It is at least theoretically possible that they were simply sitting at the wrong kitchen tables.
They told us the “Dobbs effect” was a mirage, that women were no longer energized around reproductive rights, that the messaging was all wrong, and that perhaps abortion was neither an economic issue nor much of a “kitchen table” issue after all. Or, at minimum, that one poll suggested as much, and that was sufficient reason to move on to the cost of gas, and crime. They told us, implicitly, that women were fickle and inconstant voters, and not to be counted on; that it was all a mirage, and that what happened this summer in Kansas and Alaska and Michigan and in the New York special election were all one-offs. All of them.
Keep women, and young voters, and voters of color, out of your modeling about rational self-interest, and you will keep being surprised. In each of the five crucial state initiatives that implicate reproductive rights under state law, abortion rights won. Voters in California, Michigan, and Vermont overwhelmingly opted to enshrine Roe in their state constitutions Tuesday night, as did ruby-red Kentucky, where abortion has been illegal since Dobbs came down in June. Montana, the fifth state to put abortion on the ballot, with a legislative referendum over its “born alive” law, which criminalizes health care providers who fail to keep newborns without a chance of survival alive for as long as possible, also appears to be headed for defeat, per the New York Times.
When the Supreme Court took away reproductive freedom from over 50 percent of the electorate with Dobbs, we were told that if we didn’t like it, we should go ahead and vote on it. Exit polls revealed that this is precisely what transpired. Exit polling from Reuters showed that 1 in 4 voters said abortion was their top issue and that about 6 out of 10 voters said they were “dissatisfied or angry” about Dobbs. Pew Research reported that 61 percent of Americans think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Efforts to go even further beyond what was laid out in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling—to protect “personhood” and to restrict birth control and to monitor miscarriages—appeal to only a tiny fragment of the population.
Anti-choice activists in Michigan tried to say it was all too “confusing”—and it was designed to be, by their side, actually—but nobody seems to have been all that confused. Instead, when everyone decided that women were “over it,” they forgot that Dobbs is barely even in its second trimester, and that is often when we’re only just beginning to feel the kicking.
None of this should diminish the concern at the number of rabid anti-choice Republicans who were voted into office this week—people like Ron DeSantis and J.D. Vance, who don’t care at all about bodily autonomy and dignity for women. And over everything else looms the promise that if the GOP wins control of the House or Senate, the likelihood of a nationwide abortion restriction or ban is coming next. As election experts continue to point out, gerrymandered districts and the Supreme Court are the other big story this week, and that is a story that continues to undermine the will of the voters nationwide.
But and still. If women showed up for Democrats, motivated at least in part by new and visceral fears about their privacy and equality and dignity and bodily autonomy, it will mean that Republicans advocating for ever more draconian incursions into matters that include birth control and interstate travel should have another think. You can suppress and gerrymander and intimidate voters, and still they will come for you, if the ideas you stand for are anathema to any meaningful definition of liberty. Women were told unequivocally in June that their right to privacy—their right to family autonomy and bodily integrity—was not enshrined in the United States Constitution. So, they organized and connected and worked to protect it in their own state constitutions.
I heard from women who spent the entire summer postcarding and phone banking and registering voters post-Dobbs, and most of them never doubted for a moment that they were invisible to pollsters and pundits and journalism as it is currently practiced. The spiraling story about who cared about what didn’t stop them. Bless them, every one.
For the voters who didn’t normalize or integrate or “move on” from Dobbs or from the contempt with which women were treated by the Supreme Court this summer, the midterms will now serve as a reminder that you can be an afterthought to Samuel Alito, and an afterthought to the pollsters and pundits, and still be a force of nature. That isn’t the only lesson of these midterms, but it’s certainly a central one.