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Changes In Abortion Rights Following The Midterm Elections


A number of important midterm elections have yet to be decided, but three ballot measures about access to abortion and funding of the procedure were decided this week. Voters in Alabama and West Virginia approved changing their state constitutions to say they do not protect the right to an abortion or require the funding of abortions. Oregon voters rejected a ballot initiative that would've prohibited publicly funded health care programs from covering abortion.

We're joined now by Robin Marty. She's the author of the forthcoming "Handbook For A Post-Roe America." Thanks very much for being with us.

ROBIN MARTY: Thanks for having me on, Scott.

SIMON: How significant, or not, do you see these two ballot measures that passed this week in West Virginia and Alabama?

MARTY: You know, in all honesty, all that has happened is that they have confirmed in their state constitution what we already knew would happen, which was, if Roe is overturned, they are not going to allow abortion in those states.

SIMON: Democrats will now control the House of Representatives. Does that change some of the potential calculations you were making on your side of this issue?

MARTY: Yeah. For us, the House being taken over by Democrats is actually a huge victory. The House is something that, every year, will always introduce some of the most restrictive federal abortion bills. They've introduced 20-week bans. Steve King, at one point, was trying to introduce a federal heartbeat ban.

This is the sort of thing that can no longer pass because they don't have the pro-life majority anymore. Now we are going to see a House that can either block these sort of bills, that can try to put some sort of protections through - for instance, protections for funding for Planned Parenthoods and other clinics that offer birth control options. The House can do some proactive things; it's not likely that President Trump will sign them. But at least we can start moving the conversation forward again.

SIMON: Of course, there are many people who believe the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade at first opportunity. Do you agree with that?

MARTY: I think that there's a lot of different ways to go. For one instance, with all of these state laws that are working their way up through the federal court system, we could eventually get to a point where we see a bill, for instance - say, a heartbeat ban where they ban abortion after the point of six weeks. The Supreme Court could just decide not to actually hear the case. If that happens, then a lower circuit court's ruling could stand. And even though Roe would still technically be in place, that would mean that the abortion ban would stay in place in that state.

The other thing that could happen is overturning Roe v. Wade could actually come back to bite Republicans when it comes to running in re-elections. At this point, they have a solid pool of voters who will vote for them regardless of what their opinions are on anything else just as long as they promise that they're going to try and end abortion. So if abortion is ever made illegal, or if Roe is overturned, they lose that automatic voter pool that they've come to rely on so heavily in a lot of the last elections.

SIMON: So you believe, in some ways, abortion is more valuable to people as an issue than if the law were to be changed.

MARTY: Yes. I think that because it is such easily low-hanging fruit politically for the Republican Party, they're not going to be in any sort of hurry to try and overturn it immediately, especially since they know that the Supreme Court and Supreme Court justices were how they won their last few elections.

SIMON: Robin Marty is an activist and freelance writer. Thanks so much for being with us.

MARTY: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.