LYNNE BROADDUS: Hello. I am Lynne Broaddus (ph), and I am standing here at the confluence of the Chulitna, Talkeetna and Susitna Rivers in Talkeetna, Ala., my 50th state. This podcast was recorded at…
TAMARA KEITH, HOST:
1:26 p.m. on the 5 of May, 2022.
BROADDUS: Things may have changed by the time you hear this. Let’s enjoy the show.
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KEITH: Wow. That is very cool, very, very cool, 50 states.
DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: I know.
JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: I haven’t done that yet.
KEITH: Well, as political reporters, there are some states we just don’t get to go to very often.
SUMMERS: Alaska’s one of them.
KURTZLEBEN: Alaska’s one this year. I have been begging to get to go cover the Murkowski race. So ideally, I’ll go – or one of us will.
KEITH: Keep on begging. Let’s all beg.
KEITH: Maybe one of us will get there.
Hey there. It’s the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I’m Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.
KURTZLEBEN: I’m Danielle Kurtzleben, and I cover demographics and culture.
SUMMERS: And I’m Juana Summers. I cover politics.
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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: If it becomes a law, and if what is written is what remains, it goes far beyond the concern of whether or not there is the right to choose. (Inaudible) your other basic rights, the right to marry, the right to determine a whole range of things.
KEITH: That is President Biden this week reacting to the leaked draft from the Supreme Court regarding abortion. But as you heard there, Democrats have been quick to argue that this is not just about abortion access, but that the decision, if unchanged, could endanger other rights that many have taken for granted as settled law. Danielle, the conversation has very quickly moved to whether this decision could affect other rights like marriage equality or interracial marriage. Legally, is that an issue? Is that link there?
KURTZLEBEN: Yes, it is. And the link is there because all of those rights you mentioned are what are called unenumerated rights, that is, they’re things that aren’t listed explicitly word for word in the Constitution. And those rights are supported by the 14th Amendment, which protects due process, and by extension, privacy. Now, all of this is important because the court has said in the past that those unenumerated rights have to be, quote, “deeply rooted in this nation’s history.” And in this leaked draft opinion, Samuel Alito said that at the time that the 14th Amendment was ratified, 1868, abortion was not considered a right people had. In fact, it was outlawed in many states. Therefore, he argues, it’s not deeply rooted, and it’s not a constitutional right. So then you can follow the logic here. What happens to those other unenumerated rights? I asked Mary Ziegler. She’s a visiting professor at Harvard Law. And here’s what she said.
MARY ZIEGLER: At the time the relevant part of the Constitution was written, same-sex couples could not marry. Interracial couples certainly couldn’t marry. Birth control was being criminalized. And so the logic is, if that’s how we determine where our constitutional rights begin and end, there’s no reason that would stop with abortion.
KURTZLEBEN: Now, to be clear here, Alito does say in that draft that abortion is different from those other rights because it specifically deals with fetal life. But that is no guarantee that the court won’t eventually change its mind.
KEITH: Or be asked to consider some of these other things that..
KEITH: Right. So, dear listeners, you may be wondering why we are focused in this pod – and we will be – on Democrats. And there’s a pretty simple reason. Republican leaders in Congress are not focusing on this draft decision. They are focusing on the leak of the draft decision. And most anti-abortion activists are sort of holding back, waiting for the Supreme Court to issue a ruling. Juana, is there – why would that be?
SUMMERS: Yeah, I think part of this is a political calculation here. They’re choosing to focus not on the substance of this, because if you look at polling, while how people may weigh in on the issue of abortion, it’s a complex view, polling does suggest that most Americans support some level of rights to access to abortion. When you get into the details, as I point out, in different subgroups, it’s a little bit more complex. But abortion has and has historically been broadly popular.
KEITH: Danielle, as soon as this draft decision came out, there has been a lot of puzzling trying to figure out what this will mean for politics, for the upcoming election, what this will mean about who will be motivated and why. Traditionally, Republicans have been more motivated about abortion than Democrats. And when it comes to Democrats, although this is an issue that they do care about and that generally Democrats support abortion rights, is it their top issue?
KURTZLEBEN: No, not at all. And there’s one pollster I talked to yesterday about this, and she said it’s because so many Democrats have considered Roe just flat-out settled law. It’s part of the wallpaper. It’s just in the American landscape. Whereas many Republicans have been fighting against it, those that oppose abortion rights.
KEITH: So going back to where we started, though, President Biden and many Democrats are trying to expand the conversation beyond abortion. What is the political theory behind that? And it happened just so quickly.
KURTZLEBEN: Right. So part of it is about, you know, expanding the scope. Part of it is about flat-out self-interest. I asked abortion rights activist Renee Bracey Sherman about that messaging of tying abortion rights to same-sex marriage rights, contraceptives, that sort of thing. And here’s what she said.
RENEE BRACEY SHERMAN: A lot of people think, I might never need an abortion. And a lot of people think about all issues like, oh, I’m not trans. I’m not Black. Why does police brutality matter to me? But I think what people don’t realize is how much something like Roe v. Wade is the bedrock of so many other things legally.
KURTZLEBEN: So, yeah, it’s about self-interest. It is about educating people about those legal vulnerabilities. But that’s all pretty self-explanatory. I think a lot of our listeners could guess that. The reason I was asking is that hearing this messaging and having talked to a lot of abortion rights activists, I have to say I was curious how they would react to hearing someone like Joe Biden saying this isn’t just about abortion rights, this is about other rights, because many abortion rights activists have been very vocal in criticizing Joe Biden and other Democratic leaders for not talking about abortion enough. In fact, some had been keeping track. They say that this week is the first time he used the word abortion during his presidency.
SUMMERS: Danielle, I know you’ve been spending a lot of time outside the Supreme Court this week and talking to people who feel really passionately about this issue, so much so that they’re literally leaving work or going to the court after work. But I’m curious, what do we know about just like your average rank-and-file voter and where abortion ranks on the priority list for them?
KURTZLEBEN: Right. Well, this sort of dovetails with what you were talking about earlier, that, yes, most Americans support some abortion rights. That group is made up of people who say they support abortion in all cases, but also a plurality of people who say they support it in some cases. And one pollster I spoke to this week told me that many people, especially people in that middle group, they have their view on abortion and they just don’t think about it much. And so what might happen and what I would imagine Democrats are hoping would happen – we don’t know if it will – were Roe to be overturned, were you to take that right away or threaten to, you could suddenly make a whole bunch of people who don’t think about abortion rights suddenly think about it and say, wait a minute, are you taking away a right that I have taken for granted? This all made me think about Obamacare because when Republicans threatened to repeal the ACA, suddenly Obamacare’s popularity ticked up a few points. Now, it’s possible that could happen here. Again, we are in really uncharted territory. We don’t know how much voters will care. But this is definitely one thing that Democrats are hoping would happen.
KURTZLEBEN: All right. We’re going to take a quick break. And when we get back, more of Juana’s reporting about the electoral politics of it all.
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KEITH: And we’re back. And in his first written statement after the draft opinion leaked out, President Biden leaned into the electoral politics. He said, quote, “it will fall on voters to elect pro-choice officials this November. At the federal level, we need more pro-choice senators and a pro-choice majority in the House to adopt legislation that codifies Roe.” So the president of the United States right there saying this has to be solved in the ballot box. Juana, you have been talking to Democratic activists and organizers and voters. How does that sort of messaging play with them?
SUMMERS: Yeah. So it’s been really interesting. The day after this draft opinion was reported on, I was at the annual conference for the group Emily’s List. And that is a group that supports, elects women candidates – Democratic candidates who support abortion rights. And there was a lot of conversation about what the political impact of this would be. And I had a conversation with Laphonza Butler, who is the head of Emily’s List. And she, like President Biden, talked about the electoral politics of this and believed it could galvanize Democrats in November.
LAPHONZA BUTLER: Voters have struggled with a believability gap, with majorities noting that they did not believe Roe was truly at risk. Now that the Supreme Court’s pending decision to overturn Roe altogether has leaked, we believe voters are galvanized to take action.
SUMMERS: So I wanted to know whether that was actually going to be the case, especially among young voters, voters that Democrats need to keep on their side if they’re going to have a successful year and defend their slim majorities in Congress. So I called up some young organizers across the country, including in the state of Kansas, where there’s actually a vote on a constitutional amendment about abortion that could really change the landscape there in August. And I spoke to Melissa Styler (ph), and she essentially made the point that, you know, that’s not enough. She actually sounded offended by the notion that the solution here is to do more voting.
MELISSA STYLER: We saw that in the 2020 election, young people turned out in record numbers. And what they did is they delivered a Democratic trifecta on the national level. And what they’re seeing now is that none of those promises that got these folks elected, there hasn’t been that follow through. They haven’t been able to complete what they promised. They haven’t codified Roe. Politicians can’t use issues as a get-out-the-vote technique and then not actually govern whenever they’re elected.
KEITH: Yeah, I mean, there’s an element to which we’ve heard this before, that there have been other issues where particularly Democrats say, well, if you care about this, then you need to vote so that you’ll have Democrats in office so that we can try to do something. And yet you also have a situation where especially young Democratic voters have really softened in their support of President Biden in recent months, at least in part because a lot of these things that they were promised didn’t come through.
SUMMERS: And I think it’s important just to signpost here, you know, that the numbers are not on Democrats’ sides here. We have heard Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer say that he plans to hold that vote to codify Roe v. Wade. But we also know that Democrats do not have the support for that. The ambitions of the party and of some Democrats and the numbers on the Hill just – they just – there’s no meeting in the middle there.
KURTZLEBEN: Juana, I just want a follow on to that. Do the young voters that you’ve been talking to have any sympathy or openness to that idea that, look, yes, you voted for this, but there aren’t 60 votes in the Senate? Does does that make them feel any less frustrated?
SUMMERS: Frankly, not really. What people that I’ve been talking to, they say that they want to see Democratic elected officials up and down the ballot, step in and do whatever it takes to protect their rights, to abolish the filibuster, something that there has not been a lot of support for on Capitol Hill. They say that Democrats campaigned on big, bold ideas and yet they haven’t delivered. So there hasn’t been a lot of sympathy for that. And they think on an issue like this and like the other rights that are interconnected to the decision on Roe, they feel like it’s the most important thing. And it’s connected to so many things, so they want to see if that level of urgency among their elected leaders.
KEITH: One question that I have heard people who watch politics trying to puzzle out is whether this linking, you know, talking about same-sex marriage in addition to abortion, talking about access to contraception, whether linking it to all of these other things could galvanize young voters more than simply talking about abortion, especially given what you’ve talked about, this sort of generation. There’s two generations of people who have not experienced life without Roe v. Wade being in place.
SUMMERS: That’s a really interesting point, Tam. And that’s something that came up in a lot of my conversations. And I asked several younger activists that question about the fact that millennials and Gen Zers, like ourselves, have not lived in a world – a pre-Roe world. And one of the things that one of them pointed out to me is that while that’s true, over the last decade, there has been this uneven landscape for abortion. Your ability to access an abortion should you want to do so really depends state by state. So in a state like Missouri, for example, where I grew up, there is only one abortion clinic in the entire state – very challenging to access an abortion there. Rights look different in different places for people. So in some ways, some of these activists have even pointed out that this idea of Roe being the end-all, be-all protections is just not been what their experience has been.
KEITH: All right. Well, let’s leave it there for today. We will have more on the politics and law of abortion in your feeds this weekend. Please look for it in your feeds. I’m Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.
KURTZLEBEN: I’m Danielle Kurtzleben. I cover demographics and Culture.
SUMMERS: And I’m Juana Summers. I cover politics.
KEITH: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.
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