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Politically Speaking is WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson's column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us.

Analysis: The demise of Roe v. Wade could cost the GOP votes in Ohio, some say

Demonstrators stand on a sidewalk holding signs that read "Let Cher turn back time, not our government!" and "GOP will this apply to your mistresses or just us?"
Becca Costello
Demonstrators gather at the Hamilton County Courthouse May 4, 2022, to protest the leaked Supreme Court opinion possibly reversing Roe v. Wade, the decades-old ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Just when it seemed that nothing could roust Ohio Democrats from their 30 years of slumber, along comes the U.S. Supreme Court to wake them up.

If the Supreme Court follows through on the draft decision that was leaked to Politico recently — ending nearly 50 years of established law which made abortion legal and protected women's reproductive rights — it could be, in a purely political sense, a gift to a political party that seems to be almost resigned to another election cycle of doom and frustration.

Supporters of abortion rights — and that includes nearly all Democrats these days — are angry, even though there is no formal decision by the Supreme Court just yet.

And angry people vote.

This is black letter law when it comes to politics.

Many Ohio Democrats — not all, but many — have been wandering around acting as if they have no chance to win a statewide office this year or even make a dent in the Republican super-majority in the Ohio General Assembly.

They seem to be going through the motions as they wait for a knock-out blow that will surely come in November.

Ohio Republicans — most of whom are opponents of abortion — swagger about assuming they have already won this year's gubernatorial contest, the U.S. Senate race and, thanks to their unconstitutional shenanigans with legislative redistricting, have set in quick-dry cement their dominance of the Ohio Statehouse for another decade at least.

Well, not so fast.

There's something going on here.

Whether or not it is enough to pull Ohio Democrats' fat out of the fire remains to be seen, but there is a reason a lot of anti-abortion-rights Republicans are dancing around Roe v. Wade and trying desperately to change the subject.

One thing politicians of both parties can do well is read polls. And, for many years, the polls have consistently told them that a solid majority of Americans — and Ohioans in particular — are in favor of Roe v. Wade and abortion rights generally.

We saw this last week in a Washington Post/ABC News poll which said that 54% of American believe Roe v. Wade should be upheld and 28% say it should be overturned. Nearly two-to-one.

People dressed as handmaidens from 'the handmaid's tale' wear red capes and white bonnets during a demonstration outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, Sunday, May 8, 2022.
Amanda Andrade-Rhoades
Abortion-rights protesters hold signs during a demonstration outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, Sunday, May 8, 2022.

Ohio voters do not disagree. The last public poll on the subject was in 2019, when a Quinnipiac University poll showed 61% favor Roe v. Wade while 32% oppose it. Again, nearly two-to-one. And again, that is a number that has held pretty steady over the decades since Roe v. Wade was decided.

Abortion is one of those issues where people rarely completely change their minds.

Those poll numbers explain why the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) last week sent out a three-page talking points memo, first reported by Axios. The NRSC is tasked with winning back a GOP majority in the 50-50 Senate; and the memo gives Republican senate candidates around the country guidance on how they should spin a delicate subject.

"Be the compassionate consensus builder on abortion policy," the memo advised. "While people have many different views on abortion policy, Americans are compassionate people who want to welcome every new baby into the world."

President Biden and the Democrats, the memo says, have "extreme and radical views on abortion that are outside the mainstream of most Americans."

"Forcefully refute Democrat lies regarding GOP positions on abortion and women's health care," the memo says, adding that Republicans do not want to take away contraception, mammograms and female health care or throw doctors and women in jail.

Empirical evidence is mounting suggesting the Republican Party wants to talk as little as possible about abortion and women's reproductive rights. That's why GOP leaders, nationally and locally, have been expressing shock and horror that the draft opinion of the Supreme Court was leaked to a news organization (as if that has never happened in Washington before) and demanding a full investigation.

It's their way of trying to divert attention away from the issue at hand.

Sabato's Crystal Ball, a well-read political newsletter from the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, published a study last week that suggests Republicans may have something to worry about when it comes to the abortion issue.

Kyle Kondik, an Ohio native who is managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, teamed up with two political scientists from Project Home Fire — an academic project aimed at "finding common ground in American politics" — in a project that interviewed 1,000 Biden voters and 1,000 Trump voters.

What they found is that the American public "broadly speaking, is more supportive of abortion rights and more concerned about women's access to abortion services than not."

"There are voters who may be animated by Roe v. Wade being overturned, which could give Democrats a desperately needed shot in the arm this November, given their many other political problems this year,'' the study said.

Mark R. Weaver, an Ohio attorney and longtime Republican political strategist, says he doubts if there will be a big bump in Ohio's November voting if Roe v. Wade is struck down.

"There's no doubt about it; the Democratic base is mad about this,'' Weaver said. "But most of those people were going to vote anyway."

The news about the draft opinion broke too late to have much of an impact on Ohio's May 3 primary election, but there are signs that it is bubbling to the surface, particularly in the DeWine-Whaley contest for Ohio governor.

DeWine, now in his sixth decade in public office, has been a staunch opponent of abortion for his entire career and there is no chance that is going to change.

 Gov. Mike DeWine, surrounded by anti-abortion activists and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, talks to reporters after signing the "Heartbeat Bill" six-week abortion ban in April 2019.
Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau
Gov. Mike DeWine, surrounded by anti-abortion activists and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, talks to reporters after signing the "Heartbeat Bill" six-week abortion ban in April 2019.

On election night, after easily defeating three opponents in the GOP gubernatorial primary, DeWine made it clear he will dig in his heels on abortion.

"I talked to the attorney general, David Yost, and I told him that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, we should immediately go into court and ask the federal court to lift the stay on the bill that I have already signed into law, which is the Heartbeat Bill,'' DeWine said.

As fierce an opponent of abortion as DeWine is, his opponent in the fall campaign, Nan Whaley, is just as passionate about keeping abortion as a legal and safe option for women.

nan whaley
Darron Cummings

She said she was "appalled" by the recent testimony of State Rep. Jean Schmidt, Republican from Loveland, in favor of a bill she co-sponsored which would ban all abortions in Ohio. Schmidt, in response to a theoretical question whether a 13-year-old girl impregnated by a rapist should be forced to allow the child to come term, Schmidt said women should see pregnancy through rape "as an opportunity" to make that baby "a productive human being."

"What she said was horrible; Mike DeWine should have called her out on it, but he has said nothing,'' Whaley said. "The fact is he has been waiting all of his life for a bill banning abortion to reach his desk so he could sign it."

There are, of course, many other issues that are going to shape the gubernatorial race and the U.S. Senate race in Ohio — the state's economy, corruption in state government, crime, and a host of national issues.

But hanging over it all will be the struggle over women's reproductive rights.

The issue of abortion itself may make it to the ballot — if not this year, maybe next year.

State Rep. Jessica Miranda, a Forest Park Democrat, is co-sponsor of a constitutional amendment that would make women's reproductive rights — including access to safe, legal abortions — the law of the land in Ohio.

"The legislature in Ohio has been chipping away at women's rights for years now,'' Miranda said. "A constitutional amendment would stop it."

The problem is it would take a three-fifths vote of both the Senate and the House to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot; and the likelihood of that happening with both houses controlled by a Republican super-majority is remote indeed.

The alternative, Miranda said, is that abortion rights organizations throughout Ohio mount a petition initiative to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. Abortion rights groups in Ohio have more than enough resources to mount such a campaign, but it is not easy.

In the meantime, Miranda, who has spoken movingly of her childhood experiences with sexual abuse, said there are enough people in Ohio who would be so angry at the demise of Roe v. Wade to influence this election.

It's not a sure thing. After all, twice as many Republicans voted in the May 3 primary election as did Democrats.

But Republican candidates up and down the ballot are the ones feeling the heat.

"The Republicans have exacerbated their problem with suburban women with this abortion legislation,'' Miranda said. "There may be a high price to pay."

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.