Vulnerable red-state centrists Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), and Joe Manchin (WV) are key Democratic votes in the impending confirmation battle for anti-choice Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. All three regularly tout their willingness to work with President Trump and buck Democratic leadership, and all three voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch. This time around their appeasement would tilt the balance of the court far to the right, and imperil women's reproductive freedoms across the country by confirming the decisive justice in overturning Roe v. Wade.
This time around their appeasement would tilt the balance of the court far to the right, and imperil women's reproductive freedoms across the country by confirming the decisive justice in overturningRoe v. Wade.
If Roe is overturned, then the regulation of abortion will fall to state legislatures. For Heitkamp and Manchin, they must worry not only about mollifying Trump voters going into the midterms, but evading the political backlash of a confirmation that will likely lead to the quick criminalization of abortion in their home states.
Overturning Roe v. Wade will trigger automatic abortion bans, so-called "trigger laws," in four states: Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota. All of the senators representing those states are Republicans, with the exception of Heidi Heitkamp. Then there are ten states with pre-Roe abortion bans that were never repealed: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. If Roe is overturned, these states could begin enforcing their bans quickly thereafter. The only vulnerable Democrat up for reelection in 2018 from this group is, you guessed it, Joe Manchin.
West Virginia might be deep red, but that doesn't necessarily mean that voters there are clamoring to end legal abortion. A January 2018 poll by Hart Research Associates had some interesting findings with likely midterm voters on banning abortion in the state's Medicaid coverage:
1. West Virginia voters overwhelmingly support the state’s Medicaid program providing coverage for the full range of reproductive healthcare, including abortion...
- ...Seven in 10 (69%) West Virginia voters align with the view that regardless of how one feels about abortion, politicians should not be allowed to deny a woman health coverage for abortion just because she is poor.
- This is the majority view across the electorate, including among moderate and conservative Democrats (87%), independents (65%), and Republicans (55%).
- Eight in 10 (81%) voters who are personally opposed to abortion, but do not believe the government should prevent a woman from making that choice, agree with this point of view.
2. By very significant margins, West Virginia voters oppose the state legislature taking action to ban abortion coverage from Medicaid.
- By an 18-point margin (54% to 36%) West Virginia voters say they do NOT want the state legislature to overturn the state supreme court’s decision that protects Medicaid coverage of abortion, by voting to ban it.
- This is the majority view among Democrats (75%), including 62% of moderate and conservative Democrats, independents (59%), voters from House and Senate swing districts (55%), as well as voters who are personally opposed to abortion, but do not think the government should have a say in the decision (62%).
So according to Hart, likely West Virginia midterm voters of all stripes overwhelmingly oppose banning abortion in their Medicaid coverage. That would likely extrapolate to abortion bans period. Let's hope Manchin doesn't make the mistake of thinking that Roe is simply a liberal issue—he told me last Thursday that he doesn't have a Democratic base, in response to questioning about whether he is feeling pressure from his Democratic base voters.
As Jane Mayer notes, centrist Dems who thought they were playing it safe by voting to confirm Clarence Thomas, in reality ended up facing an enormous political backlash. If Heitkamp and Manchin pull the trigger on confirming a justice who will overturn Roe, that could very well be their reality.