One year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ended abortion rights for millions, turning the issue back to the states. Republican states responded with a vengeance, with 18 states enacting bans and trying to come up with ways to prevent their citizens from going to the blue states, where abortion rights have been made stronger. That’s the status quo heading into the 2024 election: Democrats fighting to protect abortion rights, Republicans fighting amongst themselves over how restrictive they should be.
That will play out in the Senate this week, where Democrats will force votes on four “common sense” reproductive health bills that would guarantee access to contraception, allow free travel across state lines for women seeking abortion, protect the online privacy of people seeking abortions, and increase protections for health professionals providing abortion care. None of these are radical proposals, which should put some pressure on some Republicans who should have a problem with the idea that women shouldn’t be allowed to travel. But they are Republicans, and they will not allow these bills to get final votes on the floor.
The White House will also mark the anniversary with several events. Last week, Vice President Kamala Harris met with dozens of legislators who are working for abortion rights in 41 states. She and President Joe Biden will have a meeting Friday with leaders of abortion rights groups and the Democratic National Committee to highlight national efforts. First lady Jill Biden will hold a roundtable Tuesday with women who have been denied medical care in the past year. On Saturday, Harris will mark the anniversary in a major speech at a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Republicans, meanwhile, are in a quiet battle to determine just how extreme they will be on the issue. The reddest states have gone bonkers, some of them not even allowing abortion in the case of rape or incest, and some are fighting it out over whether or not to charge people obtaining abortions and/or their doctors with homicide. The extremists in the forced birth movement are pushing hard for a national ban on the 2024 platform.
“If you can, you must,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the major anti-abortion rights group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told The New York Times about her organization’s push for 2024. “To fail to do that would, politically, would be a disaster for pro-life voters who put them in office.” This is not a “theoretical messaging moment,” she said. “This is real life.”
For some Republican lawmakers, “real life” means recognizing that this is not a black and white issue, and no small measure of discomfort with bans. A Florida Republican state senator told the Times that he was opposed to the six-week ban signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis. “It was pretty much a ban on abortion,” Mike Caruso said. “I’ve got seven children, been through nine pregnancies,” he added. “I don’t think I ever knew, we ever knew, that we were pregnant prior to six weeks.”
Rep. Nancy Mace, the South Carolina Republican who is working hard to carve out a national spotlight by criticizing her colleagues before voting with them, blasted Republicans in her state for trying to give “more rights to a rapist than a woman who’s been raped.” These Republicans “listen to some of the extreme voices, and they operate and vote and legislate out of fear,” she said. “They’re not hearing from the rest of the electorate, the 95 percent of the folks who vote in elections. They’re hearing from the 5 percent who say, ‘You’re not Republican if you don’t want to ban abortions with no exceptions.’”
That 5% is pushing for a presidential candidate who will make a national abortion ban part of their plan, and not having much luck thus far, with most of them vaguely talking about leaving the question up to the states. Dannenfelser, for one, is not having it. She insists that they will force the issue onto the debate stage, “where the rubber meets the road, and our bright-red line saying that you must have a 15-week or better limit or we can’t support you.”
Nationally, however, that won’t fly with voters. It’s why so many Republicans are trying to avoid talking about it. The issue is expanding the map for Democrats, with abortion rights winning in states in the past year.
According to Gallup, support for abortion rights has never been higher, finding “69% say abortion should generally be legal in the first three months of pregnancy. The prior high of 67% was recorded last May after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization draft was leaked, showing that the court planned to nullify constitutional protection for abortion.”
“Fifty-two percent of Americans say abortion is morally acceptable, matching last year’s all-time high. This is 10 percentage points above the historical average since 2001,” Gallup found.
National Republicans have to decide whether they can afford to buck that trend, or if they’ll follow their extremist colleagues in the states down the rabbit hole.
There have been sooo many hot takes about the 2022 midterms, which is why we're joined on this week's episode of "The Downballot" by Michael Frias and Hillary Anderson of the progressive data firm Catalist to discuss their data-intensive report on what actually happened. They explain how they marry precinct-level election results with detailed voter files to go far beyond what the polls can tell us. Among the findings: Highly competitive races were much more favorable to Democrats than less-contested ones; Republicans paid a "MAGA tax" by nominating extreme candidates; and non-college white women shifted toward Democrats by notable margins compared to 2020.
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