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Why Joni Ernst is saying Roe v Wade probably won't be overturned

The Roe v. Wade precedent is in serious trouble. So why is Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) saying the opposite?
Image: Senators Hold Weekly Policy Luncheons At The Capitol
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks during a news briefing after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 10, 2019.Alex Wong / Getty Images file

The consequences of Republicans pushing the Supreme Court even further to the far-right will shape the nation's future for many years. Everything from health care access to environmental safeguards, voting rights to labor rights, campaign finance laws to the separation of church and state will almost certainly be dramatically affected by Donald Trump's justices.

But given recent political debates, one issue in particular looms large: reproductive rights and the future of the Roe v. Wade precedent.

The arithmetic is simple and straightforward: if five of the high court's nine justices vote to overturn the 1973 ruling, American women's rights to terminate an unwanted pregnancy will disappear and abortion laws will be shaped at the state level. By most counts, there are already five justices who oppose existing reproductive rights, and Republicans are scrambling to confirm a sixth.

It's against this backdrop that some Senate Republicans, especially those facing tough re-election fights, are telling voters that nothing is likely to change. HuffPost noted overnight:

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) says she doesn't think the Supreme Court will overturn its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion rights ruling, even though she signed a brief urging the court to do so earlier this year. "I think the likelihood of Roe v. Wade being overturned is very minimal. I don't see that happening," Ernst said Monday while facing off against Democrat Theresa Greenfield in a debate hosted by Iowa PBS.

To be sure, most Americans probably want to believe this. The last NBC News/SurveyMonkey Weekly Tracking Poll found that 66% of the country doesn't want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe, at least not completely, and this is roughly consistent with other survey data on the question.

But Ernst's assurances are, at face value, bizarre: many voters on the right elected Republicans to power for precisely this purpose. Plenty of conservatives were skeptical of Donald Trump, for example, but they overlooked his corruption and scandals so that he'd appoint right-wing justices and the right to an abortion would end.

And yet, there's the far-right Iowan -- herself an opponent of abortion rights -- telling voters there's only a "very minimal" chance Roe will be overturned, despite the obvious judicial arithmetic.

Why would Ernst say this? It's likely that the GOP senator, like others in her party, simply hope Americans don't fully realize the consequences of what the party is about to do -- because if voters recognized how much society is poised to change as a result of an even-more-conservative Supreme Court, Republican officials and candidates would face an even more challenging electoral landscape in 2020.

Reality, however, is stubborn.