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How Congress responds to Roe decision may affect which party gets control in November


Today's Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade returns the question of whether abortion should be legal to the states. But President Joe Biden and many others on both sides of the issue are asking whether Congress will step in and enact any new abortion laws and whether the issue will weigh on voters as they decide which party should have control in elections this fall. NPR political correspondent Danielle Kurtzleben is following this and joins us now. Hey.


KELLY: Give us the overview of just what the reaction on Capitol Hill has been like today.

KURTZLEBEN: Well, it's - it is in many ways what you would expect. Abortion rights proponents, which is to say pretty much Democrats, are very upset. At a press conference today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was visibly and audibly very angry.


NANCY PELOSI: This is deadly serious, but we are not going to let this pass. A woman's right to choose - reproductive freedom - is on the ballot in November.

KURTZLEBEN: Now of course, on the other side of the aisle, it's pretty celebratory. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been chiefly responsible for delivering this conservative Supreme Court majority, he said in a statement that the ruling, quote, "has corrected a terrible legal and moral error."

Now, interestingly, some of the statements from some Republicans have been celebratory but with a certain caveat. For example, Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, they made statements that celebrated this but also stressed that this is not a ban, it just sends abortion back to the states. Now, you can read that a couple of ways. One is to make - that they're making the political point that this is simply the right decision, that this is how it always should have been, that Roe was wrong. And that's how one abortion rights opponent explained it to me today. But you can also simply read this as them trying to avoid making this ruling sound extreme because many, many Americans are not extreme on abortion. They are in the middle on abortion rights.

KELLY: All right. So that's what they are saying. What about what they are doing? Is Congress going to do anything, either under Democrats, who would like to protect abortion rights, or any other directions if Republicans take over?

KURTZLEBEN: Well, they'd like to, but of course, there's the filibuster. I mean, the House has passed a bill to codify abortion rights. And when Republicans controlled the House, they passed nationwide abortion restrictions. But of course, neither party has had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate for a while. Now, Democrats from Pelosi right on down have been calling on the filibuster to be overturned today, but of course, it's another issue whether centrists in the Senate like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, both of them Democrats, whether they say - they say that they would want to codify Roe, but they don't support doing away with the filibuster.

One other thing to keep our eye on, though, on the Republican side is that Republican Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, he has authored anti-abortion rights legislation. And he told CNN today he'd have a bill to ban abortion after 15 weeks, but he acknowledged that it might not - that it couldn't pass the Senate even if Republicans win back control because as long as a Democrat is president, it's going to face a veto.

KELLY: To this point that we're hearing politicians making about, this should be on the ballot; this is what should be driving you to come vote in November; make your voice heard that way - what does that actually look like?

KURTZLEBEN: Well, it looks like a lot of fundraising, like a lot of organizing. The Susan B. Anthony List, which is one of the big anti-abortion rights organizations, has already, ahead of this ruling, bought $2 million in ads in battleground states with the message of voters should make this decision, not courts - not federal courts...

KELLY: Right.

KURTZLEBEN: ...That it should be a state thing. Meanwhile, on the abortion rights side, it's just, hey; we need to fight harder; we need to fight bigger. But there's also a lot of fatigue on that side.

KELLY: Right.

KURTZLEBEN: So it's a really big question about motivation.

KELLY: NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben, thanks.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.