Nationwide access to abortion is more vulnerable than it has been in decades, partly because of an aggressive campaign by Republicans and President Trump’s election and appointment of two conservative Supreme Court justices. But as The Times’s Elizabeth Dias and Lisa Lerer recently reported, many abortion rights advocates have also blamed their movement’s own missteps.
Some pointed to a rift between national organizations like Planned Parenthood and independent clinics. Others said they saw peril in making support for abortion access a litmus test for Democratic candidates.
These pressure points will be further pushed in the coming months of the 2020 presidential election and as courts hear a series of cases centering on reproductive rights.
We asked readers what questions they had about abortion access and the political battles around it. Our reporters — Elizabeth and Lisa — have answered a selection of questions.
If Roe were overturned
If Roe v. Wade were overturned, could Congress pass a law to ban abortion in the whole country? Would that be constitutional? Or would the authority to limit abortion move back to the individual states?
If Roe were overturned, the power to legalize abortion would essentially return to individual states. Some states have “trigger bans” in place that would automatically restrict abortion if Roe were overturned. Congress could pass a law to ban, or legalize, abortion nationwide, and many people say that would be a better long-term solution than letting the courts decide policy. But it is unlikely that a divided Congress will take action on the issue anytime soon. — Elizabeth Dias
Effect of G.O.P. efforts
What roles have G.O.P.-favoring gerrymandering in state legislatures and the House, and packing courts — federal and Supreme — with conservative judges played in this discussion?
A significant role. The right took a long-term approach once President Obama was elected. Winning state legislatures and gerrymandering districts were central to their strategy to pass abortion restrictions. When President Trump unexpectedly won the White House, ending legal abortion appeared in their reach.
— Elizabeth Dias
Role of Planned Parenthood
Why can’t Planned Parenthood do both — foster and push and support abortion rights, and continue all the other health services provided by this group? —
Planned Parenthood does do both. It is the largest single abortion provider in the country, and it provides many other health care services like contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections. It also has become one of the biggest sources of volunteer power for Democratic campaigns.
Many abortion rights activists and abortion providers told us they were concerned that Planned Parenthood was prioritizing politics over health care. The division was especially clear with the independent abortion clinics, which provide the majority of abortion procedures in the country but have little political or lobbying power.
— Elizabeth Dias
What the left needs
The states that have introduced restrictions on abortion are largely traditionally Republican states. The religious right has sponsored the election of extremist candidates in primaries. It is difficult to see what policy Planned Parenthood could have followed that would have stopped this, either locally or nationally. Perhaps you have an answer?
The short answer: Mobilize to win local elections.
Most Democrats will acknowledge that they were outplayed by conservatives for more than a decade when it came to making gains in state legislatures. Starting with the 2010 census, Republicans worked to pick up local seats. It worked. Democrats lost over 1,000 seats during the Obama administration; those losses are now coming to fruition for social conservatives.
That’s left abortion rights advocates in the unenviable position of now having to fight a multifront war of federal policy, local policy, the courts and campaigns.
— Lisa Lerer
What is needed for pro-choice groups to align and be more organized in this effort to maintain women’s reproductive freedom?
I think the movement, like many liberal causes during the Trump era, is at a moment of soul searching. Like most of the country, reproductive rights advocates didn’t see Donald Trump winning the election and weren’t prepared for a Republican Party led by him.
Nearly all the Democratic presidential candidates have rejected the messaging that guided Democrats for decades — abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” The question now is whether there can be broad agreement between national groups and local activists on a new message.
— Lisa Lerer
Can there be any compromise on abortion? Will it always be an either pro-choice or pro-life victory? Is a victory for everyone possible?
Compromise is unlikely. Republicans and Democrats have increasingly taken absolutist positions on the issue. That is how Republicans gained such political strength on abortion, and it is how Democrats see their best path to victory on the issue in 2020. But a majority of Americans believe the procedure should be legal, though only in certain cases, according to Gallup’s long-running tracking poll.
— Elizabeth Dias
I’m wondering how the polls on pro- and anti-abortion divide on male versus female opinion. I think the psychology affects the moral stance.
Men and women actually have similar views on abortion. This year 60 percent of women say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 61 percent of men, according to the Pew Research Center. But people are much more divided on abortion based on their politics or religion.
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