Democrats believe abortion will motivate voters in 2024. Will it be enough?

WASHINGTON — When Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump recently said he was “proud” to have had a hand in overturning the abortion protections enshrined in Roe v. Wade, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake saw it as a political gift and thought to herself: ‘Oh my God. God, we just won the election.”

It may not be that simple, but as the 2024 race heats up, President Joe Biden’s campaign is betting big on abortion rights as a key motivator for Democrats in the election. Republicans are still trying to figure out how to talk about the issue, if at all, to avoid a political backlash.

“A vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is a vote to reinstate Roe, and a vote for Donald Trump is a vote to ban abortion nationwide,” said Julie Chavez Rodriguez, Biden’s campaign manager. “This is the stakes in 2024 and we will continue to ensure that every voter knows this.”

Since Roe was overturned in 2022, voters have pushed back by passing a number of statewide ballot initiatives to preserve or expand abortion rights. Support for abortion rights drove women to the polls in the 2022 midterm elections, giving Democrats unexpected success. For many people, the issue took on a higher meaning, part of an overarching concern about the future of democracy, according to AP VoteCast, a national survey of more than 94,000 voters in the midterm elections.

Democrats are working to broaden the way they talk to voters about the Supreme Court decision, handed down by a conservative majority including three Trump-nominated justices, and what it means for people’s access to health care and their personal freedoms.

The Biden campaign is launching a nationwide political push in the coming week, centered on Monday’s 51st anniversary of the 1973 decision that codified abortion rights. Vice President Kamala Harris, the administration’s top messenger on the issue, will hold the first meeting in Wisconsin on Monday.

On Tuesday, Biden, Harris, first lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff will travel to Virginia for a new campaign stop focused on abortion. It will be their first joint appearance during the 2024 re-election campaign, a sign of how much importance the campaign places on the issue. More events featuring top Democrats in battleground states are also in the works.

Focusing on abortion will not be a silver bullet for Democrats. The economy, foreign policy, immigration and inflation are also key issues, as are concerns about Biden’s age as he tries to overcome low poll numbers. Many voters are simply put off by the prospect of a likely rematch between Trump and Biden in 2024.

Still, Democrats believe abortion will be a key motivator for base voters and help expand their coalition. Biden aides and allies point to recent elections that overwhelmingly showed that voters, if given the choice, chose to guarantee abortion rights.

The subject will not disappear from the headlines any time soon. The Supreme Court will decide whether to restrict access to medications prescribed for abortion and to treat other reproductive problems. And there is a continuing stream of stories about the impact of abortion bans, like the mother who had to file a lawsuit and then flee to her home state of Texas to terminate her doomed pregnancy.

Democrats have tried for decades to calibrate their message on abortion, always defending the right to choose while reaching out to conflicted voters on the issue. President Bill Clinton’s mantra was that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.”

But the loss of federal abortion protections has been a catalyst for a broader and stronger message about abortion and reproductive rights following the historic setback following the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn Roe.

“We know that if we speak about this issue as a fundamental freedom, we are able to resonate with all demographics – older voters, younger voters, people of color, people in rural areas,” said Mini Timmaraju, head of Reproductive Freedom for All. formerly the National Abortion Rights Action League.

Biden aides said the strategy is to let the president be who he is: an 81-year-old Catholic man who generally avoids the word abortion, preferring to talk about the issue in the context of personal freedom.

The White House often sees the fight over abortion as part of a larger fight involving book bans, voting rights and other issues. Harris is the messenger for more aggressive conversations about abortion in particular and how the ripple effects of the decision affect maternal health.

Timmaraju said these “different messages resonate with different parts of the electorate.”

Since the Supreme Court struck down the nation’s right to abortion, approximately 25 million women now live in states with some form of ban in place. The impact is being increasingly felt by women who never intended to end their pregnancies, yet were denied or delayed emergency medical care due to the new restrictions.

Nearly nine in 10 Democrats say abortion should generally be legal, according to a poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Four in ten say it should be legal in all cases, and almost half say it should be legal in most cases. About nine-in-ten Democrats say their state should allow a pregnant person to have a legal abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, compared with about three-quarters of U.S. adults overall.

For Republicans, the topic was largely absent in the run-up to this year’s Iowa caucuses, a notable change in a state that has long backed religious conservatives who vowed to limit the proceedings. Part of the change comes because Republicans achieved a generational goal with the overthrow of Roe. But it also underscores widespread fear among Republican candidates and voters alike that expressing their desire to further restrict abortion rights in 2024 could be politically dangerous.

“I call the period we’re in now ‘the new fight for life,’” says Benjamin Watson, a former NFL player who is now an anti-abortion advocate. “Roe is done, but we still live in a culture that doesn’t know how to care for life. Roe is over, but the factors driving women to have abortions are increasingly clear and growing. Roe is done, but abortion is still legal and flourishing in much of America.

Overall, opinions on abortion remain complex, with most people believing that abortion should be allowed in some circumstances and not in others. About two-thirds of American adults say abortion should generally be legal, but only about a quarter say it should always be legal and only about 1 in 10 say it should always be illegal.

Trump has been silent on this subject. During a recent Fox News town hall, he expressed support for limited exceptions and criticized state laws that ban abortion after just six weeks.

“We live in a time where a small concession has to be made one way or another,” Trump said.

But he has also promoted his own role in reversing nationwide abortion rights, a landmark goal for his conservative and evangelical supporters.

“For 54 years they tried to get Roe v. Wade overturned, and I did that and I’m proud that I did it,” he said.

The Biden administration is nearing the limits of what it can do to preserve abortion access without congressional legislation. In the immediate aftermath of the June 24, 2022, Dobbs decision, the administration quickly sought to tighten its regulatory power to fight back against Republican efforts to severely restrict abortion. Many attempts have been challenged in court.

Biden had invited states with robust abortion access to apply for Medicaid waivers, which would allow women to pay to travel for care. But so far, only California has applied to release federal money for this effort. Legal battles over abortion pills, emergency health care and state laws have hampered some of the agency’s efforts.

The nation’s top health official, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, is embarking on a three-day tour of the East Coast to talk to doctors and medical students about access to abortion and contraception.

“This is the beginning of an effort to reach all Americans,” Becerra said, and “tell the American people how important it is that we stand up at a crucial moment.”


Associated Press writers Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston and Amanda Seitz and Linley Sanders contributed to this report.