It’s been nearly 50 years since the Roe v. Wade case when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed women to seek an abortion if they chose to do so, a News and Tribune article said. The precedent case was reversed earlier this summer and the Supreme Court is permitting states to interpret and add legislation based on how they view abortion.
Indiana was the first state to pass legislation nearly reversing the entire precedent in a special session during the summer, effectively shifting the power of legislation back to a state decision.
Depending on the state majority party, one can expect to see conservative or liberal legislation put in place.
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Gerald Wright, an emeritus professor of political science at IU, said much of the increase in state discretion is attributable to the conservative influence in Supreme Court. This shift in power could seriously affect minorities and women since the overturn of part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 and Roe v. Wade decision earlier this year. As a result of the Voting Rights Act, many states in the South decreased the electoral power of black voters, he said.
For a liberal legislature, he said they’ll make it easy to vote, and for a conservative legislature, they’re going to make it harder.
“If you’re a conservative, you’re going to applaud the decisions because you can make decisions conservatives like,” Wright said. “And if you’re a Democrat or liberal, you’re going to be horrified by these decisions because they’re taking away rights we have.
He said usually the government expands rights, and this is one of the few times in American history where it is visibly contracting rights.
On the Supreme Court level, the majority will see Roe v. Wade and other such cases in a conservative lens. They do it in good conscience, he said, but sometimes it’s easier to predict how they’ll vote more than others based on public platforms.
“This is part of our federal system,” Steven Webster, an associate professor of political science at IU Bloomington said. “States are the laboratories of democracy and the idea in this sort of ideal sense is that the best policies would make their way to the top and we could apply these things on a national level.”
He said states tend to copy each other in terms of political issues and partisan responses.
“The reality is that at a national level, in Congress, we see lots of gridlock,” Webster said. “Democrats and Republicans are increasingly looking to the states to enact their own agendas.”
He said the gridlock in the federal government increases the ability of state legislatures to influence over time. In terms of political issues, he said legislatures will vote on which party controls the majority power in a state.
Webster said the trends of polarization suggest Republican-controlled states will continue moving to the right-wing ideology and Democratic states will continue to the left.
Similarly, with the current iteration of the Supreme Court, the majority favors giving power to the states more than the national government, by philosophy alone.
“This was the sort of rationale behind the Dobbs decision that reversed Roe V Wade, which is that states should have control over if abortion is legal,” Webster said. “So, I don't think it's anything to do with the institution of the Supreme Court; it’s just the conservative majority on the current version of the Supreme Court.”
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He said the ability of states to pass laws at state level isn’t new, but there’s more attention about the decisions because of the Dobbs case being a high-profile, salient issue.
Jeffrey Harden, an associate professor in the department of political science at the University of Notre Dame agreed and said state legislatures have been able to do a lot of this even when there were directives from the federal government.
“When Roe v. Wade is in place, you’ve got this nationwide right to abortion on at least some level, and the state legislatures that wanted to restrict abortion rights still found ways to make it more difficult,” Harden said.
Harden said there’s certainly a positive correlation between the conservatism of the state government and the conservatism of the policy that comes out of that government, but it’s not a perfect correlation.
Moving forward, he said it’s important to consider the unintended consequences that come out of state legislatures making policy changes.
If for instance, a given state has a big majority in favor of abortion rights and legislature enacts restrictions, he said people might be inclined to go out of state for abortions or the election turnouts in future campaigns might change.
“We’re already seeing an increase in that in some areas,” Harden said. “There’s kind of a second level of effects in this Supreme Court ruling that can definitely shape the landscape on this issue and on other big issues in the next several years.”