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July 02, 2014 12:56 PM Better Not Gloat Too Much Over Hobby Lobby, Republicans

By Ed Kilgore

At TNR John Judis reminds us that the last time Republicans embraced a Supreme Court decision restricting reproductive rights, it bit ‘em in the butt:

In July 1989, the court handed down Webster v. Reproductive Health Services upholding Missouri’s right to restrict the use of state funds and employees in performing, funding, or even counseling on abortions. It was the first court decision restricting the rights bestowed under Roe v. Wade.

The nation, of course, was divided on the issue of abortion. How the issue played politically depended on which side of the debate saw itself under attack, and in this case the Webster decision mobilized pro-choice supporters. The right to abortion became a hot issue in the 1990 elections, and in the final results, abortion-rights supporters came out ahead. There were several telltale races. In Florida, Democrat Lawton Chiles defeated incumbent Republican Governor Bob Martinez, who, in the wake of Webster, had championed restrictive laws for Florida.
In the Texas governor’s race, Democrat Ann Richards defeated Republican incumbent Clayton Williams. According to polls, Richards, who made opposition to Webster a centerpiece of her campaign, garnered over 60 percent of the women’s vote, including 25 percent of Republican women. In the final tally, abortion-rights supporters, running against or replacing anti-abortion candidates, secured a net gain of eight seats in the House of Representatives, two Senate seats, and four statehouses.
What was also striking was the overall size of the gender gap. According to the National Election Studies survey, there was no gender gap between male and female supporters of Democratic congressional candidates in 1988. In 1990, gender gap was ten percentage points—the highest ever. All in all, 69 percent of women voters backed Democratic congressional candidates that year. Of course, there were other issues than Webster that were moving votes, but there is no doubt that the court ruling played an important role that year.

Now it’s true Webster turned on state abortion retrictions and thus was directly relevant to state election battles. But on the other hand, Hobby Lobby involves the elevation of corporate rights over reproductive rights, which is not exactly alien to the political battleground of 2014.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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