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How the draft Supreme Court opinion overturning 'Roe v. Wade' could impact midterms

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

If the decision to overturn Roe is ultimately handed down from the court, the political implications could be monumental. Last night's leak has already triggered a political earthquake. We're joined now by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, NPR's Kelsey Snell on Capitol Hill and NPR's Sarah McCammon, who covers abortion. Welcome to all of you.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hello.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Happy to be here.

FLORIDO: Mara, let's start with you. Chief Justice John Roberts today confirmed that this draft decision was authentic. He said it is not final. President Biden had a pretty strong reaction after the chief justice announced that. He called this draft decision radical before taking off in Air Force One today.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: If the rationale of the decision as released were to be sustained, a whole range of rights are in question - a whole range of rights. And the idea we're letting the states make those decisions, localities make those decisions would be a fundamental shift in what we've done.

FLORIDO: What do you make of that reaction, Mara?

LIASSON: Well, he talked about two things - what's at stake, meaning all these other things that would fall under the right to privacy, which that draft questioned, the right to marry, gay marriage, the right to use contraception. That would also be in the balance. So the president was focusing on what's at stake other than just the right to abortion, and then he also talked about the remedy. He said it's up to voters to elect pro-abortion rights legislators at every level - Senate, House, also state legislatures.

And this is the big question for Democrats. They've never been seized with the importance of the courts like conservatives have, who have focused for 50 years on overturning Roe. Democrats haven't done that. And now the question is, does this ruling, assuming it becomes a ruling, have a boomerang effect? Will liberal voters feel like their rights are under threat? Will they be more energized to come out to vote? Or will this take a second or third place behind inflation, crime and immigration as issues for the midterms? We don't know that yet.

FLORIDO: Well, Kelsey, now that Democrats in Congress know that this draft opinion could become final in the coming months, do they have any plans to act on abortion protections?

SNELL: Well, the vast majority of them said they're outraged. They say these are the kinds of actions Democrats have warned voters could happen since way back during the 2016 presidential election, when Republicans held up former President Obama's nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia after he died. You know, Democrats generally promised today to fight to protect Roe. And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promised that there will be votes even if they fail.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: It's a different world now. The tectonic plates of our politics on women's choice and on rights in general are changing. Every senator now under the real glare of Roe v. Wade being repealed by the courts is going to have to show which side they're on.

SNELL: But, you know, in reality, Democrats do not have the votes to pass federal abortion protections right now. And putting people on the record might be the best they can hope for. They would need either 60 votes to overcome a filibuster or a feasible plan to end the filibuster. I will note that Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia told reporters today that he still supports the filibuster.

FLORIDO: Well, that's Democrats. I want to ask you about two Republican senators, though, Kelsey - Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine. They have both supported abortion rights in the past.

SNELL: Right. And they both said the decision would be inconsistent with what they were told by justices during their confirmation processes. Collins specifically named Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. Murkowski went further, and she told a group of reporters that a draft decision rocked her confidence in the court. A little bit later, she added this.

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LISA MURKOWSKI: It was not the direction that I believed that the court would take based on statements that have been made about Roe being settled and being precedent.

SNELL: Now, you know, they both pointed to a narrow bill that they've supported and sponsored that talks about prohibiting states from imposing what they call an undue burden on the ability of a woman to obtain an abortion. But that would allow states to impose some restrictions still. And, you know, that plan might win their support. But two Republicans and 48 or 50 Democrats still does not equal the 60 votes they would need for the bill to pass.

FLORIDO: Sarah McCammon, I'd like to bring you in here. You're going to be reporting on this elsewhere in the program. But briefly, what are abortion rights advocates saying about this Supreme Court leak?

MCCAMMON: Well, as you might expect, even though this was somewhat expected, they're saying it's devastating, especially for people who already struggle to get access to abortion disproportionately - people of color, people in rural areas. But they are expressing some optimism that this could galvanize Democratic voters in the 2022 midterms as well as in '24. Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, believes that this is going to be a wake up-call, as she put it, that will turn out progressive voters even more than, for example, after the 2016 election, which did lead to a blue wave in 2018.

MINI TIMMARAJU: We are seeing a ton of support and energy from our advocates, our donors, our voters, our volunteers to mobilize. Sometimes you need that extra push. And unfortunately, as horrific as this is, this is probably it. And we're going to invest significantly to make it so.

MCCAMMON: And on that note, a coalition of major reproductive rights groups, including NARAL, announced that they're spending $150 million this year toward voter mobilization efforts. They're targeting congressional races, of course, along with governors' races given the increasing importance of state legislation.

FLORIDO: And what about abortion opponents, Sarah? They've been wanting to overturn Roe v. Wade for a long time. If the court does, in fact, follow through, where do they go from here?

MCCAMMON: Well, they've been a little cautious in their response given that this is a leaked draft. But this has been a decades-long goal if this holds. A coalition largely made up of conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants have been working strategically toward this goal at every level of government for decades, trying to pass state laws that could soon ban most abortions in about half of U.S. states. I talked to Kristan Hawkins with Students for Life today. She says her group is working to pass more early abortion bans around six weeks or earlier.

KRISTAN HAWKINS: We need to be talking about a law that bans abortions when children can - children's hearts begin to be detected or laws that protect life at conception.

MCCAMMON: And her group and others are working toward the idea of a national abortion ban. That, of course, would take a majority in Congress as well as the White House, but it is one of their longer-term goals.

FLORIDO: Kelsey, is that something that Republicans in Congress are talking about?

SNELL: Republicans I talked to today - and I talked to many - they really didn't engage with the substance of the decision or discuss whether they would go further to pass federal abortion restrictions if they do take majorities in the House and the Senate. You know, instead, they mostly focused on the leaker. They called for an investigation, and some called for eventual prosecution of the leaker. I should point out, though, that, you know, polls have consistently shown that a majority of Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade. The latest Gallup data has 58% of Americans against overturning it. And an NPR poll last month gave Republicans a broad advantage in the midterms but also indicated that voters feel Democrats would do a better job on the issue of abortion by 11 points.

FLORIDO: Mara, a quick final word goes to you. The Supreme Court prides itself on the idea that it's not a political body. So what are the implications of the court making such a major ruling and potentially breaking with public opinion on an issue that stirs up such strong feelings?

LIASSON: Well, historically, the Supreme Court has been on the opposite side of majority public opinion many, many times. But what's happening now is that there's a much bigger debate that's starting. A majority of the Supreme Court justices were appointed by presidents who became president despite losing the popular vote. And the senators who confirmed some of those justices represented a minority of Americans. So we're moving from a system where the founders wanted minority party rights to be protected to a system that is looking a lot more like minority rule. And the big question is, does the majority of Americans want this to continue or not?

FLORIDO: That was NPR national correspondent Mara Liasson, national correspondent Sarah McCammon and congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.