Issue of abortion may tip scales for Democrats in US midterm elections
The 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that recognised a woman's constitutional right to an abortion was overturned on Jun 24 this year.
TOPEKA, Kansas: As the US midterm elections loom just days away, the key issue of abortion is weighing on voters’ minds.
The landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling, which recognised a woman's constitutional right to an abortion and legalised it nationwide in America, was overturned by the Supreme Court on Jun 24.
Since then, at least 16 states in the country have either banned or severely restricted access to the procedure.
This has rallied voters, especially women, to register to vote and have their voices heard in the upcoming electoral contest.
In the traditionally conservative state of Kansas, the overturning of Roe v Wade sent a shockwave through its electorate.
Ms Carole Jordan, president of the League of Women Voters of Topeka-Shawnee County, said the midterm elections are usually a quiet affair in her county. However, this year’s contest has garnered more interest and the number of registered voters has soared.
She has been a member of the non-partisan group dedicated to registering and educating voters for over a decade.
On the day the abortion decision was announced, a 1,000 per cent spike in new voter registrations was recorded, said Ms Jordan.
“A lot of women woke up and thought, ‘I better vote’,” she said.
“We believe that we had 58,000 new or returning voters who hadn’t voted for a long time come for the primary.”
Many showed up to vote on a ballot initiative that would have removed abortion rights from the state’s constitution.
Surprisingly, the initiative was overwhelmingly rejected in the traditionally conservative state.
Kansas voter Jesyca Hope said: “We showed that the forefront of that fight won't be on the East Coast. It won't be in just traditionally red or blue states. It's going to be in purple Kansas. And that was something to be proud of.”
Another Kansas voter Sarah Fizell added it also showed that young people care about and will want their voices heard on the issue.
“They really see bodily autonomy and safety and being able to have a say in what happens to them, as really important,” she said.
The Kansas vote was seen as the litmus test for abortion this midterm cycle. If a traditionally conservative state like Kansas could vote to protect access, then Democrats are hoping the trend could be replicated nationwide.
The topic of abortion has the power to transcend party lines, because it is being framed as a rights issue, instead of merely a health issue, said political scientist Bob Beatty.
“Americans actually agree pretty heavily about rights. So for this, the abortion issue to be framed in terms of women's rights or not just women's rights, but the rights of Americans … That reframing has put it in a different sphere,” said the chair of Washburn University’s political science department.
However, recent polling has shown that abortion is falling far behind the economy and inflation - which is now at a 40-year high - as issues voters care about most.
Political science professor Peverill Squire from the University of Missouri said even a subtle shift in focus could tip the scales of the vote.
“It (abortion) may not be the main issue for most voters, but again, given how close many of our elections are, if it changes five or 10 per cent of the votes, that's an enormous impact on outcomes,” he said.