Democrat Tom Suozzi, left, is sworn in as a member of...

Democrat Tom Suozzi, left, is sworn in as a member of the House of Representatives by Speaker Mike Johnson, right, while Suozzi's wife Helene looks on during a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 28, 2024 in Washington. Credit: Getty Images/Nathan Howard

Republicans are the gift that keeps on giving — to Democrats.

The GOP has a democracy problem, thanks to Donald Trump, and a competence problem, thanks to a tiny, shrinking House majority that repeatedly chooses Trump and failure over reality and governing. Now, thanks to their ascendant theological wing, Republicans have a rapidly metastasizing abortion problem that could tilt close races to Democrats across the country — even in blue states where abortion is legal and available.

The most recent test came in New York’s 3rd Congressional District, where Democrat Tom Suozzi flipped a House seat with a decisive Feb. 13 win in a special election to replace expelled Republican George Santos. About 72% of the district supports abortion rights, Suozzi pollster Mike Bocian recently told the New Republic’s Daily Blast podcast, but that didn’t guarantee voters would turn out.

“The challenge in New York and in California has been that while voters are very pro-choice,” he said, “they’re not really feeling like abortion is at risk in their states.” And so the campaign advertised heavily about the threat of a national abortion ban, which helped fuel Suozzi’s victory.

Three days after that election, the prospect of a national ban loomed even larger. The New York Times reported that Trump — the all-but-certain 2024 GOP nominee — privately favors a ban on abortions after 16 weeks’ gestation. He apparently chose that limit with the same scientific rigor he applied to evaluating ivermectin and bleach as COVID treatments: “It’s even. It’s four months.”

That is far from the only development supercharging the abortion debate and the stakes in this year’s elections. The U.S. Supreme Court is due to decide this year whether to limit the use of mifepristone, part of an FDA-approved two-pill combination that can be used at home and that accounts for more than half of the abortions in the country.

And now the Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that frozen embryos created for in vitro fertilization are “ extrauterine children ” covered by state laws about wrongful death. The Legislature might act to protect IVF, but what about other states? Could antiabortion legislatures and courts make similar moves on frozen embryos?

Voters in blue states may think they have no role to play, but they’re wrong. As Democratic data guru Tom Bonier said in a tweet about Bocian’s comments: “This point about abortion rights is massive. The issue didn’t mobilize Dems in NY3 in ’22. By emphasizing the threat of a national ban in this race, they changed that.”

To see why it’s massive, look to California. Like New York, it has four Republican-held House seats that the Cook Political Report rates as pure toss-ups. That’s eight strong opportunities for Democrats to flip seats.

How close were some of those California races in 2022? GOP Rep. John Duarte beat Democrat Adam Gray by fewer than 600 votes in the Central Valley’s 13th Congressional District. They’re now headed for a rematch, with Duarte playing defense over abortion. Democrats are targeting him on his own votes to limit access and the broad assault on overall reproductive rights by “Duarte’s majority.”

In another Central Valley district, GOP Rep. David Valadao beat Democrat Rudy Salas by just over 3,000 votes in 2022; now Democrats are attacking his support for “new, dangerous national abortion restrictions,” and Salas is ripping a fellow Democrat’s abortion views in his quest for a rematch against Valadao.

A few hundred or thousand more voters concerned about reproductive freedoms would be enough to shift tight races like these at every level. And even a handful of House wins could shift control of the chamber to Democrats and ensure there’s no national abortion ban.

Of course, reelecting President Joe Biden would be the ultimate check on a national ban, and his pledge to restore federal protections for abortion “ for all women in every state ” could win him crucial votes in swing states.

The surprisingly broad support for protecting abortion rights suggests it will play a role everywhere, including toss-up Senate races in Arizona, Montana and Ohio — where Democrats face difficult paths to reelection. Young people are another pool of voters with untapped potential. Since the Roe repeal, “ no issue is more important to young women than abortion,” pollster Daniel Cox, director and founder of the American Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center on American Life, told Politico last month.

Democrats have many other strong arguments to make this year, from the thriving Biden economy to preserving democracy (the top voter issue in one recent poll) to the House GOP rejection, at Trump’s urging, of a tough bipartisan border deal that Biden embraced and the Senate was ready to pass. Suozzi used an “all of the above” approach in New York, and it worked.

All of those are crucial. Still, it is hard to find anything comparable to abortion when it comes to personal pain, self-determination and downstream effects that are uncomfortably reminiscent of Gilead, where “The Handmaid’s Tale” unfolds. Some conservatives are talking about ending the “ senseless use ” of birth control pills and how “ recreational sex ” leads to poverty, crime and dysfunction. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wants to reconsider rulings on contraception and gay marriage. Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Parker went full fire and brimstone in our supposedly secular government, guided in his IVF concurrence by “the wrath of a holy God.”

These are off-putting value judgments and religious beliefs, not persuasive political arguments. Democrats have the winning hand here, and I’m grateful — for countless reasons — that they are already playing it hard.

Jill Lawrence is a writer and author of “The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock.” @JillDLawrence

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