The high-stakes Senate runoff in Georgia next week will be the first major test of abortion policy since the 2022 general election, when a backlash to the Supreme Court decision galvanized abortion rights advocates and He galvanized the Democrats.
Abortion was a major issue on Election Day in Georgia, when Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock finished roughly 1 point ahead of Republican challenger Herschel Walker, though he narrowly lost the 50% he needed to win outright. The 26% of Georgians who ranked abortion as their top issue backed Warnock by a margin of 77% to 21%, NBC News exit polls showed.
Now, Democrats see an opportunity to weaponize him to finish the job against Walker in the Dec. 6 runoff, when a victory would give his party a 51st Senate seat.
“On December 6, our rights are on the ballot. Herschel Walker wants a total ban on abortion across the country,” he says. a tv ad by the Democratic group Georgia Honor, reproducing footage of Walker calling for a “no exceptions” ban. “Raphael Warnock is fighting to protect our right to make our own health care decisions,” says a narrator.
Meanwhile, Walker finds himself at the center of a standoff within the Republican Party over how to handle the problem in the new era. While some, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have sought to downplay abortion and focus on other issues, leading anti-abortion advocates insist it’s a losing strategy and want Republicans to bow down and introduce Democrats as the real extremists.
Walker is taking the approach favored by anti-abortion advocates, embracing their rhetoric that equates abortion with infanticide and attacking Warnock for supporting legislation that would protect the right to terminate a pregnancy without legal restrictions.
“Everyone heard him talk about how he would think it’s okay to kill a baby up to nine months,” Walker said Tuesday at a campaign stop in Greensboro. “It’s time for him to go.”
Abortion ‘will be at stake forever’
The 2022 election, in which Democrats maintained control of the Senate and limited their losses in the House, produced a rare point of political consensus among the warring sides: The abortion issue is here to stay, in Georgia and beyond.
“The annulment of Roe v. Wade guarantees that this issue will be in play forever,” SBA Pro-Life America president Marjorie Dannenfelser told NBC News that she has pledged more than $1 million in the runoff to help Walker. “Before it was theoretical. We had many interesting discussions; if you ever voted for a cap, it would never go into effect. Now this is real: in every state and at the federal level, there will be a desire to get consensus and pass it into law.”
Dannenfelser said the election shows that minimizing abortion is a loss for the Republican Party: “Those who want to stay away will be bombarded by the other side,” he said.
NBC News exit polls showed that 60% of voters believe abortion should be legal, while 37% said it should be illegal. Nationally, abortion ranked second on the list of top issues, and voters who named it their top concern supported Democrats by a 3-to-1 margin. Voters trusted Democrats over Republicans by a margin of 53% to 42% in abortion management.
“Abortion played a much larger role than we had anticipated,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said when asked why the GOP fell short.
Democrats are determined to keep Republicans paying a price, in Georgia and in the 2024 presidential election, for mustering the Supreme Court majority that destroyed Roe v. Wade and for seeking legislation in the states and in Congress to restrict abortion.
“I think it will continue to be a problem until we can codify Roe into law for all Americans,” said Sen. Patty Murray, the No. 3 Democrat, who won re-election in Washington by double digits.
Sen. Maggie Hassan, DN.H., who won by 9 points in her purple state, added: “The idea that women would be relegated to second-class citizenship is a palpable concern of voters across New Hampshire. We are the Live Free or Die state, and we mean it.”
A 15-week federal ban?
Opponents of abortion point to nuances in public opinion. For example, the NBC News national exit poll showed that 29% of voters want abortion to be legal in “all cases,” while 30% say it should be legal in “most cases.” , which indicates an opening to some limitations.
“The winning candidate defines his opponent’s extremism and contrasts his own consensus position, like a heartbeat or a 15-week bill, against that position and gains the upper hand,” said the SBA’s Dannenfelser. “The pro-life movement will absolutely work to defeat candidates who say there is no federal role in defining federal protection, or who just decided they don’t want to talk about it at all.”
Still, Walker may be a less-than-ideal messenger: He’s facing accusations from two women who say he pressured them into abortions while dating years ago. He has denied those accusations. And no exceptions rhetoric might be out of step with voters in a divided state like Georgia.
Sen. Gary Peters, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the party’s Senate campaign arm, said abortion will remain a “permanent” feature of US elections until Republicans back down.
“Many people who care deeply about this issue in our base, who are pro-abortion, still care deeply about this issue,” Peters said in an interview. “But they always thought that Roe v. Wade was the backup. And so it wasn’t the same kind of motivating factor that it was for the other side, which was trying to change the rules and get the Court to overturn half a century of precedent.”
He pointed to proposed bans by Republicans, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., who introduced a bill ahead of the midterm elections to ban it in all states after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
“Clearly, a national ban on abortion would have a significant impact for everyone, regardless of what state they live in,” Peters said. “Even if you live in a blue state that has protected women’s reproductive liberties, that could be in jeopardy with a national ban. So it will definitely continue to be a pretty strong problem.”