Finley: Abortion looms over 2020 vote

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News
Cynthia Campion, of Walled Lake, enters the voting precinct at the Walled Lake Fire Department Headquarters, Tuesday morning, May 7, 2019. The ballot asks voters, Shall The Walled Lake Consolidated School District borrow $316 million to erect, complete, equip and furnish buildings in the district.

The legitimacy of abortion bills being pushed in Michigan and other states will ultimately be decided at the U.S. Supreme Court. But before that, they will be tested at the ballot box.

The rush by both pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion forces to pass legislation before Roe v. Wade is re-litigated could have an impact on the 2020 election. Abortion has always been a voter turn-out driver for both parties.  

"In the presidential race, everyone is watching the head-to-head match-ups," says Richard Czuba of Glengariff Group, pollster for The Detroit News. "I’m keeping my eye on the motivation to vote. That’s what had impact in 2016, a lack of motivation to vote on the Democratic side."

The tenure of Donald Trump has erased any lethargy among Democrats, Czuba says, and that may mute the role abortion plays. 

"Who does it motivate? It motivates everybody," he says. "But everybody is already motivated. So it's kind of a wash."

A Gallup poll last year indicated the nation is evenly divided among those who consider themselves pro-life and pro-choice, at 48 percent each. But within those categories are about one-third of the electorate who are flexible in their views, and are open to varying levels of limitations on abortion rights.

And that's the group that will be fought for in 2020.

"Right to Life is trying to shift conversation to the act," Czuba says. "They're trying to shift away from it being a medical procedure, and paint it more as a barbaric act."

Precisely, says Genevieve Marnon of Right to Life Michigan. That's why the laws passed last week by the Michigan Legislature, which face promised vetoes from Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, focused on banning the dismemberment procedure commonly used in second term abortion, but would not ban abortions, as was the case in Alabama and Missouri. 

 "If people understand what this specific procedure does, attitudes change," she says. "It's torture, it's barbaric. There's no room for this in a civilized society."

The strategy shift is aided by the passage of laws in Virginia, New York and Vermont that legalize abortion right up to the point of birth. Public support drops off considerably for late-term abortions.

Since Roe v. Wade, the pro-life movement concentrated on changing the law, allowing the debate to center on women's rights and away from the act, which has become normalized. 

"I actually thank Vermont, Virginia and New York for passing those laws," Marnon says. "A lot of people had no idea babies could be aborted up to the time of birth. The other side had done a great job of controlling the narrative to skirt around the reality of abortion. We want to bring It back to what it is you're choosing."

Czuba doubts the strategy will result in new votes for anti-abortion candidates in 2020, when a Right-to-Life citizens initiative could be on the ballot in Michigan.

"It doesn’t do much on the Republican side to bring college educated women back into the fold," he says. "It's not going to play well in Oakland County."

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