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Will the end of Roe be a political awakening for women?

OP/ED: The reality of women losing a right they have taken for granted for decades will likely drive voters to the polls.
Supreme Court Draft Ruling Rejects Abortion Rights
Demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. early on Tuesday, May 3.Ting Shen / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Based on the bombshell leaked opinion from the Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade is likely over, despite most Americans across political divides supporting a constitutional right to abortion in the U.S.

That includes 37 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of Independents. Only 30 percent of voters want to see the 1973 Supreme Court decision overturned. The big question now is, will the shock of losing a long-established right awaken and galvanize enough voters, particularly women, to rewrite the political landscape? Justice Samuel Alito seems to think so.

In his leaked opinion, Justice Alito focused on women’s political and civic power as a reason to return the decision to the states. He wrote, “our decision…allows women on both sides of the abortion issue to seek to affect the legislative process by influencing public opinion, lobbying legislators, voting and running for office. Women are not without electoral or political power.”

Indeed. The question now is how much the repeal of Roe motivates them to use it.

New polling by my organization, All In Together, shows that significant numbers of women (who are the majority of the electorate) are motivated to vote in the midterm elections due to potential restrictions to abortion rights.

We found that 50 percent of women said they are more likely to vote because of abortion restrictions, with 35 percent saying they are much more likely. The issue is particularly galvanizing for women over 65 (40 percent much more likely), white women (39 percent much more likely), rural women (38 percent much more likely) and urban women (37 percent much more likely). The issue is also motivating a majority of millennial and Gen Z women, with 53 percent of 30- to 49-year-old women, and 56 percent of 18- to 29-year-old women saying they are more likely to vote in November.

This political motivation around abortion is especially critical for Democrats heading into the midterm elections. The next frontier in abortion rights post Roe is Congress - The Women’s Health Protection Act , which would enshrine abortion rights in Federal law, is possible only if Democrats retain the House and Senate. Abortion rights groups have been gearing up for this fight. Philanthropist McKenzie Scott gifted $275 million dollars to Planned Parenthood last month, and much of that money would be channeled not just into abortion care but into political mobilization.

In recent weeks, many polls, including ours, have shown high voter apathy on the left that have increasingly alarmed Democrats. A new Harvard IOP youth poll saw an increase in the number of young voters that agreed with the statement “I don’t believe my vote will make a real difference,” go from 31 percent in 2018 to 42 percent in 2022. But the repeal of Roe v Wade could change all of that. Americans have rarely, if ever, seen established rights repealed. For the better part of the last 50 years, individual rights, in the form of abortion access, LGBTQ equality, interracial marriage and even gun ownership, have almost exclusively expanded through the courts. And those expanded rights have become embedded into the fabric of American life.

Justice Alito is correct that women have political pathways for abortion activism and anti-abortion candidates may face severe political consequences ahead as a result. Efforts to repeal Obamacare are a great example. For a brief political moment in the midterm elections of 2010, repealing Obamacare was a winner for Republican candidates but it was ultimately a loser. The closer Republicans in Congress got to repealing Obamacare, the more the reality of losing health insurance set in for Americans, and the more voters, particularly women, mobilized to protect it.

It’s a lesson for the abortion fight ahead. Voters may not have been motivated by the current political landscape, but the reality of losing a right they have taken for granted over decades could change that. The shock of reality will very likely be an awakening. Many new activists may be made.

Alito’s decision may strip away women’s rights but it may also in the process, mobilize them to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Lauren Leader is the co-founder and CEO of All In Together, a non-partisan women’s civic leadership and education organization. She tweets @LaurenLeaderAIT.