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Keller @ Large: Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision a reminder that not voting has consequences

Keller @ Large: Supreme Court decision a reminder that not voting has consequences
Keller @ Large: Supreme Court decision a reminder that not voting has consequences 07:47

BOSTON - "We do not pretend to know how our political system or society will respond to today's decision overruling Roe and Casey," writes the Supreme Court majority in their decision.

On that point, if nothing else, they're spot on.

Critics of the ruling will repeat their prior claim that the right-wing majority installed by former President Trump is bent on radical jurisprudence, and they have an eyebrow-raising supporter of sorts in Chief Justice John Roberts, who writes in his concurrence with the majority that his colleagues went out of their way to throw gas on this long-simmering political fire.

None of their legal objections to the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade "requires that we also take the dramatic step of altogether eliminating the abortion right first recognized in Roe. Mississippi itself previously argued as much to this Court in this litigation. When the State petitioned for our went out of its way to make clear that it was not asking the Court to repudiate entirely the right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy."

Can you say "radical?"

No wonder the dissenting minority (Justices Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor) are livid. 

"Some States have enacted laws extending to all forms of abortion procedure, including taking medication in one's own home," they write. "They have passed laws without any exceptions for when the woman is the victim of rape or incest. Under those laws, a woman will have to bear her rapist's child or a young girl her father's-no matter if doing so will destroy her life. So too, after today's ruling, some States may compel women to carry to term a fetus with severe physical anomalies-for example, one afflicted with Tay-Sachs disease, sure to die within a few years of birth. States may even argue that a prohibition on abortion need make no provision for protecting a woman from risk of death or physical harm. Across a vast array of circumstances, a State will be able to impose its moral choice on a woman and coerce her to give birth to a child."

So what happens now?

According to the most recent polling, a solid majority of Americans will be displeased by this ruling. In a Suffolk University/USA Today survey, 61% oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, while just 28% support the move.

Abortion rights activists would have you believe this will unlock a significant political backlash in this fall's midterm elections and beyond. But is that really true?

Blue states with the largest pro-choice majorities like Massachusetts that haven't already codified choice in state law will now do so. The states' rights principle embedded in the Supreme Court ruling is significantly less unpopular than the repeal of Roe; in the Suffolk poll, 51% prefer a national policy to letting states decide, while 40% are fine with the decision being made at the state level.

And there are other signs that abortion may play a relatively minor political role. Just 15% say abortion is the most important issue to their vote. Only 20% say a repeal of Roe will make them more likely to vote in November, including a mere 23% of women. The public is split over whether they would or wouldn't vote for a candidate who disagreed with them on abortion if they agreed on other issues. And a whopping 66% say the economy matters more to them than abortion.

These numbers matter. 

We just saw how Republicans who are normally intransigent on gun control scrambled to pass the new package of gun laws; their internal polling on the issue must have been highly persuasive. It seems unlikely the abortion-rights backlash will inspire similar fear.

That said, the issue does have political potency with an important and active part of the Democratic base. Embattled New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan has now inserted a pro-choice ad into her TV campaign, which up until now had focused strictly on her "bipartisanship."

And perhaps the long-term impact of the Court's ruling will be to remind apathetic, why-bother voters that inaction has consequences. Had some of the 2016 voters who stayed home or wasted their vote on no-hoper fringe candidates instead of suppressing their gag reflex and voting for Hillary Clinton, none of this would be happening.

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