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Leaked Supreme Court draft opinion renews the political debate involving abortion


Protesters are marching across the United States after a leak suggests the Supreme Court could reverse the constitutional right to abortion for the first time in half a century. President Biden says this decision, if it holds, would be a radical change that could impact a whole range of private matters.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Does this mean that in Florida, they can decide they're going to pass a law saying that same-sex marriage is not permissible, it's against the law in Florida?

FADEL: For more on what overturning Roe v. Wade could mean for U.S. politics, I talked to NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: We don't know yet if abortion rights are going to be more motivating for Democratic voters than issues like immigration, inflation and crime are for Republicans and independent voters. In the past, abortion rights has always been a bigger motivator for conservatives than for liberals. The question now is, is this potential ruling a tipping point? In the short term in Washington, there's not a lot Democrats can do to secure abortion rights. Nationally, they don't have the votes to pass something in the Senate that would codify Roe. Even though Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski would presumably support that, there aren't enough votes to break the filibuster.

FADEL: Now, just yesterday, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed a ban on most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, modeled after a similar Texas law. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, it would leave abortion decisions up to the states. So let's talk about other restrictions we could see.

LIASSON: I think that you will see more legislating in conservative states. Some legislators have talked about criminalizing abortion, making it a crime to take a woman across state lines to get an abortion. Some activists on the right have talked about passing national abortion restrictions if Republicans gain control of Congress. But other conservatives are cautious and are waiting for the court to rule.

FADEL: Now, clearly, Republicans and Democrats are reacting very differently to this news. Could you break that down for us?

LIASSON: Yes. On the Democratic side, President Biden, as you heard him in that clip, are warning that the rationale behind this opinion can be used to roll back other rights that are enshrined by the courts that rely on a constitutional right to privacy, like contraception or same-sex marriage. Republicans, on the other hand, have been - at least in Washington, have been very focused on the leak, not the policy. The National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a memo to its members that was very defensive. It encouraged them to be the compassionate consensus builders on abortion policies and to stress that Republicans do not want to take away contraception or to put doctors or women in jail. It was almost as if they were very aware of public opinion on this and the fact that they haven't won the battle for hearts and minds because polls have consistently shown that public opinion is solidly behind upholding Roe. More than 50% support it. And less than 30% support overturning it.

FADEL: So if the court goes through with this decision, what does it mean for U.S. politics in the long run?

LIASSON: Well, we don't know that. But we do know that it's going to spark this bigger debate that we've been having about whether the United States is turning into a minority rule country. A majority of the justices on the court were appointed by presidents who didn't get a majority of the popular vote. And in some cases, the conservative justices were confirmed by senators representing a minority of voters. So I think you're going to hear a lot of talk about that, whether the structure of the Senate and the Electoral College and extreme gerrymandering is leading to minority rule in this country. And we'll find out if voters are comfortable with that.

FADEL: NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.