On October 18th, President Joe Biden made a promise to Americans: If they voted for his party in the midterm elections, which happen tomorrow, then he would immediately introduce a law at national level to make fully legal abortion the law of the land across all 50 states.
There is no legal or constitutional barrier to doing so. All the Supreme Court did, this year, in abolishing Roe versus Wade, was to make abortion a political issue again, and to empower politicians to make laws. The constitution in America today, when it comes to abortion, is no different to the constitution in Ireland after our 2018 referendum: It’s up to the politicians.
Republicans, meanwhile, have struggled to be coherent on the abortion issue. The party is divided.
In the aftermath of the abolition of Roe, some Republicans argued for total bans at state level, and got them. Others argued for a full federal ban, which they could not hope to get while Biden remains President. Others still wanted more moderate positions, ranging from bans with exceptions for rape and incest, to the position adopted in Florida by Governor DeSantis: Abortion legal until 15 weeks, banned thereafter.
There are Republicans on the ballot tomorrow who wish to ban abortion in its entirety. When Biden says that, he is not lying. He was banking on that issue, and that fear amongst Liberal voters, to boost his party in the mid-term elections. And yet, it has not worked.
One should never count a vote before it has hatched, but at this stage, anything other than a big Republican win tomorrow would be a surprise. In fact, over the past few weeks, the momentum has been steadily drifting away from the Democrats. Republicans are suddenly clear, if narrow, favourites, to win the US Senate as well as the House of Representatives. In some cases, very poor candidates objectively are pulling into the lead over competent Democrats in swing states – look no further than the state of Georgia, which Biden won last time, where a scandal-ridden Republican seems set to take a senate seat from an incumbent Democrat.
The abortion issue, in other words, is the dog that has not barked for Democrats. Which is rough for them – because it was the only issue that they had.
Note well, though, how this gets covered in the press.
The fact of the matter is that Democrats and President Biden did every last thing in their power to make these mid-term elections into a de-facto referendum on abortion. There is no doubt, had that strategy worked, that we would never hear the end of it: It’s the perfect media story. How women voters, in their anger, rose up against the patriarchal supreme court and sent a clear message about choice. We would have had reams of inspirational columns about how dangerous it is to upset women. About how women vote. About how patriarchy was defeated.
But what will happen, dear reader, if the Democrats should lose their national referendum on abortion, as is likely to happen tomorrow?
Well, then, I’ll suspect, we’ll hear about how Democrats and Biden were just facing economic headwinds too strong to overcome, and how economics ruled the heart, and how there were still some “bright spots” for Democrats because a young liberal won in Wisconsin, or some such place. That’s how it goes: You don’t get the news; you get the reporter’s rationalisation of a result he or she does not like.
The consolation for liberals is that on this occasion, the rationalised version of the story will line up pretty well with the actual story: Nobody should be silly enough to think that a Republican victory tomorrow will be because the voters of America are racing to the polls to endorse a Supreme Court decision on Abortion. The significance is simply that they don’t care enough about that issue for it to override the other failings of Biden’s Government: Record inflation, a sluggish economy, and a Government that seems to ignore problems with crime, immigration, and the legacy of the pandemic. Sound like anywhere else?
It’s also worth noting that the most popular Republicans, like DeSantis, are those who resisted lockdowns and kept schools open. While Democrats have been talking about abortion, Republicans have focused on the economy, and the pandemic: They’re winning the votes of angry parents who had to suffer more than a year of school closures in some places. As a result, for now, you can probably take states like Florida off the “swing state” list.
Little of that, though, will make the Irish coverage. Be prepared to be told that poor ol’ Joe Biden took a beating because of the global economic headwinds, and there was nothing else at play. That won’t be true, but it’s a simple way for the Irish media to explain bad news. So, it’s what you’ll get.