With midterm elections less than a month away, the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade has spurred a wave of political energy that casts doubt on the certainty of Republican victories this fall.
The landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision affirming the right to an abortion was overturned in June, sending shock waves throughout the country, including the East End, where — although abortions remain legal in New York State — hundreds have turned out at protests since the decision.
Most recently, nearly 200 people turned out last week for a women’s march in Greenport. Many cited the overturning of Roe v. Wade as a catalyst for concern about the upcoming midterms in November.
On July 4 this year on Shelter Island, a crowd of about 200, mostly women, but with men and children in the ranks, assembled at Volunteer Park on Bridge Street to protest the Supreme Court decision. A few days earlier, a protest march took place in the Center.
The assembly was peaceful, with many carrying signs as they crossed Bridge Street, then walked single file up Chase Avenue to the Heights Post Office, looping back down to converge at the park again.
At the Greenport rally, said Joan Fiden of Shelter Island, said, “It has made this election cycle the most important ever.”
Her husband, David Hoffman, added: “I have a daughter. And I don’t want her to live in a world where she is disrespected by her government.”
Democratic state Senate 1st District candidate Skyler Johnson highlighted the importance of turning out to vote in November, eliciting cheers from the Greenport crowd, because “we have seen what happens when we let extremists take power.”
“We have Nick LaLota running for Congress, who has not supported exceptions for abortion for rape, incest or even the life of the mother. Are we going to let them win? There is no other choice,” Mr. Johnson continued. “We are going to protect fundamental rights in the state of New York.”
Mr. LaLota is running against Legislator Bridget Fleming, the former Southampton councilwoman who has made protecting women’s reproductive rights a focus of her campaign. She has positioned herself as a candidate who will fight to federally codify the protections of Roe v. Wade.
Mr. LaLota’s campaign website, under a section titled “Protecting Life,” said the Supreme Court decision was a “step in the right direction” and added the state Legislature should repeal the “extreme provision which allows for third trimester abortions.”
The campaign page was later updated with a new section titled “Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice,” in which Mr. LaLota softens his stance by saying he does not oppose abortion “in cases of rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life.”
He focuses his opposition to abortion in the second and third trimesters. Current New York law allows a woman to get an abortion up to and including 24 weeks of pregnancy (the second trimester) and exceptions are allowed after 24 weeks if the woman’s health or pregnancy is at risk.
“Abortion is a personal and divisive topic but I will lead the charge to find common ground — and that is eliminating second and third trimester abortions,” Mr. LaLota says on his campaign site.
In June, Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who is challenging incumbent Democrat Kathy Hochul for New York governor, called the Supreme Court’s decision a “victory for life, for family, for the Constitution and for federalism.” Ms. Hochul’s campaign has focused heavily on reproductive rights. On Sept. 28, she posted on Twitter that Mr. Zeldin had told an anti-abortion group he would ban abortion without exceptions.
“I refuse to let him roll back our reproductive rights,” she wrote.
Mr. Zeldin’s campaign has focused largely on crime and has mostly shied away from the abortion issue.
Historically, the party that doesn’t control the White House picks up seats in the House of Representatives during midterm elections.
According to the website FiveThirtyEight, as of Oct. 10, Republicans have a 7-in-10 chance of claiming a majority in the House, where Democrats currently hold a slim 222-to-213 edge. Democrats have a 2-in-3 chance of holding on to the U.S. Senate.
“Given that the Democrats have a very small majority in the House, it’s still quite likely that there will be a Republican majority in the House after the November elections. How big that Republican majority will be is unclear. I think it’s possible that the Democrats could hold onto a bare majority in the House, but it seems unlikely,” said Stanley Feldman, a political science professor and associate director of the Center for Survey Research at Stony Brook University.
“The Senate is much more difficult to know,” Mr. Feldman added. “There probably are going to be a number of close races. There are some possibilities where Republicans could in fact pick up a seat or two that they need. But there also are states in which the Democrats could pick up one or two seats in the Senate. So I think that the forecast for the Senate is very unclear at this point.”
The overturning of Roe v. Wade has been unpopular with most Americans. According to Pew research, 57% of adults indicated disapproval of the Supreme Court ruling, with 41% indicating approval. Public support for legal abortion, as of July, remained at 62%. That support is even higher in younger demographics — seven in 10 adults ages 18 to 29 say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Young people often sit out midterm elections, experts say, but many political analysts have predicted the Supreme Court’s June ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will motivate young voters, especially women, to participate in higher numbers.
The FiveThirtyEight website reported last week that abortion restrictions “could end up being a generation-defining event, even if young women don’t dramatically reshape the outcome of the midterms … The Supreme Court’s decision and the bans that followed are likely to shape young women’s views of the GOP for years to come, solidifying their antipathy to the party as they grow older and start voting more regularly.”
In August, Democrat Pat Ryan beat Republican Marc Molinaro in New York’s 19th District in a House special election. Mr. Ryan centered his campaign on abortion rights in the district, which carried former President Donald Trump in 2016 and President Joe Biden in 2020. Political news outlet The Hill called his victory a “canary in the coal mine.”
Polling data aggregator RealClearPolitics has indicated a drop in public support for Republicans in the upcoming congressional vote since Dobbs as well, with the party leading by just 0.9 points as of Oct. 8. On May 1, the day before the draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked, Republicans led by 4.2 points.
Activists have highlighted the Dobbs decision as the first time in history the Supreme Court has rolled back rights, and many have expressed concern about the vulnerability of other rights, such as the right to same-sex marriage.
Harvard public policy professor Maya Sen pointed out, in an interview posted to the university’s website, that the decision will also likely lead to “increased calls by the Democratic party and progressive activists for reforming the court — including increased calls for restricting the court’s jurisdiction, instituting term limits for the justices, or expanding the court’s size.”
The Supreme Court striking down Roe v. Wade, she added, “puts the onus on politicians in blue states to try to protect [the] reproductive rights of their own residents and also to make it easier for pregnant people traveling out of red states seeking abortions.”
Mr. Feldman said, while abortion access in New York is “probably safe,” thanks to Democratic support in the State Legislature, it’s still not guaranteed under the state constitution.
“I think in the short term, New Yorkers don’t need to be concerned about restrictions,” he said. “On the other hand, should sometime in the future there be Republican control of the Legislature or a Republican governor, I think that’s a little less clear.”
Mr. Feldman pointed out that the state Legislature has passed a bill to incorporate abortion access in the state constitution. To amend the constitution, a bill needs to be passed in two legislative sessions and then put to a statewide vote, so it will be at least 2024 before an abortion amendment can be put to a vote in New York.
“If that effort succeeds, it will be extremely difficult to roll back abortion protections even if Democrats were to lose control of the Legislature,” he said.