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Why the new polling on abortion rights and Roe v. Wade matters

The Roe v. Wade precedent remains quite popular, but that won't protect it from Republicans and conservative jurists.

With Republican-appointed justices enjoying a dominant majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, GOP policymakers at the state level have scrambled to impose new restrictions on Americans' reproductive rights. The most odious is Texas' new bounty system, but it's not the only anti-abortion measure approved of late.

And while there's no doubt that much of the Republican base is delighted with the policy offensive, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll makes clear that these changes are not what the American mainstream wants. From the Post's report on the poll results:

Americans say by a roughly 2-to-1 margin that the Supreme Court should uphold its landmark abortion decision in Roe v. Wade, and by a similar margin the public opposes a Texas law banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

When it comes to the Supreme Court's Roe precedent, the survey found 60 percent of Americans want to see the status quo remain intact, while 27 percent want the justices to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling. Similarly, three-quarters of American adults believe reproductive decisions should be left to women and their doctors, while only one-in-five believe abortion should be regulated by law.

There is, of course, a very real possibility that the relatively small minority will get the policy outcome it wants, while the sizable majority will not.

For opponents of reproductive rights, the poll offered more evidence that they've lost the public debate. For example, 58 percent of Americans oppose state laws that make it more difficult for abortion clinics to operate, while 36 percent support the measures. Texas' bounty-based abortion ban is opposed by a greater than two-to-one margin: 65 percent of Americans want to see the law fail in the courts, while 29 percent want to see the Texas policy upheld.

Also relevant is the breadth of public attitudes: ABC News' report added that when it comes to the Supreme Court, "majorities of men and women, young adults and seniors, college graduates and those without degrees and whites and racial and ethnic minorities" all want the Roe precedent to be left in place. The findings are also "steady across urban, suburban and rural residents."

And yet, the Republican-appointed justices — three of whom were chosen by a president who lost the popular vote twice by millions of ballots — may turn back the clock on reproductive rights anyway. Indeed, the vehicle for doing so has already arrived at the high court: A Mississippi case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization is part of the Supreme Court's current term.

There are all kinds of important questions associated with a debate like this one, including debates over the will of the majority in a functioning democracy and what happens when a major political party prioritizes minority approval and minority rule.

But it's also worth considering the electoral implications: What will happen if a politicized Supreme Court ignores both existing legal precedent and the three-quarters of American adults who believe reproductive decisions should be left to women and their doctors?

I realize that Republicans have reason to be optimistic about the 2022 midterm elections, thanks in part to a highly motivated GOP base. But when making predictions about the next election cycle, it's worth remembering that between now and next November, a group of conservative justices may take a sledgehammer to a popular legal precedent protecting reproductive rights.