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Democrats seek to use abortion as a way to motivate voters in 2024

By Sarah May on
 March 12, 2023

Arguably an influential factor in a number of races in the November 2022 midterms, Democrats increasingly suspect that abortion rights will again prove pivotal in terms of bolstering their prospects in 2024, as The Hill reports.

A number of strategists on the left suggested to the outlet that the energy and motivation that sprung up among Democratic Party voters after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade has not abated and will play a substantial role again next year.

Significant midterm impact

The Hill noted the manner in which the issue of abortion helped pave the way to some critical Democratic victories in last fall's election, which did not yield the Republican wave many in the media predicted.

As CBS News noted, in states where abortion rights were explicitly on the ballot, pro-choice forces prevailed, even in states that typically lean in favor of the GOP.

Particular Democratic candidate wins chalked up in large part to concerns about abortion rights were notched in the Pennsylvania Senate race in which John Fetterman emerged victorious and the Michigan gubernatorial contest, in which incumbent Gretchen Whitmer prevailed.

That momentum even carried through to a special election earlier this year in Virginia, in which Democrat Aaron Rouse narrowly defeated Republican Kevin Adams in a state legislative race where the threat of new restrictions on abortion was front and center.

Strategy pays dividends for Dems

In the wake of the midterms, a number of prominent pro-life advocates acknowledged the effectiveness of the post-Dobbs strategies employed by Democrats that included large-scale spending in an array of contested races.

President of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, Marjorie Dannenfelser, explained, as CBS News further noted, “There's no doubt that the Dobbs decision was a political earthquake, creating a unique opportunity for Democrats to motivate their depressed base and giving them the best opportunity they'll ever have to use the issue politically.”

Dannenfelser noted that it was not just massive spending that made the difference for Democrats, it was the fact that, in her opinion, Republican hopefuls failed their natural constituencies by adopting the “ostrich strategy: burying their heads in the sand and running from the issue, allowing their opponents to define them.”

Jill Alper, lead Democratic strategist on Michigan's ballot initiative to protect abortion rights, opined, “There really is power in this issue. Proposal 3 was winning in places it had no business winning.”

Poised for a repeat?

Hoping to reclaim the momentum seen in the 2022 midterms, many Democratic strategists are cautioning others in their party not to minimize the potential power the issue of abortion still has to galvanize the electorate, as The Hill notes.

Political strategist Joe Zepecki told the outlet, “If you're looking for canaries in a coal mine, we don't have to squint to see this in the same way that we undervalued, perhaps, the role that the Dobbs decision was going to play in the 2022 midterms.”

“I think it is extremely unwise for people to undervalue the issue of abortion as a force in American politics going forward,” he added.

Agreeing with that position – albeit from a different perspective – is Noah Brant, vice president of communications at pro-life group Live Action, who said, “I think abortion will continue to play a really important part in our upcoming elections, and I think that if done right, it'll be a motivating and winning issue for Republicans” and added that “the key is staking out a strong position; being able to recite why that position is scientifically, morally, and ethically correct; and then defending it.”

Presidential knock-on effect?

As The Hill noted, Dannenfelser's view going forward is that “GOP pro-life candidates win in competitive races if they define their opponents as abortion extremists who support abortion on demand with NO limits, and contrast that with a clearly defined pro-life position centered around consensus such as pain-capable or heartbeat limits.”

However, the overall tone of Republican tactics in this realm may turn, at least in part, on who ends up at the top of the ticket in 2024, and with former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis currently viewed as front runners for the GOP nomination, a real difference in tack could yet emerge.

Trump, for his part, opined in January that the issue of abortion was to blame for his party's underperformance in the midterm contests, saying that it was “poorly handled by many Republicans, especially those that firmly insisted on No Exceptions, even in the case of Rape, Incest, or Life of the Mother.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers in Florida just filed for consideration a measure that would ban abortion after six weeks with limited exceptions that DeSantis referred to as “sensible,” though the stringent restrictions as a whole would surely spark a heated battle in the state House and Senate. In the words of House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell (D) to The Hill, “If abortion wasn't teed up to be an issue in 2024, [DeSantis] just made it one,” and that is a prospect many Democrats clearly relish.