Sen. Tina Smith Says Overturning 'Roe' Is 'So Out of Step with Where Americans Are' on Abortion Rights

The Senator from Minnesota, who previously worked at Planned Parenthood, points out that the majority of Americans are in support of abortion access

Vice Governor of Minnesota Visits Cuba
Sen. Tina Smith. Photo: HAVANNA, CUBA - JUNE 22: Tina Smith, Vice Governor of Minnesota looks on during a press conference as part of her official visit on June 22, 2017 in Havanna, Cuba. This is the first official visit of an US State official to Cuba since President Donald Trump announced Washington's new policy toward the island. (Photo by Ernesto Mastrascusa/LatinContent/Getty Images)

Based on a draft opinion leaked Monday, the Supreme Court appears poised to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that guaranteed the right to abortion. If that happens, 23 states will likely immediately ban or restrict abortions, affecting millions of Americans.

The decision — made by five conservative justices, according to the leaked opinion — goes against the views of the majority of Americans, Sen. Tina Smith tells PEOPLE.

"According to all the public polling that I have seen, access to abortion is what most people in this country want," Smith, the junior senator from Minnesota, says.

Polling from Pew Research shows that a majority of U.S. adults — 59% — say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, a percentage that has held steady for 26 years, since 1995. A similar percentage of Americans support upholding Roe, according to a poll from Quinnipiac, which found that 63% agree with the court ruling, and a Marquette Law School poll found that 72% oppose the decision being overturned.

That's part of why the leaked opinion "felt like getting socked in the gut," Smith says.

"It's hard to say it was surprising, but it just felt like such an insult … We have watched this many decade-long campaign, fueled by the right wing of the Republican party to overturn Roe v. Wade and to put anti-choice justices on the Supreme Court. So it's not surprising that this is the result of that campaign."

Smith, who volunteered at Planned Parenthood and was later the vice president of the organization's health care centers in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, said that the women she would see at the clinics were clearheaded about their decision.

"I saw them make those decisions with so much clarity and capacity to make good decisions," she says. "For them, this doesn't feel like a political issue. This feels like a personal issue about what they need to do to take care of themselves and their family."

"That's why the position of the Republican party and Republican candidates is just so out of step with where Americans are on this."

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If Roe does fall, Congress has the ability to codify the right to abortion into a nationwide law. They can do that now, and the House passed the Women's Health Protection Act to make that happen last year, but when the Senate moved to vote on it in March Republicans, along with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin from West Virginia, blocked it from going to the floor for debate. Smith has previously spoken in support of the bill, and is calling on her fellow senators to act.

"Congress, we should do this," she says. "We should put into law the basic protections in the Roe v. Wade decision; the right to access to abortion up until viability."

Currently, even if the bill makes it to the Senate floor for debate, it would not have enough votes to pass with Democrats holding just a slim majority. "That makes it impossible for us to take legislative action, which is why I think this will be such an important issue as we think about the elections coming up in November," Smith says.

For more on the leaked SCOTUS opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade, listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day

For those wondering what they can do now with a final decision from the Supreme Court likely coming in late June, Smith advises that people "do what I'm going to do, which is go out and find pro-choice candidates that I believe in and work for them and get them elected, whether it's a Senate candidate or a gubernatorial candidate or a local legislative candidate."

"Your power, your voice, can be expressed by talking about the issue and working for candidates that you trust," she says. "Legislators should be accountable to the people they serve by passing laws that the people want. If your elected representatives don't do what you think that they should do, then you to vote them out."

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