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Analysis: Republicans got what they wanted with Roe. Will they come to regret it?

Hundreds of protesters marched from the Hamilton County Courthouse to the Potter Stewart United States Courthouse June 24 to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
Nick Swartsell
Hundreds of protesters marched from the Hamilton County Courthouse to the Potter Stewart United States Courthouse June 24 to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

In politics, as in life in general, be careful what you wish for.

You just might get it.

You might just find yourself on the wrong side of the law of unintended consequences, a rule that can rise up and bite political parties and movements without warning.

We may be seeing that law in action.

Most Republicans, along with their allies in the Right to Life movement, celebrated the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, the nearly 50-year-old decision that established a woman's absolute right to an abortion.

Now, of course, it is entirely up to the individual states to decide whether abortion will be legal, illegal or limited.

Elections, as we know, have consequences; and the fact that Donald Trump was president for four years made last week's decision possible because of his three appointees to the bench. It is now the Trump Court.

But many in the Republican Party hierarchy, while publicly applauding the Dobbs decision, are privately worrying that the decision could be the stick that pokes the bear peacefully slumbering in its cave.

The bear would be Democratic voters and all of those who believe in a woman's right to control her own body and make her own decisions. They may have been sleeping through an election cycle where the deck seemed stacked in favor of the Republicans, but now they are motivated.

And some Republican leaders, including Trump himself, are worried that those voters could rise up and turn the attention away from Joe Biden, gas prices and rising inflation and make the midterm elections about abortion and a woman's right to choose.

They are especially worried about suburban women, who are a potent political force when motivated. And the Supreme Court just motivated many of them.

"We can't sit by and let this happen without fighting back," said Crystal Lett, the Ohio program director for a national advocacy organization called Red Wine & Blue. It organizes suburban women to fight state and local officials on issues from book banning in schools to censorship of the teaching of history and, now, on abortion rights.

"Our mission is to mobilize, activate and empower suburban women," said Lett, who lives in the Columbus suburb of Dublin. "We know that suburban women can be a powerful force and that scares the Republican establishment."

Lett said Red Wine & Blue organizers know that change is unlikely to be accomplished in one election.

"This could be a long battle, one election cycle at a time," Lett said. "But women are getting fired up now."

National polling since last Friday's Dobbs decision only bolsters the argument that the end of Roe v. Wade will be a motivator for Democratic voters this fall.

An NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist poll this week showed that 78% of Democrats say they are more likely to vote in the wake of the Dobbs decision, while 54% of Republicans said the same.

In generic ballot questions about voting for the U.S. House, 48% said they would vote for Democrats while 41% said they would vote for Republicans — a 10% swing in favor of the Democrats since the poll was last done in April.

Only the demise of Roe v. Wade can explain that.

And, a national CBS/YouGov poll done after the Supreme Court decision, was particularly telling when it came to women voters. Two-thirds of the women polled — 67% — said they disapprove of what the Supreme Court did last Friday.

"There's no question that women voters are outraged by this,'' Lett said. "Now, it is up to us to put the tools in the hands of suburban women to do something about it."

Red Wine & Blue, which has its own political action committee, is all about building relationship among like-minded suburban women and giving them the tools they need to become political activists — whether the issue is electing candidates who will support reproductive rights for women or lobbying against local school boards who ban books or impose restrictions on how American history is taught in classrooms.

"The ultimate goal is to have the women in the organization spread the word among their families and friends," Lett said. "With all the clutter on social media, person-to-person contact is the most effective tool we have."

In Ohio, the situation is "critical," Lett said.

Last Friday, only hours after the Supreme Court issued its decision, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati asking that the injunction be lifted on Ohio's so-called "Heartbeat Bill," which bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected — usually five to six weeks — and was signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine in 2019.

Judge Michael Barrett granted the motion and, with the stroke of a pen, the period when abortions would be legal in Ohio went from 20 weeks into pregnancy to approximately six weeks.

And the Republicans in the legislature have bills under consideration which would outlaw abortion altogether.

DeWine, a longtime foe of abortion, would likely sign such a bill.

Liz Walters, the chair of the Ohio Democratic Party, held a press conference Monday in which she said it is "critical that Ohioans elect Tim Ryan, Nan Whaley and pro-choice Democratic candidates up and down the ballot in November who will protect the right to abortion.

"This November, Ohioans will take their outrage to the polls and defeat the extremist Republicans who gutted our freedom," Walters said.

Mark R. Weaver, a longtime Republican strategist in Ohio, said that the furor over abortion won't last until November.

"Some of the steam came out of the kettle when the Alito draft opinion was leaked," Weaver said. "More of the steam came out when the actual decision came out.

"In about two weeks, Americans will be arguing about a different subject," Weaver said.

He still believes inflation, the economy and the record of the Biden administration will be the prime issues that decide the mid-term election. All of those issues, Weaver said, favor Republicans.

Lett said she believes the Republicans who believe the fury among women voters outraged by the reversal of Roe v. Wade will fade by fall are whistling past the graveyard.

"They're saying, 'Don't worry, the economy will override the fact that women have just become second-class citizens in this country,' " Lett said.

"Here's the truth," Lett said. "I don't give a crap about gas prices if my daughter has an ectopic pregnancy and could die because she can't get an abortion. This fire is not going out. And we will fan the flames."
Copyright 2022 91.7 WVXU. To see more, visit 91.7 WVXU.

Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.