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Abortion front and centre in US presidential election

US Vice President Kamala Harris flew to Tucson Arizona on Friday to unleash the Democrats new attack phrase – the “Trump Abortion Ban”.

You are going to hear this one a lot in the coming months.

Just minutes before, Donald Trump speaking in Mar-a-Largo in Florida, said he would not sign into law a national ban on abortion, if he wins the presidential election in November.

He said it was not necessary because he had “broken” Roe V Wade, the 1972 Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalised abortion in all 50 states, and credited the three Supreme Court Judges he appointed with overturning the ruling almost two years ago.

He said: “We gave it back to the states,” describing how individual states are changing their laws.

“Some better than others,” he added.

But, he said the matter was moving towards what he called a “beautiful harmony” between the two sides in the abortion debate.

Ms Harris said Mr Trump had stated he would sign a national ban on abortion in 2019

Ms Harris was straight in with a rebuttal: “Enough of the gaslighting.”

The vice president reminded her audience that in 2019 Mr Trump said he would sign a national ban if Congress passed such a law and then quoted Maya Angelou’s line “if someone tells you who they are, you should believe them”.

Mr Trump was asked by a reporter if he was pro-choice or pro-life to which he responded “you know the answer to that,” before swinging the answer back to the role of states in determining abortion law.

It has been a difficult week for Mr Trump on a pure election issue which is distinct from the legal issues he faces, starting with his first criminal trial next week.

Arizona is the latest state in which the presidential election and abortion law have collided.

The fallout from this particular collision is still unclear, but with little more than 10,000 votes separating Mr Biden from Mr Trump in the 2020 election, anything – literally anything – can swing this swingiest of swing states in either direction.

Mr Biden hopes abortion will be that “anything” and deliver the state for him in November.

Up until this week, conventional wisdom was tending to the view that Mr Trump will win Arizona in November.

Despite all the craziness around the 2022 midterm and governor elections in the state, despite the indictments of the former president on criminal charges, despite the debunking of conspiracy theories about electoral interference – Mr Trump was looking good in the state.

Good enough to have a better than evens chance of regaining the state he lost to Mr Biden in 2020 by such a narrow margin.

Mr Biden has promised to push for a federal law that would re-instate the nationwide effect of Roe V Wade

Kari Lake, the ex-TV news anchor and Mr Trump ultra loyalist who lost the governorship election two years ago, is leading in the polls against her Democratic rival for the state’s vacant seat in the US Senate, which becomes free when Independent (and former Democrat) Kyrsten Sinema leaves politics in the autumn.

But then came the collision that has both Republican figures looking and sounding less assured – abortion.

In the topsy-turvey world of current US politics, a practicing Catholic president is gung-ho on abortion rights, promising to push for a federal law that would reinstate the nationwide effect of Roe V Wade, while a nominally conservative challenger who had been claiming credit for enabling the overturning of Roe V Wade is now struggling with the implications of the outcome – that it is upsetting a large number of voters whom he needs to lock in, if he is to win in November, namely women.

Seven states will decide the outcome of the election – the so-called “battleground” states.

Arizona is one of them.

That is why the Democratic Party and the Biden campaign immediately increased advertisement spending upon hearing of the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the state’s current 15-week abortion limit and as a result re-instate an 1864 law that banned abortion in all circumstances except where the life of the mother was threatened.

It also criminalises any medical staff that take part in an abortion, with sentences running from a minimum of two years to a maximum of five years in prison.

The Biden campaign in Arizona released a searing TV advertisement on Monday, in which a Texas woman tearfully described almost dying after she was denied an abortion following a miscarriage.

Across a black screen, the words “Donald Trump did this” flash as her sobs continue in the background.

A woman holds a pro-life sign as she listens to Mr Trump speak at a Republican Party Convention (File image)

Mr Trump has been forced to address the issue – first in a statement on abortion on Monday, then in press questions during a campaign trip to Georgia, where he said the Arizona Supreme Court had gone too far.

Then on Friday in his own home.

Mr Trump had attempted to neutralise the issue on Monday, saying that abortion rights should be left up to individual states and reiterating his support for exceptions in cases of rape, incest and threats to the mother’s life.

A day later, the Arizona Supreme Court threw out the state’s 15-week limit in favour of an 1864 law that predates Arizonan statehood.

It also predates the vote for women.

Barrett Marson, a Republican political strategist in Arizona, called the ruling an “earthquake of epic proportions” that would endanger Republicans up and down the ballot in November.

“Trump said ‘Throw it to the states,'” Mr Marson said.

“Well, look what happened,” he added.

Democrats have made clear their intention to put abortion front and centre in the November election, two years after the Supreme Court – powered by a conservative majority that Mr Trump installed – overturned the landmark 1973 Roe V Wade decision and ruled that abortion was not constitutionally protected and therefore available in all states.

Instead, the court said it was a matter for individual states to decide.

Some states, in anticipation of Roe V Wade being overturned had passed “trigger laws” that brought in abortion bans alongside new laws that would come into effect automatically on the overturning of Roe V Wade.

Others had old state laws that banned abortion that had been left to wither on the vine, but could be revived by states after the 2022 ruling.

By the start of last week, 17 States had moved to restrict abortion since the 2022 ruling returned the power to them.

On Tuesday, Arizona became poised to be the eighteenth state to restrict abortion.

That Supreme Court decision galvanised Democratic voters – particularly a key demographic, suburban women voters – and was widely credited with helping the party outperform expectations in the 2022 congressional midterm election.

They believe there is enough energy in the issue to power a Biden-Harris re-election bid.

Mr Trump is also facing flak from both sides of the abortion debate

Now that the election is effectively on – Mr Trump and Mr Biden have the delegate votes in the bag – there is no point in keeping the powder dry until November: when something like Arizona crops up, the Democrats are going to use it to their own advantage.

And they have decided to make the issue personal to Mr Trump.

They want Mr Trump to own the decision in the Dobbs case, the one that overturned Roe V Wade.

And they want the voters to know it because a majority of American voters – by roughly two to one – are in favour of the kind of abortion rights Row V Wade gave them.

Whatever issues they have about the exact laws on abortion, that majority does not want to see those rights taken away and that is the nerve the Democrats are going to keep hitting.

Mr Trump is also facing flak from the other side – the anti-abortion activists of the pro-life movement.

Ms Conway (L) warned Mr Trump (R) of the issues arising from accepting the decision of individual states (File image)

According to the Washington Post, Mr Trump’s former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway warned him that accepting whatever the individual states decide implicitly supports those states that allow terminations up to birth.

He would also have to support states like Florida and South Dakota and Arkansas, which only allow abortions up to six weeks into a pregnancy – a position which Mr Trump is known to disagree with.

He is reported to personally favour a 16-week cut off point in federal law, something his campaign said no decision had been made about.

The Democrats are making exactly the argument Ms Conway warned Mr Trump about.

They are attacking him for supporting the states rights to choose abortion law in order to tie him to whatever contradictory or electorally unappealing decisions come up.

For example, Florida which is another state where Democrats hope abortion may be kind to them.

Two weeks ago, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the current abortion law which has a 15-week limit and by extension cleared the way for a six-week limit which new legislation signed by Governor Ron DeSantis will institute.

Mr Trump had called the six-week ban a “terrible idea”.

However, according to Democratic Party campaigners, he is stuck with it now.

In the same ruling, the Florida Supreme Court also cleared the way for a referendum, which could be held on the same day as the presidential election, that would constitutionally protect the right to abortion in Florida law.

These two decisions in Florida have ignited abortion as a rallying issue for Democrats in the state.

Some even think it could be enough to put the state in play in November’s election, becoming effectively the eighth battleground state.

Florida could flip from Republican to Democrat in the autumn, purely because of abortion.

It seems a long shot, the state has become solidly Republican since the days of the Bush-Gore “hanging chad” election drama in 2000 and more latterly Mr DeSantis has cleaned up with a very determined right-wing conservatism.

But the abortion issue has certainly put gas in the tank of an otherwise demoralised Florida Democratic Party.

While Republican strategists want to fight the election on the issues they can win on such as the economy and immigration.

The Democrats want to run on abortion.

Ms Harris’s speech in Tucson on Friday was exactly that.

It was also a revelation – an energised, reborn figure – she gave the kind of performance that few, if any, have glimpsed since she took office.

Ms Lake previously praised the 1864 law banning abortion (File image)

Mr Trump is not the only Republican looking rattled and on the run over abortion.

Ms Lake, running for the US Senate in Arizona, had previously praised the 1864 law banning abortion.

“I’m incredibly thrilled that we are going to have a great law already on the books,” she said in 2022, citing the law by its Arizona code number.

But after the state Supreme Court ruling, Ms Lake denounced it.

She said it was “out of step with Arizonans” and called on state politicians to “come up with a solution Arizonans can support”.

When a political performer like Ms Lake makes a U-turn like that, in a political hornet’s nest like Arizona, you know abortion is going to be a big issue in November’s election.

But how big of an issue and in what states?

That is all part of the coming drama in the autumn.

But the positioning is being done right now.

Remember, among Arizona’s 4 million registered voters, the gap between Mr Trump and Mr Biden was just 10,000 last time.

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