Port: Could overturning Roe v Wade make North Dakota a blue state?

If Roe goes, make no mistake that we will see a dramatic reshuffling of American politics.

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An anti-abortion protester stands outside the Red River Women's Clinic in downtown Fargo. Forum file photo

MINOT, N.D. — The answer to the question in the headline is "probably not," but the political implications of the case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court are enormous and could result in a political groundswell that will drive some unexpected outcomes.

Allow me to explain why.

Yesterday SCOTUS heard oral arguments in a case that involves a 15-week abortion ban passed by the State of Mississippi.

Many feel this case could be the impetus for the nine justices to overturn the long-standing Roe v Wade precedent which made most restrictions on abortions unconstitutional. Certainly, the questioning from the justices during this week's oral arguments made it seem like a majority of the justices were leaning toward at least weakening Roe if not striking it down entirely.

Trying to guess at what the courts are going to do on a particular case is a good way to end up looking foolish, so instead of prognosticating, let's talk about what the ramifications could be when the court acts.


There are a lot of Republicans rooting for an end to Roe, and that's understandable given how central the pro-life cause is in conservative politics, but the political fallout from that victory might not be to their liking.

Speaking generally, there are three possible outcomes from all this.


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First, the courts strike down the Mississippi law and uphold the status quo as defined by Roe and later precedents set in cases like Planned Parenthood v Casey . If that happens, nothing changes in terms of our nation's political dynamics, but I don't think that's going to happen. If the courts wanted to maintain the status quo, I don't think they would have taken up this case in the first place.

Second, the courts uphold Roe but make some incremental changes to abortion precedent. That would still be a win for the pro-life crowd, but they aren't likely to perceive it that way. Thanks to the Trump appointments to SCOTUS, the court has perhaps the most favorable ideological makeup for the pro-life movement since the Roe decision was first handed down. If they can't win with this court, can they ever? This outcome would muddle abortion politics. It would become, as a practical matter, a far less motivating issue. The pro-lifers got their shot, they won a consolation prize, and the political world moves on. At least for a while.

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Volunteer escorts use umbrellas to shield patients into the the Red River Women's Clinic in downtown Fargo. Robin Huebner / The Forum
Robin Huebner / The Forum

The third outcome is, without doubt, the most consequential. If the courts strike down Roe, the political implications would be profound. States across the nation would implement new abortion restrictions. Many, like North Dakota, already have those sort of laws on the books and they will go into effect once Roe is defeated. Other states will initiate new debates over abortion restrictions.


And the pro-choice left is going to be motivated like they haven't been in a long time.

For years, the pro-life movement has had the edge. Amy Littlefield, writing in The New York Times , described the pro-choice movement as disorganized and fading in the face of a vibrant and energetic pro-life movement that, frankly, has been winning. They've been getting pro-life bills passed at the state level, with an increasing degree of success at getting them to stand up in the courts. At the national level, Donald Trump probably doesn't win the election in 2016 without his promise to appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court for the express purpose of getting Roe overturned.

That could change very quickly. One reason why the pro-lifers have been so much more passionate, and more focused, is that they've been on the losing side for most of this debate.

As long as Roe was the law of the land, they had a clear objective.

But once Roe is gone? The object of their focus is gone, too.

Protesters stand outside the Red River Women's Clinic on Wednesday, Sept. 25, the start of 40 Days for Life, a national anti-abortion campaign that runs until Nov. 3. Kim Hyatt / The Forum

One immediate result will be a renewed vigor on the pro-choice side, particularly at the state level. Where they previously relied on the courts as a bulwark against what the pro-lifers were doing with state-level policies, they'll now have to engage in state politics to either block abortion restrictions or overturn them.


The pro-lifers will have to shift from offense to defense, and that's not an easy pivot.

Complicating it will be a political retrenchment. Republicans have long built their success on a shaky coalition between social conservatives and fiscal conservatives. If Roe is gone, some of that unity may dissipate. Many social conservatives may find they align better with Democrats on other policy areas (it's no secret that large factions of the pro-life movement are pretty liberal when it comes to fiscal policy).

Fiscal conservatives, meanwhile, may not be interested in taking the heat to implement or defend abortion restrictions in the face of a reinvigorated pro-choice movement.

This will be messy, all the more so because the ideological lines, in the Trump era, were already getting blurry, but the upshot is that Democrats have an opportunity in places like North Dakota they haven't had in a long time.

Democrats, generally, are still rooting for Roe to stick. Republicans, generally, still want the precedent dumped in the trash.

But if Roe goes, make no mistake that we will see a dramatic reshuffling of American politics.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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