The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade rang the bell for a new round in the fight for abortion rights that will take place at the ballot box rather than in courtrooms.
November’s midterm elections are the first test of how the nation will react to Friday’s decision, and activists on both sides are rallying their supporters.
In Texas and across the country, voters will either elect candidates to pass laws restoring the right to abortion or choose conservative lawmakers to enforce anti-abortion legislation.
Searching for a spark in what could be a tough midterm election year, Democrats are hoping for a backlash against the decision that will lead to political victories.
But even with the anger sparking new energy among Democrats, Republicans hold a structural advantage in November. Not only does the GOP have its own enthusiasm, but the gerrymandering of districts makes a power shift in the Texas Legislature nearly impossible.
Add to that President Joe Biden‘s plummeting popularity and inflation worries, and the passion of fighting for abortion rights might not be enough to propel Democrats, especially in critical legislative races. that will determine which party writes the laws.
“Unless we’re all thrown into darkness by a network outage, there’s nothing in Texas that’s really competitive,” said Plano political consultant Vinny Minchillo. “There are other states where the issue of abortion could make a difference, but here most races are fait accompli.”
With many district races out of reach, veteran Democrats are targeting statewide matchups. That includes the gubernatorial race between former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke and Republican incumbent Governor Greg Abbott.
On Sunday, O’Rourke is planning a rally in Austin for abortion rights. An event in Houston in May after a leaked opinion announcing the court’s decision attracted thousands of people.
“People in Texas were trained to think their vote doesn’t matter,” former senator Wendy Davis said of the state election. “These gerrymandered lines cannot affect us and our power in a statewide election.”
In 2013, Davis donned pink Mizuno Wave Riders for a 1 p.m. filibuster who scuttled an anti-abortion bill. It made her a national figure and set up an unsuccessful gubernatorial run against Abbott.
“The fight is going to be long term,” she said. “We have to be resolute as to what it’s going to take.”
People on both sides are ready.
“Politicians around the world, in Texas in particular, should be very scared because this rage is not going to be short term,” said Julie Ross, a health care advocate from North Texas, who said the decision to the Supreme Court had made her sick.
Kimberlyn Schwartz, spokesperson for Texas Right to Life, said: “It just means we’re on equal footing…that we can go state to state and pass pro-life legislation without being snuffed out in federal court.. That doesn’t mean it’s the end of the pro-life fight.
Texas is the epicenter of the fight for abortion rights.
Since taking control of the Texas House in 2002, Republicans have passed a series of anti-abortion laws, including last year’s trigger law in anticipation of Roe’s fall against Wade. The law makes it a crime to perform an abortion and outsources enforcement to legal vigilantes. In response, clinics closed and the number of abortions in Texas dropped sharply.
Democrats have been powerless to stop the conservative GOP agenda because they do not control the levers of state government. They haven’t won a statewide race since 1994, though the Republican winning margin has shrunk since Abbott’s 20-point victory over Davis in 2014.
Last year, the Republican-controlled legislature approved a redistricting plan intended to bolster its majority. The state has only a few competitive legislative or congressional districts, according to experts who studied the newly approved boundaries.
“According to the new map, they would need to get nearly 56% of the vote statewide to be favored to win a majority in the state House,” said Michael Li, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program, about the Democrats. “That seems out of reach for Democrats.”
Li said the political reality in Texas and other GOP-controlled states makes it more frustrating for abortion rights activists who want a fair chance at political change.
“There is no doubt that the cards are made much less competitive, both at the congressional level and at the legislative level because of gerrymandering,” Li said. “In his view, the judge [Samuel] Alito says women are not politically powerless. Well, in Texas, some of that power has been taken away because the cards are deliberately designed to silence the voices of people who oppose those who are currently in charge.
Ross, the health care advocate and progressive Democrat, said winning in legislative ridings is possible, even with the downsides.
“You’ve heard that you can’t hurry, you can’t organize a system that’s rigged,” she said. “They underestimate our numbers. Texas will be one of many states where we’ll see increased efforts in terms of organization, messaging, and a real plan of attack on how we’re going to respond and push more people to the polls.
As Democrats rally, so do Texas Republicans.
They are targeting several traditionally Democratic congressional and legislative districts in South Texas, which has many Catholic and conservative Hispanic voters, significant factors in abortion. If the Republicans are successful, it would be disastrous for a Democratic party hoping to turn the political tide.
“Republicans will continue to stand up for life, uphold the law and oppose the pro-abortion agenda of an extreme Democratic party,” said Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, who is leading an effort to make of southern Texas a battleground in Congress.
While it’s impossible to reverse most red districts, Democrats say they can win statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and other candidates.
Dallas County Democratic Party Chairwoman Kristy Noble said O’Rourke could be elected governor based on county voters. And some parts of Texas House held by Republicans could turn blue, she said, such as those represented by Morgan Meyer of University Park and Angie Chen Button of Garland.
Noble said about 475,000 eligible voters in Dallas County did not vote in 2020, adding that she believed about 300,000 were Democrats.
“This could be one of those steps that involves a lot of people,” she said at an abortion rights rally in downtown Dallas. “We have the numbers to turn Texas around and we have the numbers to change the course of the nation, and more than ever, so Dallas County can play a pivotal role.”
The potential for massive turnout in Dallas County excites candidates like O’Rourke, who said North Texas was key to beating Abbott. But getting non-voters to the polls is a difficult task, and it’s unclear whether abortion rights is their motivational issue.
Dallas County Republican Party Chair Jennifer Stoddard-Hajdu said local Republicans were also under stress and the issue of abortion rights would not be a winner for Democrats.
“Score the win for life,” she said of the Tory sentiment. “The fact that the Supreme Court is saying it’s not a constitutional right, that it’s up to the states to decide for themselves, gives a lot of reason for conservatives to be excited.”
Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, agreed that a Democrats’ victory in Texas would be difficult, but said at some point they had to deliver: “If the Democrats are not able to put together a coalition of moderates and independents, we will never be able to do it. »