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Abortion ruling spotlights gerrymandered legislatures

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Overturning half a century of nationwide abortion legal protection, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Roe v. Wade had been misjudged and that it was time to “return the issue of abortion to the elected representatives of the people” in the states.

Whether these elected officials are truly representative of the people is a matter of debate, thanks to another High Court ruling that helped skew the oversight of state legislatures to the right or left.

In June 2019, three years before its landmark abortion ruling, the Supreme Court ruled it had no role in limiting partisan gerrymandering, in which Republicans or Democrats manipulate electoral district boundaries. to give an advantage to their candidates.

The result is that many legislatures are more strongly partisan than the state population as a whole. Gerrymandering flourished again as politicians used 2020 census data to redraw districts that could benefit their party in both this year’s election and the next decade.

In some swing states with Republican-led legislatures, like Michigan and Wisconsin, “gerrymandering is arguably the biggest reason why abortion is likely to be illegal,” said Chris Warshaw, a political scientist at the ‘George Washington University analyzing redistricting data.

Meanwhile, “in states where Democrats have Gerrymander, it will likely help make abortion laws more liberal than people would like,” he added.

A majority of Americans support access to abortion in general, although many say there should be some restrictions, according to public opinion polls.

States have sometimes been seen as laboratories of democracy – institutions most closely linked to the people where public policy is tested, takes root and potentially spreads.

Writing for the majority of the Supreme Court in its June 24 abortion decision, Justice Samuel Alito noted that 30 states had banned abortion when the Roe v. Wade of 1973 “short-circuited the democratic process”, usurped lawmakers and imposed the right to abortion throughout the country.

“Our decision refers the issue of abortion to those legislative bodies, and it allows women on both sides of the abortion issue to seek to influence the legislative process by influencing public opinion, lobbying legislators, voting and running for office,” Alito wrote.

Abortion is already an issue in Wisconsin’s gubernatorial and legislative elections. A recent Wisconsin poll showed a majority supporting legal abortion in most or all cases. But a fight is brewing over an 1849 state law — which was unenforceable until Roe v. Wade be overturned – which prohibits abortion except to save a woman’s life.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is backing a legal challenge to strike down the law, signed into law just a year after Wisconsin gained statehood. He also called a special legislative session in June to repeal it. But the Republican-led Assembly and Senate adjourned in seconds without doing anything.

Wisconsin’s legislative chambers had one of the strongest Republican advantages in the country over the past decade and are expected to continue to do so in the new districts in place for the 2022 election, according to analysis by PlanScore, an organization at nonprofit that uses voter data to assess the supporter. inclination of legislative constituencies.

“Democracy is warped in Wisconsin because of these maps,” Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer said.

In 2018, Democrats won every major state office, including governor and attorney general, in races where gerrymandering is not in play. But they were unable to overcome districts legislatures in heavily Gerrymander states since Republicans took control of the state house in the 2010 midterm elections.

“If we had a truly democratic system in Wisconsin, we would be in a different situation,” she said. “We would rescind this criminal ban on abortion at this time.”

Republican State Rep. Donna Rozar, a former cardiac nurse who supports abortion restrictions, said gerrymandering should not prevent political parties from fielding good candidates to represent their districts. She expects a vigorous campaign debate on abortion to continue through the 2023 legislative session.

“This is an issue that is so critical to come back to the states, because each state can then elect people who will represent their values.” said Rosar.

The 2010 midterm elections, two years after former President Barack Obama was elected, was a turning point for control of state houses across the country. Heading into this election, Democrats fully controlled 27 state legislatures and Republicans 14, with the rest split. But the GOP’s landslide victories have put the party in charge of redistricting in many states. In 2015, after two elections according to the new maps, Republicans fully controlled 30 legislatures and Democrats just 11.

This Republican legislative advantage largely persisted in the 2020 election, including in states that are otherwise narrowly divided between Democrats and Republicans, such as Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

In New Mexico, it is Republicans who argue that the Democratic-led legislature has pushed beyond the will of many voters on abortion policies. New Mexico’s House and Senate districts have had a sizable pro-Democratic edge over the past decade, which was even more pronounced after districts were shuffled based on the 2020 census, data shows. from PlanScore.

Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation last year repealing a dormant 1969 law that banned most abortions. After the cancellation of Roe v. Wade, she signed an executive order making New Mexico a safe port for people seeking abortions. Unlike most states, New Mexico has no restrictions on late-term abortions.

“I don’t think the majority of New Mexicans support New Mexico’s abortion policy right now,” Republican Sen. Gay Kernan said. “New Mexico is the late abortion capital of the United States, basically.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti has proposed banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy with exceptions for rape, incest and when a woman’s life is in danger. But the legislative proposal was described as dead upon arrival by Democratic Senate Whip Linda Lopez.

Michigan could provide one of the biggest tests of representative government in the new national battle against abortion.

Republicans drew Michigan’s legislative districts after the 2010 census and created such a huge advantage for their party that it may have helped the GOP maintain control of the tightly divided House, according to an analysis by the Associated Press. As in Wisconsin, Democrats in Michigan won the gubernatorial race and every other major office in the state in 2018, but could not overcome Republican-leaning legislative districts.

The dynamic has changed for this year’s elections. According to data from PlanScore, the GOP advantage has been cut in half under new legislative districts drawn by a voter-approved Citizens Redistricting Commission. That could improve Democrats’ chances of winning a chamber and influencing abortion policy.

Michigan’s Republican gubernatorial challengers generally support a 1931 state law — temporarily suspended by a judge — that bans abortions unless a woman’s health is at risk. Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who is running for re-election, wants to repeal this law.

Republican State Rep. Steve Carra said lawmakers were looking to replace it with “something that would be enforceable in the 21st century.”

“Protecting life is more important than a woman’s right to choose to take that life,” said Carra, who leads a coalition of 321 lawmakers from 35 states who had urged the Supreme Court to return the policy to abortion in the States.

Uncertain about their legislative prospects, abortion rights advocates are collecting signatures for a November ballot initiative that would create a state constitutional right to abortion, allowing its regulation only “after fetal viability.”

“This is the best chance we have to ensure access to abortion,” said Democratic State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky. “I think if this gets into the hands of voters, they’ll want to see this ballot measure succeed.”