References to abortion in TV political advertising surged after Politico published a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion last week that would overturn Roe v. Wade, according to a report published Thursday by the Wesleyan Media Project, as the possible rollback of nationwide abortion access sends an already-charged issue to the political fore.
The proportion of pro-Democratic House ads that mentioned abortion rose from 6.2% before May 3—when Politico published the draft—to 22% on and after that date, while the share of pro-Republican House ads that referenced abortion rose from 13.5% to 14.5% over the same period, according to the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks political ads and is led by government and political science professors from Wesleyan University and other schools.
The effect was also dramatic in Democratic Senate contests, where the proportion of ads mentioning abortion rose more than tenfold from 0.6% to 6.1%, but the share of Republican Senate ads dropped slightly from 12.2% to 11.8%, according to the report.
The percentage of Republican gubernatorial ads that mentioned abortion more than doubled from 4.4% to 10% after the draft ruling was leaked, and the percentage of Democratic gubernatorial ads increased moderately from 10.3% to 12.8%, the study found.
The Wesleyan Media Project analyzed data gathered by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group pertaining to ads from January 6, 2021, to May 8, 2022.
Views on abortion rights are split along partisan lines: 80% of Democrats think abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 38% of Republicans, according to survey published May 6 by Pew Research Center. Overall, 61% of adults think abortion should mostly be legal.
The draft opinion published by Politico—which Chief Justice John Roberts has said is authentic but isn’t final—was tied to a case regarding a Mississippi abortion law that the high court is expected to rule on by July. The potential reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision—which held that a woman’s right to have an abortion is constitutionally protected—has sparked renewed debate around abortion, providing advertising material for candidates on both sides of the aisle. In recent ads, some Democrats claim Republicans are “punishing women” while some Republicans accuse their opponents of “aiding and abetting murder.” Although some Republican federal lawmakers are reportedly working with anti-abortion activists to push a national abortion ban if Republicans retake control of Congress after the November midterms, other abortion opponents have argued it would be better to pursue state-level prohibitions. Meanwhile, Democrats have pushed to codify Roe v. Wade into federal law, though they’ve struggled to pass a nationwide abortion rights bill in the Senate. If the situation resolves itself with neither national protections for abortion rights nor a national ban on abortion, the legality of the procedure could fall mainly to state authorities, possibly making abortion a more decisive issue in state elections.
What To Watch For
If the Supreme Court decides to reverse Roe v. Wade, abortion would immediately become almost entirely illegal in 13 states that have passed anti-abortion “trigger laws.” On the other hand, 16 states have passed laws protecting the right to abortion even in the absence of Roe v. Wade, including four states that protect the right to abortion throughout pregnancy, according to the pro-abortion-rights Guttmacher Institute.
Debates over abortion may have spilled over into violence in Madison, Wisconsin, where a pro-abortion-rights group claimed responsibility for an arson attack on an anti-abortion nonprofit last weekend.