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Supreme Court thrusts abortion into midterms fight with Mississippi case

▶ Watch Video: Supreme Court agrees to take up Mississippi’s abortion law, in challenge to Roe v. Wade

Washington — The Supreme Court’s decision this week to take up a blockbuster bid by Mississippi to save its 15-week abortion ban has thrust the politically charged issue into the midterm elections fight, with both sides of the debate over abortion access hoping the case and forthcoming decision will drive their respective voters to the polls in 2022.

The justices on Monday agreed to hear the case involving Mississippi’s law prohibiting abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. A ruling upholding the ban could give Republican-led states the green light to impose more restrictions on the procedure and weaken Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision that established a woman’s right to an abortion.

For pro-abortion rights advocates, the decision by the court, now with a 6-3 conservative majority, gives Democrats the chance to amplify the daylight between Republicans over their views on abortion, which they believe will be a boon to Democratic candidates given the support from Americans for leaving Roe intact.

“This could not be more consequential,” Emily Cain, executive director of EMILY’s List, which works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, told CBS News, “because Republicans have been trying to hide their true intention around abortion for years. But now, their goal is clear and stated, to overturn Roe and take away the right [for women] to make their own health care decisions.”

But for anti-abortion rights advocates, the action from the Supreme Court this week is the culmination of a years-long effort to shift the high court to the right with hopes a case that takes aim at Roe would end up before a conservative court.

“It vindicates the past elections that people have participated in, 2014, 2016, 2018,” Mallory Quigley, vice president of communications at Susan B. Anthony List, a group that supports candidates who oppose abortion rights, told CBS News. “From a pro-life perspective, all of that was putting in place a pro-life Senate and pro-life White House, such that we could nominate and confirm justices such as the ones we have on the court right now.”

The Supreme Court’s next term, which begins in October, was already shaping up to be a significant one, with the justices set to hear a Second Amendment case on carrying concealed handguns outside the home and another over the fate of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Other legal battles over affirmative action and voting restrictions are on the horizon.

But the decision this week to hear Mississippi’s abortion case only further puts the Supreme Court on the frontlines of the midterms battle, as decisions from the high court will come by the summer of 2022, right in the heart of the election cycle that will determine which party controls the House and Senate. The outcome of the midterm elections will be crucial to President Biden as he works to implement his agenda.

“Abortion is something that naturally divides the two parties and is a motivator for a lot of voters,” Kyle Kondik, an elections analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told CBS News. “A major question in the Biden presidency, and this is true for every party after they take office, is, can they keep up their motivation level? Usually the other party has the edge. Would an opinion on abortion that Democrats and liberals don’t like potentially help motivate the left in 2022? Quite possibly.” 

The Supreme Court has in some form been at the center of the last three election cycles — in 2016 with the battle over filling the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, in 2018 with the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh and in 2020 with the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett days before the November 3 election.

While the last three elections focused on Supreme Court vacancies and the ramifications of the court’s ideological makeup, the 2022 cycle will center at least in part around an issue that is of singular importance to some voters. And both sides of the debate see it as being a potentially winning issue for their candidates.

“For the pro-life base, it reinvigorates people,” Quigley said. “It provides a real-time opportunity for candidates to talk about the policy differences they have on this issue, and not only is that going to be a boon for pro-life base voters, but it’s a very powerful issue when you’re talking to swing voters.”

Cain, however, believes voters, and women in particular, will hold accountable elected officials who seek to restrict abortion rights.

“What is the added element here is that this is something that now every single candidate no matter what you’re running for should be asked about,” she said. “Where they stand on taking away rights for women and taking away rights we already have will drive women to the polls.”

Kondik said abortion often comes up in campaigns, and suggested a ruling from the Supreme Court upholding Mississippi’s 2018 law would “raise the stakes” on policy-making.

“It would change politics in the sense that it would allow for more legislation prohibiting abortion, but states would be widely different on it,” he said. “And it would force Republicans in particular to put their money where their mouth is on actually having to move this legislation.”

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