To hear the hapless gang of Republican presidential wannabes last week, one might come away with the impression that the solution to their abortion problem is just about finding that perfect number, that Goldilocks formula that will simultaneously satisfy their Rapture-obsessed white evangelical base and somehow pass muster with the general public. Should we proudly trumpet our own state’s six-week ban? Or should we be more pragmatic and extend it to 12 or even 15 weeks? Or maybe the way to go is a total ban, even though everybody should remember that could take 60 Senate votes? Which ban on Americans’ personal reproductive health decisions will be “just right”?
Republicans will doubtlessly be playing this numbers game right up to Nov. 5, 2024, and on the day after the election, they’ll still be arguing about it, shaking their heads in a dazed state at their electoral losses. “But we thought we’d found the perfect number!” they’ll say—right before they start pointing fingers at one another.
The problem for Republicans? It’s not about a number. It’s about real human beings and the personal choices they have to make in their actual, day-to-day lives. And there’s nothing, practically speaking, that forced-birthers can say, no appeal they can make, that can personalize this debate, making it “hit home” as a political issue, in the same powerful, compelling way that the pro-choice majority can.
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Since Roe v. Wade fell to a conservative Supreme Court majority empowered by three radical Trump appointees, Republicans have finally been forced to cope with the actual implications of their decades-long crusade against reproductive rights. Even as they have blithely continued this crusade in Republican-dominated statehouses across the nation, their formerly sanctimonious swagger has been replaced by quiet, furtive voting sessions, many occurring in the wee hours of the night.
There’s a reason for that. These Republican legislators don’t want publicity that associates them with what they’re actually doing to their constituents. They know it’s not a winning issue for them, and even though many of them are gerrymandered into lifetime sinecures, they understand by now that the issue as a whole portends a serious problem for their party in a general election.
The Biden-Harris campaign knows this too. After a week that highlighted just how panicked and divided Republicans are about the abortion issue, President Biden’s reelection campaign wasted no time to send a simple, clear message: Republicans are intent on eliminating your reproductive rights, and if you don’t believe it, just listen to what they say. As for which Republican “plan” will most intrude on those rights, President Joe Biden’s campaign interjects a welcome note of clarity: They all will.
As reported by Arit John, writing for CNN:
Biden’s reelection campaign has also homed in on remarks GOP candidates made on abortion during the debate. In talking points sent out to surrogates Wednesday night, the campaign claimed Republicans “spent two hours shouting over each other on … who has the best plan to ban abortion nationwide,” CNN reported Thursday.
On Friday, the campaign released this ad, titled “These Guys”:
This ad is the “first of many” that will run in a $25 million campaign aimed primarily at women in seven battleground states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. It’s clear and to the point, highlighting statements taken directly from the leading Republicans, including former President Donald Trump. But it also emphasizes something that Republicans simply cannot combat by relying on their “numbers” game.
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Rather than a cold abstraction (a “15-week ban,” for example, that simply imposes an arbitrary prohibition), the ad emphasizes at the outset that abortion is a real-life, emotionally fraught consideration that may be experienced by mothers, daughters, sisters, indeed all women, and anyone for whom pregnancy is a possibility. But even more than that, it’s a reality that has in the past or may in the future impact someone they know and love. (Yes, it impacts men as well.)
There is an intensely personal story accompanying every abortion, a set of life circumstances, obstacles, and challenges that humanize the issue in a way that no dry talk of laws and “bans” totally separate and removed from those individual stories can possibly reach. Bans—no matter how they’re couched—are always arbitrary, always absolute, and by their nature simply don’t take peoples’ life circumstances into account.
Republicans don’t ever want to find themselves discussing that personal aspect of abortion, because it’s a losing argument for them. That’s because, in truth, they all know someone who is or may be impacted by abortion as well. Much better, they’ve apparently resolved, to ignore the actual people who have to make such a choice, pretend they don’t exist, and talk about “bans,” than have to acknowledge all the messy, emotional, and personal variables that influence or prompt someone’s decision about whether to have a child. Once you propose a prohibition, however, people will soon come around to asking: What exactly gives you the right to decide for me?
Put simply, you can’t get more personal than this issue. Abortion is an uncomfortable prospect that resonates—deeply—with anyone who could possibly become pregnant, or knows someone who might. But Republicans are now completely hamstrung in addressing those personal implications, so they’re forced to try to neutralize or sidestep them debating an a la carte selection of wholly impersonal “bans.”
That’s not a winning strategy, not just because it’s cruel, heedless, and indifferent, but because it doesn’t acknowledge the humanity of their constituents. It doesn’t acknowledge their reality. And no one ever appreciates their reality being questioned, least of all by a politician.
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