Don’t run away from abortion, Republicans
This is no time to call for retreat
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The weekend before the midterm election, New Yorker reporter Benjamin Wallace-Wells wrote a straightforward bit of reportage that seemed to reflect the conventional wisdom heading into Tuesday’s midterms. It was headlined “Why Republican Insiders Think the G.O.P. Is Poised for a Blowout.” Naturally, Wallace-Wells asked these insiders how they were dealing with abortion, given the election was a few months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
The answer was the GOP mostly avoided addressing the issue at all. “As these Republican strategists saw it, their candidates did not get past unpopular positions on abortion with a tactical masterstroke, they simply absorbed the electoral hit and moved on,” he wrote. “The economy is not good, and the President is both a Democrat and unpopular.”
Suffice to say, Tuesday’s election was hardly a blowout, and if you cared about abortion, it was something of a disaster. In California, voters approved amending the state’s constitution to enshrine abortion. Maybe that was expected in California‚ but voters in deep red Kentucky rejected an amendment that would have denied constitutional protections for abortion. Michigan, which is generally considered a swing state, passed Prop. 3, which adds the right to abortion and contraceptive use to the state constitution. In Montana, another swing state, referendum 131, which would have made an infant “born alive” at any gestational age a legal person, failed.
Republicans can’t say there weren’t warning signs. This summer in red Kansas voters rejected an amendment to reverse a state Supreme Court decision protecting abortion. Then on Tuesday, the state’s incumbent Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, narrowly defeated Republican challenger and state attorney general Derek Schmidt by just over one point.
Initially, many thought Kelly’s tenure as a Democrat governor might be limited to one term. She first won the governorship by defeating Kris Kobach, a Trumpy candidate who attracted controversy in 2018, a very good year for Democrats nationally. In 2020, just two years later, Donald Trump won Kansas in the presidential election by nearly 15 points. However, Kansas’ abortion referendum over the summer poured money into the coffers of Kansas Democrats and generated enthusiasm in the state. Even if it was an underwhelming night for Republicans nationally, the abortion debate in Kansas clearly benefited the Democrats.
The abortion debate in Kansas was often fundamentally dishonest. As I have reported elsewhere, a key talking point of abortion advocates across the country, and one that played a big role in Kansas’ abortion referendum, was that laws restricting abortion would also restrict the care women could receive for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies.
However, abortion laws, which govern the deliberate termination of a viable pregnancy, would apply to neither situation. By definition, a miscarriage is when pregnancy ends due to natural causes or in very rare instances the child is born well before it’s viable outside the womb. Ectopic pregnancies are both nonviable and threaten the life of the mother, and every abortion restriction law in America has an exception for life-threatening conditions.
During the debate over the Kansas referendum, in his capacity as attorney general, Schmidt tried to do the right thing and issued a memorandum clarifying that the abortion restrictions wouldn’t legally affect miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies. Naturally, Schmidt’s attempt to debunk this lie received almost no media attention, and once Kansas’ abortion referendum triumphed, Schmidt’s campaigned stiff-armed attempts to get it to comment on abortion through the election.
While Republicans might be reticent to make a polarizing issue such as abortion a major campaign issue, there is no reason to run from it. There is plenty of room to paint the default Democratic position of legal abortion through all nine months as extreme—which it surely is.
A bit of empathy helps. When Democrat Stacey Abrams, who repeated the claim that abortions would affect miscarriages multiple times, brought up abortion in Georgia’s gubernatorial debate, Kemp responded by speaking about dealing with the pain of his wife’s miscarriages. Kemp went on to win by a convincing 7.5 percent, despite signing a heartbeat law that bans abortion at around six weeks.
In fact, there was no evidence that Republican governors who signed bold pro-life legislation were punished. In addition to Kemp, Florida’s Ron DeSantis, Ohio’s Mike DeWine, and Texas’ Greg Abbott all cruised to double digit victories.
When a conservative Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this year, pro-lifers decisively won a hard-fought battle that was 50 years in the making. But the Supreme Court only cleared the field for a political battle that will define elections in the years to come. The issue of abortion is not going away, and we must not retreat from this great battle.
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