Jonathan L. Wharton

I rarely wade into national issues, even among closest friends and colleagues. I research state and local government because, as a former congressional aide, I have been scarred by Americans’ obsession with partisan politics.

With Politico publishing a draft of the Supreme Court’s majority opinion about abortion, our nation’s divisions have worsened. But what I cannot accept is how much of the media and many Americans equate abortion policy with partisanship. We are oversimplifying a national, legal, and moral issue and placing it into a partisan lens when it’s about more than party politics.

The leaked Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization majority opinion was a draft from months ago and the court case has not been decided yet. But it does offer insight into the Supreme Court justices’ perspective. The debate surrounding “settled law” and leaving it to state legislatures to pass laws legalizing or outlawing abortions appears to be the direction the majority of justices are leaning.

This legal outlook should hardly be surprising since conservative justices articulated for years that judicial policymaking should be limited as legislatures are charged with passing laws.

But abortion policies have been framed as a privacy matter because the Supreme Court decided abortions are between a woman and their medical provider. Roe v. Wade was largely based on Griswold v. Connecticut, since reproductive decisions, such as whether to use contraceptives, should not have government restrictions. The Court also defined a woman’s abortion decision during the first trimester. And the Roe decision furthered abortion as a privacy matter protected by the 14th Amendment.

Since Roe, various social conservatives and organizations politicized abortion policy stances as a moral cause particularly during election season. With midterm elections approaching this year for Connecticut’s congressional delegates, as well as state Constitutional offices, abortion policy has become an immediate concern because of the leaked Dobbs opinion.

But abortion policy is not just a partisan matter. As much as media outlets and pundits suggest that one side of the aisle is against or for abortion rights, it’s more nuanced than a red-blue partisan issue.

For many Americans, their abortion stance is a religious one. And this is not for all major religions including Protestants, since there’s disagreement as to when life begins. According to a Pew poll released May 6, for instance, 73% of White Christian evangelists and 51% of Black Protestants agree that religion shapes their views on abortion.

Similarly, not all Republicans are pro-life and not all agree with the Dobbs opinion. There are some Republican politicians and registered party voters that support pro-choice policies and the Roe decision. Connecticut has pro-choice Republican elected officials and the state party endorsed pro-choice candidates for statewide office this past weekend. Some Republican lawmakers also voted in favor of Connecticut’s abortion rights bill, while some Democrats voted against it, for example.

Democrats that voted against the bill were mostly Black and Latino lawmakers, as some are pro-life. It’s no secret that many (especially older) Black and Latino Democrats are religious and socially conservative. So pro-life Democrats do exist, just like pro-choice Republicans. They may not be the majority within their respective political party, but they should hardly be overlooked.

In fact, an ABC News poll released May 3 revealed 44% of Republicans are against overturning Roe and 33% are supportive of legal abortion. For Democrats, 82% are in favor of abortion rights. In other words, not all Democrats and not all Republicans are on one side of abortion policy.

So understand that abortion, like many policies, remains a complex issue. To have the media and pundits frame it as a partisan issue oversimplifies American politics particularly in this hyper-partisan era.

Polling data released May 3, 2022, shows 70% of the public favors leaving abortion decisions between a woman and her doctor.
A poll conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post during the week of April 25, 2022, and released May 3, 2022, shows 70% of the public in favor of leaving the decision over whether to have an abortion between a woman and her doctor. Credit: Screengrab / ABC News/Washington Post

Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D., is an associate professor of political science and urban affairs at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.

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