A pro-choice protester on the steps of City Hall following the overturning of Roe v. Wade on July 6, 2022, in downtown Los Angeles. | Wesley Lapointe/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
The Supreme Court’s decision could help Democrats in 17 tight midterm contests.
In the wake of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Democrats have repeatedly proposed the same solution: voting in the midterms.
“If you want to change the circumstances for women and … girls in this country, please go out and vote,” President Joe Biden emphasized in a speech on Friday. “For God’s sake, there’s an election in November.”
As Democrats stare down the typical backlash the president’s party experiences in the midterms, they hope abortion rights will energize voters in key battleground states and districts and combat this dynamic, helping them keep their majorities in the House and Senate.
Whether it does remains to be seen: There are still several months before the midterm elections, and voters are focused on a number of issues, including the economy. According to multiple polls conducted in June and July, inflation remains a top issue for many voters, though abortion rights is highly ranked as well. Giving Democratic lawmakers hope, too, are other surveys that have found Democrats are more likely to say they’ll vote in the midterms because of abortion rights compared to Republicans.
It’s worth noting that most of these surveys were national, and that abortion rights could have a bigger impact at the regional level, particularly in states where abortion rights are actively being threatened or restricted. When it comes to congressional races, the issue is likely to have the largest effect in swing Senate and House seats where candidates are in extremely tight contests — races in which even small shifts in turnout and enthusiasm could make the difference.
Here are 17 of the House and Senate races where abortion rights could be a major factor.
House of Representatives
On the House side, abortion rights will likely affect races in a number of battleground districts including blue-leaning districts where Democratic incumbents are defending their seats, Republican ones that Biden would have won in 2020, and hotly contested open seats that are considered toss-ups.
There are dozens of races like that, including the nine following contests, which are among the starkest illustrations of the dynamics playing out across the country. (Partisan ratings for each district are from FiveThirtyEight’s redistricting tracker.)
Democrat-held suburban districts
VA-7 (D +2): Abortion rights became a central issue in Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s northern Virginia battleground district shortly after Roe was overturned when audio emerged of her GOP opponent Yesli Vega suggesting that people who are raped may be less likely to get pregnant.
Spanberger denounced these comments and emphasized her support for “a woman’s right to choose and the fundamental right to privacy.” The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), House Democrats’ campaign arm, has also launched advertising in the district that calls out Vega’s remarks, while other regional Democrats have described the statements as disqualifying. Previously, Vega called the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade an “amazing victory.”
Nathan Howard/Getty Images Yesli Vega and her husband, Rene Vega, celebrate her GOP primary win for the Seventh Congressional District on June 21, 2022.
Spanberger’s district — which is more favorable to Democrats than it was in 2020 as a result of redistricting — is one of several Virginia swing districts the party flipped in 2018, where Democrats hope a focus on abortion rights will motivate voters. Virginia’s Second District, which is currently represented by Rep. Elaine Luria and which leans more heavily Republican after redistricting, is another.
NV-3 (D +2): Nevada’s Third District is among the top Republican targets this cycle. As part of her campaign, incumbent Rep. Susie Lee has emphasized her support for abortion rights in recent weeks. Polling has shown Lee, and Republican opponent April Becker, in an extremely close race in the Democrat-leaning swing district, which contains several Las Vegas suburbs.
Following the Supreme Court’s announcement of the Dobbs decision, Lee made a $500,000 television and digital ad buy accusing Becker as focused on “making all abortion illegal.” Becker has said she favors a ban on abortion except in the cases of rape, incest, and threats to the mother’s health.
Lee is also campaigning on the message that electing Democrats like her would help block Republicans from attempting to implement a national abortion ban, a policy some GOP leaders have suggested they’d advocate for once in control of Congress.
KS-03 (R +3): Rep. Sharice Davids is defending a seat that’s become more conservative after redistricting, and she’s made her opposition to both the Supreme Court decision and a state-level amendment to curtail abortion rights well-known.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc./Getty Images Rep. Sharice Davids speaks with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer about supply chain and infrastructure in June 2022.
After the Supreme Court decision, Davids was among the lawmakers mobilizing people to knock on doors and vote against the amendment to Kansas’s constitution, which would “affirm there is no Kansas constitutional right to abortion.” The measure is up for a vote on August 2.
Davids’s opponent will also be selected on August 2 and is likely to be businesswoman Amanda Adkins, who identifies as pro-life and a supporter of the constitutional amendment. Davids’s district includes part of Kansas City and its suburbs, and is one of the places where protecting abortion rights could be especially relevant depending on the outcome of the amendment vote.
Vulnerable Republican incumbents in Biden districts
OH-1 (D +3): Rep. Steve Chabot is among the Republican incumbents now facing serious scrutiny for past stances on abortion rights. Chabot, along with many House Republicans, signed an amicus brief calling for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, and co-sponsored anti-abortion legislation like the Heartbeat Protection Act, which would have enabled law enforcement to arrest doctors who perform abortions.
Chabot’s opponent, Cincinnati City Council member Greg Landsman, highlighted this contrast while backing a recent measure that allows city employees’ health insurance to cover the cost of an abortion.
Because Chabot is running in a district that President Joe Biden would have won, he is viewed as one of the more vulnerable Republican candidates this cycle. Overall, redistricting has made this district — which now includes all of Cincinnati — more blue. Democrats hope those factors, plus the end of Roe, will help them flip OH-01.
CA-27 (D +8): Rep. Mike Garcia also faces a tough reelection fight in California’s 27th District, which leans slightly more Democratic than his old one. Garcia supported the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe and backed legislation like the Life at Conception Act, which bars all abortions.
Garcia is also running in a district that Biden won in 2020 and will be up against Democrat Christy Smith this fall for the third time. Smith has emphasized her support for abortion rights and joined recent protests of the Supreme Court’s decision.
Another southern California Republican, Rep. David Valadao, who also represents a district Biden previously won, is expected to encounter similar dynamics in his race this fall.
MI-03 (D +3): Rep. Peter Meijer, an anti-abortion Republican, is running in a district that is now more of a toss-up following redistricting.
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc./Getty Images Rep. Peter Meijer speaks at the Capitol with the Republican Climate Caucus in June 2021.
He joined House Republicans in signing the amicus brief supporting the overturn of Roe v. Wade and has voted against the Women’s Health Protection Act on the House floor. Meijer still needs to win his primary against the more conservative John Gibbs in August; Gibbs has called the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe “great news” for women.
Hillary Scholten, the expected Democratic opponent, has said she would back codifying Roe if elected. “This is a choice for women to make in conjunction with their families, their doctor, their own religious preferences and not for unattached politicians to be making in Washington or Lansing,” Scholten told the Detroit News.
Contested open seats
NY-19 (R +1): A special election in New York’s 19th District this August could offer an early look at the impact that abortion rights could have on races across the country. The August 23 special election for Antonio Delgado’s seat, a battleground district that leans slightly Republican, is set to reveal just how energized Democratic voters are.
Ulster County official and Democrat Pat Ryan has already committed to “nationalize this race” and released a television ad on defending abortion rights. Republican candidate Marc Molinaro has said he would support strengthening laws that protect abortion rights when running for the New York governor’s seat in the past; he has balked at backing the Reproductive Health Act, a state bill that would have expanded abortion rights, however.
PA-17 (D +1): Due to Rep. Conor Lamb’s decision not to run for reelection in the district, Democrat and voting rights attorney Chris Deluzio is vying for this seat against Republican and small-business owner Jeremy Shaffer, an anti-abortion Republican. Shaffer has previously supported a federal constitutional amendment that would bar the right to an abortion, though he has not backed other federal legislation.
“The contrast is obvious. He’s an extremist on abortion,” Deluzio said in an interview with Pittsburgh local news affiliate KDKA.
Pennsylvania’s 17th District, which includes suburbs of Pittsburgh, has shifted slightly more blue after redistricting, giving Democrats a narrow edge in the region, one a focus on abortion rights could increase. Deluzio has said he believes that women across the ideological spectrum are “fired up” and ready to vote in defense of abortion rights.
CO-08 (R +3): Colorado’s Eighth District will see a contest between conservative state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, who has celebrated the Dobbs decision, and Democratic state legislator and physician Yadira Caraveo, who has supported Gov. Jared Polis’s efforts to protect abortion access in the state.
Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post/Getty Images State Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer speaks with farmers at a May 2022 campaign stop in Greeley, Colorado.
“As a doctor, I am appalled that GOP politicians in Republican-led states are limiting women’s freedom to choose and providers’ ability to provide care,” Caraveo said in a statement. Kirkmeyer, meanwhile, described the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe as an “exciting day.”
The district, which leans slightly Republican, is a purple battleground.
Democratic Senate candidates are trying to put abortion rights front and center in the months before the midterms. Republicans, meanwhile, are tiptoeing around the issue and largely refrain from acknowledging the role they could have in further restricting abortion rights if elected, suggesting concern over being hurt politically on the issue: At the moment, a majority of American voters don’t support outlawing abortion entirely. Instead of abortion, Republicans have worked to shift the conversation to issues like the economy and gas prices, where they might have more of an edge over Democrats.
Though abortion rights are on the ballot across the country, the Supreme Court’s decision might tip the scales in close contests and in purple states, potentially helping Democrats reinvigorate campaigns that were struggling against the headwinds of an unpopular president and inflation and mitigate a predicted red wave.
Wisconsin: Incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson has been a vocal opponent of abortion rights, and four Democrats — Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson — are competing for the opportunity to challenge him in the August 9 primaries. Johnson has suggested that people who don’t like the state’s abortion laws can move and has supported a federal abortion ban after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The Democratic candidates all oppose any kind of restrictions on abortion.
Defeating Johnson might improve Democrats’ chances of getting the 50 votes they would need in the Senate to carve out an exception to the filibuster and codify Roe, though they would still need to keep the House to make that happen. Johnson’s opposition to abortion was under Democratic attack even before the Supreme Court’s decision, which has now led to the suspension of abortion services in the state.
Ohio: Though Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan was once anti-abortion, he changed his position in 2015 after listening to the stories of women who sought abortions. Now the Democratic nominee for the centrist state’s open Senate seat is calling state Republicans’ revival of a previously blocked 2019 state law that banned abortions after about six weeks “extremism.”
He’s trying to frame the overturning of Roe in the context of his core campaign promises: “We built a campaign around issues like freedom, economic freedom, good middle class jobs and wages, and making sure we rebuild the middle class. This is an issue of freedom as well,” he told the Washington Post.
Matthew Hatcher/Bloomberg.Getty Images Tim Ryan speaks with local business owners at a July 2022 campaign stop in Toledo, Ohio.
His opponent, Trump-endorsed Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance, has praised the Supreme Court decision and hailed a “new phase of the pro-life movement” in the US. But he’s not making the decision a focal point of his campaign, redirecting to issues like rising fuel costs.
Nevada: Incumbent Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto has been very explicit about the stakes of the race for reproductive rights, saying that keeping her seat is key to “protecting our rights in this country” and “preventing a federal abortion ban.” For now, abortion is protected in Nevada, a socially liberal state, until 24 weeks of pregnancy under a 1990 referendum that she supported. She has also introduced legislation that would help protect the privacy of people who receive reproductive health care.
Former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, the Republican Senate nominee, supported the Supreme Court’s decision and said that “Roe v. Wade was always a joke.” But he’s also trying to avoid the subject of abortion, which he told the Associated Press won’t “distract voters from unaffordable prices, rising crime or the border crisis.”
Georgia: Abortion was a central issue in Georgia’s Senate race before the Supreme Court ruled, with Republicans attacking incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock over his support of abortion rights and Democrats firing back against vehemently anti-abortion GOP nominee Herschel Walker. Warnock, a pastor and arguably the most vulnerable Democrat in the Senate, has said that the decision to get an abortion should be made by pregnant people and their doctors.
Walker, on the other hand, has opposed abortion even in cases of rape or incest or where the mother’s life is at risk. “There’s no exception in my mind,” Walker said in June, The Hill reported. “Like I say, I believe in life. I believe in life.”
Pennsylvania: The perennial battleground state of Pennsylvania presents one of Senate Democrats’ best chances at a pickup given that incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is retiring. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee, has said that he would eliminate the filibuster and codify abortion rights and that he opposes any restrictions on abortion. “This has been settled for 50 years and is just plain common-sense,” he said in a statement after the decision.
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images Lt. Gov. John Fetterman poses with supporters at a May 2022 campaign stop in Lemont Furnace, Pennsylvania.
Trump-backed candidate Mehmet Oz, the GOP nominee, initially celebrated the leak of the draft decision by saying that he would support legislation that advanced the interests of the anti-abortion movement. But he backtracked after the actual decision, saying in a statement that he respected people “with a different view” and recognized that it was a controversial topic. During the primary, his GOP opponents attacked him for having insufficiently conservative views on abortion and other Republican priorities.
North Carolina: Democrat and former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who’s running for retiring Republican Sen. Richard Burr’s seat, has been sounding the alarm on abortion rights since the draft version of the Supreme Court’s decision was leaked to Politico in May. She says the Senate should act to codify abortion rights, but has stopped short of embracing proposals to pack the Supreme Court.
Her opponent, Republican Rep. Ted Budd, who has been endorsed by Trump, has been comparatively reluctant to talk about the issue. He praised the Supreme Court decision for returning power to the states but has indicated that he wouldn’t support a nationwide ban on abortion.
North Carolina has become a critical abortion safe haven in the South, with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signing an executive order this week aimed at protecting access in the state, even for out-of-state travelers.
New Hampshire: The New Hampshire primaries aren’t until September 13, but the five Republican frontrunners in the Senate race have indicated when pressed at a debate last month that they wouldn’t support a nationwide abortion ban.
Incumbent Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, who is facing a tough reelection campaign, has suggested that voters shouldn’t take them at their word: “My opponents have made themselves very, very clear: if elected, they would work to eviscerate a woman’s fundamental rights. In the world’s greatest democracy, they would make women second class citizens,” she told reporters after the Supreme Court decision came down.
Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images Sen. Maggie Hassan speaks during a May 2021 meeting of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Arizona: Incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly hasn’t talked about abortion rights as much as other Democratic Senate candidates. But he’s made his stance clear, signing on to a letter — along with Bennet, Hassan, and Cortez Masto — that called on Biden to take immediate action in response to the Supreme Court’s decision.
“We call on you to take every step available to your Administration, across federal agencies, to help women access abortions and other reproductive health care, and to protect those who will face the harshest burdens from this devastating and extreme decision,” they wrote.
There are several Republicans in contention to challenge Kelly in the August 2 primary, and they’ve made Kelly’s support of abortion rights a key line of attack. Blake Masters, a venture capitalist, has said that Kelly “wants to force your state to allow it.” And Mark Brnovich, the state’s attorney general, supported sending Roe to the “ash heap of history where it belongs.”