Here’s a pretty remarkable thing: The Republican challenger for governor in Kansas, current Attorney General Derek Schmidt, is not campaigning on abortion. Of course, his state just had an earthquake of a primary in which 59% of voters rejected ending abortion rights in the state. But Schmidt says he’ll respect that vote. “I think that the focus going forward for the state needs to be on defending those laws already on the books and that’s where my priorities would be,” Schmidt said.
It’s not like he’s suddenly seen the light on the fundamental issue of bodily autonomy. Because at the same appearance, Schmidt said he will focus on on demonizing trans children, something all conservatives seem to be able to agree on. It’s just one reflection of the increasing realization among Republicans that abortion rights are a big, big deal and a huge motivating factor in this election.
The latest national Quinnipiac poll of registered voters reinforces that. The percentage of registered voters who say abortion should be legal in all cases “hit a new high” since it was first asked in 2004: 35% of registered voters say it should be legal across the board, while 29% say it should in most cases. And for 83% of those registered voters, abortion is going to be either very important (56%) or somewhat important (27%) in determining who they vote for.
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At least some of those registered voters are likely new ones, like Laila Shaikh in Ohio, one of the nearly 90,000 people who registered in that state following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to end federal abortion rights. She’s part of a 6.4% increase in the number of female voters in the state. “That’s something that’s extremely personal, and it definitely did push me to go to the polls as a young woman, because you never know what type of situation you’re going to be in,” Shaikh told News 5 in Cleveland. The abortion issue was an awakening for her. “Especially pushing me on being like, ‘Hey, I should even register for the smaller elections, you know, not just the one that’s coming up in November,’” she added.
Republicans increasingly get that, which is why so many of them are running further and further away from their previous “100% pro-life” positions.
Democrats get it too, and many aren’t letting Republicans get away with this disappearing act. In Iowa, U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, one of the most vulnerable House Democrats, is running this ad against challenger state Sen. Zach Nunn, who has joined with all the other Republicans trying to pretend he didn’t say what he said: Abortion should be illegal in all cases.
In Colorado, incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet is running ads against challenger Joe O’Dea, who claims to support limited abortion rights. Not good enough, says Bennet, and the coalition of abortion rights groups supporting him.
“We are here in this country, right now, with patients traveling thousands of miles for care because politicians have been given the room for the least little bit of nuance,” said Adrienne Mansanares of Planned Parenthood Action Colorado. There isn’t room anymore for a Republican to say maybe some abortion is okay, as they are desperately trying to do now.
Democrats are not letting New Hampshire’s Republican Gov. Chris Sununu run as a “pro-choice governor” when he supports a ban on late-term abortions. They are not letting former state Sen. George Logan, who is challenging Democratic U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, claim he’s pro-choice because he has supported restrictions.
The message from Democrats is becoming more and more pointed: Republicans—no matter what they say about the “nuances” of what pregnant people should be able to do with their bodies—are responsible for the Supreme Court and are responsible for what the Supreme Court just did. Republicans are responsible for the people being forced to travel hundreds of miles to get an abortion to save their own lives.
Too much is at stake now, says Karen Middleton, a former Democratic state lawmaker in Colorado who now runs the reproductive rights group Cobalt. “We’re a lot less willing to compromise.”