dangerous eccentrics and alienate the middle-of-the-road women who are likely the most crucial Democratic constituency in these days when the Democrats need every vote they can get to support their flailing agenda.
Joe Biden is going to need help in 2022 and 2024, and some well-publicized hysteria over perceived threats to abortion rights from his opponents may be exactly the help he needs.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Charlotte Allen is the executive editor of Catholic Arts Today and a frequent contributor to Quillette. She has a doctorate in medieval studies from the Catholic University of America.