Republicans Can’t Seem to Agree on What to Do About Abortion

Ignore it entirely? Rally around Lindsey Graham's 15-week ban? Listen to activists and ban it at fertilization? Are they screwed at the polls no matter what?

Republicans Can’t Seem to Agree on What to Do About Abortion
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As tens of thousands of Americans suffer from barriers to reproductive health in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned, Republicans are once again in disarray over the exact time in pregnancy at which they should be pushing to ban abortion. This is a change from how they spent the weekend—either not talking about a huge ruling in an abortion pill case or actively trying to change the subject on cable.

The New York Times reports that the chair of the Republican National Committee, Ronna Romney McDaniel, has been showing polling to party members that Americans largely support abortion up to 15 weeks. This appears to be an effort to rally conservatives around a 15-week ban introduced by Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), as state politicians push increasingly extreme bans. (I must note that it’s unclear what polling McDaniel is citing and whether it was conducted before or after the Dobbs decision, but in reality, two-thirds of Americans think abortion should be legal in most or all cases—and even 15-week bans are an extreme, dangerous violation of the rights of women and pregnant people.)

Some of the worst people we know have noted that the survival of the party is at stake. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who’s been (unsuccessfully) attempting to get her party to moderate its views on abortion, was quoted in the Times piece as saying that if Republicans “keep going down these rabbit holes of extremism, we’re just going to keep losing.” The Times reporter wrote in agreement with Mace that the “party’s activist base could be leading them over an electoral cliff next year.”

Anti-abortion activists, meanwhile, want the party to pursue the maximalist position of a national abortion ban starting at fertilization. Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, told the Times that while she was “somewhat concerned” that Republicans may be getting ahead of voters on this issue, she still wanted states to pursue NRLC’s model legislation that would ban abortions except when the pregnant person’s life is in imminent danger. She noted that states could, in their infinite generosity, add exceptions for rape, incest, and harms to the mother’s health.

Another anti-abortion leader, Katie Glenn Daniel, the state policy director for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said it was important to push a national ban because otherwise, “governors like Gavin Newsom are very motivated to force his views on the rest of the country.” That sounds like a lot of projection, Katie!

Many conservative politicians celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade as giving power back to the states to decide abortion laws. But that’s never been the end goal of anti-abortion activists who want to ban abortion nationwide, and this ideological conflict has erupted following a ruling from a federal judge in Texas who’s trying to ban the abortion pill mifepristone in all 50 states. That case—as well as a conflicting decision from Washington state released the same day—is hurtling toward the Supreme Court.

The president of Students for Life, Kristan Hawkins, shared the piece on Twitter to implicitly attack McDaniel for supporting a 15-week ban. In a second tweet, Hawkins also called out Mace for being a “pro-choice Republican.”

After the Texas judge issued his opinion but before the Times story was published, Americans United for Life simply tweeted out that their goal is constitutional protections for embryos. It’s a position so popular that they limited replies to the tweet. Perhaps knowing how unpopular it is, AUL is also pushing the idea that the next Republican president could implement a total ban via executive order rather than legislation.

The Times piece isn’t only about Republican extremism on abortion; it also details how the party’s stances on LGBTQ+ rights, gun control, and climate are also out of step with public opinion. Politicians like Mace and McDaniel appear to realize the electoral risk of banning abortion. And, yes, Republicans will be insulated from losses in gerrymandered districts at the federal and state level and as well as the undemocratic electoral college that decides the presidency. But they will face a lot of trouble in statewide races, as we’ve seen with ballot measures and the recent Wisconsin supreme court contest.

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