WASHINGTON -- Democrats seem convinced that if the Supreme Court does in fact overturn Roe v. Wade, the decision would provide them with a political lifeline before the November midterm elections. Americans might disapprove of their performance on crime, immigration, inflation, the economy and national security -- but when it comes to abortion, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., says Republicans are "on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of the American people."
Don't be so sure. If the court's conservative majority does strike down Roe, Democrats might find that decision is not nearly as unpopular as they think.
Yes, polls show that most Americans say they don't want the high court to overturn Roe. But polls also show that most Americans don't know what overturning Roe actually means. A 2019 study reported that 65.7% of Americans incorrectly believe that if Roe were overturned, abortion would be illegal everywhere in the United States. It would not.
But a Fox News poll released this week finds most Americans agree with the Mississippi abortion law at the heart of the Supreme Court case. The survey found that 54% favor state laws banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, except in the case of a medical emergency -- exactly what the Mississippi law does -- while just 41% oppose such a law. This is consistent with the results of a 2018 Gallup poll that found most Americans want abortion restricted to the first trimester (the first 12 weeks of pregnancy), while only 28% support allowing abortions in the second trimester and just 13% in the third trimester.
So, if Roe is overturned, Americans will wake up the next morning and discover that the justices have not in fact banned abortion nationwide but have simply upheld the right of states to impose restrictions -- including restrictions that most of them support. That is unlikely to spark the kind of popular outrage Democrats are hoping for.
If the Supreme Court does send abortion decisions back to the states, Democrats will have to own their abortion radicalism. Democrats used to argue that, in Bill Clinton's famous phrase, abortion should be "safe, legal and rare." No longer. In 2012, they formally expunged "rare" from their party platform, declaring their support for "safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay." Polls show that a majority of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortion. Yet in 2016 Democrats approved a platform that called for repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding for abortions. To secure the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, Joe Biden had to surrender to the pro-abortion radicals and renounce his more-than-40-year support for the Hyde Amendment.
And in recent years, Democrats have increasingly embraced unfettered abortion access far beyond what the majority of Americans support. In 2019, Democrats in New York lit up the Freedom Tower to celebrate the passage of a new state law that removed almost all restrictions on abortion, even in the third trimester, while in Illinois, Democrats repealed the state's Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act.
The new Democratic orthodoxy is taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand up to the moment of birth -- a position supported by a tiny minority of Americans. So, if the battle over abortion moves from the Supreme Court to the states, Democrats will have to fight 15-week abortion bans (which most Americans support) and defend second- and third-trimester abortion (which most Americans oppose).
If Democrats focus on defending abortion this November, it will backfire. An April Economist-YouGov poll finds that abortion is the most important issue for just 4% of voters -- trailing jobs, the economy, immigration, climate change, national security, health care, taxes and civil rights. This should come as little surprise. We are experiencing the worst inflation in 40 years, the worst crime wave since the 1990s and the worst border crisis in American history. Focusing on abortion amid these crises will make Democrats seem hopelessly out of touch. Every minute they spending talk about abortion is a minute they don't spend talking about the issues Americans say they care more about.
Conservatives know they still have a long way to go to convince every American of the sanctity of unborn life. But they also know they are on the right side of history -- and far closer to the sentiments of the American people than Democrats imagine.