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Republicans are either celebrating (if they are hardcore evangelicals) or wringing their hands (if they are hardcore politicos) over last week’s Arizona Supreme Court ruling on abortion, which took the state back to a Civil War-era law that pretty much outlaws the procedure, even in cases of rape or incest.

There is a tiny exception for the life of the mother, but as we’ve seen in other states, those exceptions become very hard to leverage in the moment. Doctors, who are themselves now at risk of jail time if they are found to be wrongly performing the procedure, have been reluctant to act quickly to abort even in life-threatening situations, which has resulted in women nearly dying or losing the ability to have any future children.

The campaign of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris has just put out a searing advert profiling one such woman in Texas, Amanda Zurawski, and her husband Josh. They lost their baby Willow when Amanda’s water broke at 18 weeks. Amanda nearly died from infection because the hospital wouldn’t perform an abortion after the miscarriage, and may never get pregnant again as a result. The video ends with a simple statement: Donald Trump did this. It’s one of the most moving and effective political ads I’ve ever seen. Watch it here.

The video brings home the fact that most women, and indeed most people in America, simply don’t support these kind of draconian abortion laws. Fifty-seven per cent of the suburban women that will be key swing voters in crucial states believe that Trump’s policies on abortion are too restrictive, according to a Wall Street Journal poll. Meanwhile, only 20 per cent say that Biden’s policies aren’t restrictive enough. Abortion has just become the number-one issue for suburban soccer moms in swing states, by a large margin. Forget kitchen table economics. Mothers, daughters, sisters and friends in these states don’t want kitchen table abortions.

The FT’s Washington bureau chief James Politi and I discussed the issue and its political implications for both sides on the Swamp Notes podcast this week. Both of us feel that this may end up being a real turning point in the election, which is so close that if Republicans lose a small number of women voters in states like Arizona and Georgia (both of which have instituted more restrictive abortion laws), it could well mean defeat.

You can see Trump’s own anxiety about the issue in the way he punted after the Arizona ruling, saying that the issue should be left up to the states, while also desperately trying to compare his own stance on abortion to Ronald Reagan, who was for much less restrictive measures. This is entirely opportunistic of course, given that he has previously declared himself the “most pro-life president” in American history.

My bet is that abortion may be Trump’s Waterloo. Peter, you are from Arizona. What do you make of the political impact of this ruling, in your home state, and nationally?

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Peter Spiegel responds

Rana, Arizona has always been something of a Republican stronghold, but its voters have tended to fall more on the libertarian, free-market side of the American conservative movement than the cultural or religious right. Its two most famous political sons, Barry Goldwater and John McCain, certainly fell in that category.

Goldwater in particular was vocal about his distaste for the party’s doctrinaire anti-abortion stance that developed over the course of the 1980s. His wife Peggy founded Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona in the 1930s, and Goldwater himself, regarded as the godfather of modern American conservatism and the 1964 Republican presidential nominee, vowed in 1981 to fight the rise of the religious right “every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of conservatism”.

So yes, I agree with you, Rana: a law passed before Arizona was even a state that all but bans abortion will undoubtedly energise Democrats and the libertarian wing of Arizona’s Republican party in November — particularly in Maricopa County, the home to Phoenix and its Republican-leaning suburbs that have turned against Trump and other Republican candidates in statewide elections since 2016.

Although other battleground states like Georgia and Pennsylvania have different political histories than Arizona, what they share are suburban districts outside its biggest cities — Montgomery County bordering Philadelphia and Cobb County near Atlanta — that have become key to winning statewide. Those are the kinds of places that Republican women, in particular, will cross the aisle to support Democrats if the election comes down to abortion. 

As you say, Rana, this issue is a loser for Republicans and Trump knows it. His efforts to insulate himself from the justices he appointed to overturn Roe v Wade have thus far been ham-fisted and ineffectual. With liberal Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor nearing 70 years old and in questionable health, Democratic activists have themselves the perfect issue to energise their base in November.

Your feedback

We’d love to hear from you. You can email the team on swampnotes@ft.com, contact Peter on peter.spiegel@ft.com and Rana on rana.foroohar@ft.com, and follow them on X at @RanaForoohar and @SpiegelPeter. We may feature an excerpt of your response in the next newsletter

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