Some dogs have a bad habit of chasing moving cars. To what end? What would they do if they caught up with the car? Do they have a destination in mind? This describes the American Republican Party well. For half a century, from election to election, the party has promised to take away a woman’s right to abortion. From judicial nomination to judicial nomination, conservative presidents have patiently furnished the Supreme Court with a majority of justices ready to reverse case law protecting the right to abortion, law that has been in place since 1973. They finally succeeded in June 2022.
Republican-led states immediately took to the field, outdoing each other in audacity as they limited or banned the right to abortion. 13 states criminalized it. In Alabama, a doctor who practices abortion risks prison … for life! Texas is more merciful, threatening doctors who perform abortion with a maximum sentence of 99 years. Other states limit prison terms to between 10 and 15 years. Penalties may apply to any person who is “complicit,” including friends or parents who help a woman seeking to terminate her pregnancy. Since women sometimes travel to neighboring states where abortion is still legal, some states are trying to criminalize abortions practiced across state lines from where the pregnancy began!
This frenzy has directly impacted tens of thousands of women and their rights. It has also had a secondary, but considerable political effect: a sharp increase in the percentage of Americans who favor the right to an abortion.
Since 1998, the Gallup Poll has reported that Americans are divided about equally between those in favor of abortion rights and those who are anti-abortion. Just before the 2022 Supreme Court decision, those favoring abortion rights were only two points ahead. The following year, they were 16 points ahead. This change is completely attributable to women, who went from an approximately equal divide in 2020 to a historically high rate of being for abortion rights in 2022, when the polling showed that women who favored abortion outweighed those who were anti-abortion by 61% to 33% of those surveyed.
Women have made themselves heard at the polls for a year, including in Republican states. In Kansas, and then in Kentucky, voters beat back anti-abortion propositions. In the swing state of Michigan, a majority approved a pro-abortion measure, which is also expected to happen soon in Ohio, where Republicans are so afraid of losing the vote that they are trying to change a 111-year-old law to require a 60% majority to pass a measure instead of the current 50% majority rule.
The backlash from female voters is such that national Republican leaders, who yesterday favored a federal ban on abortion, are now mute on the issue. As they prepare for the 2024 presidential election, they realize that the issue that have been motivated by for the last two generations could bury them in the short term.
The spread of people in favor of abortion is now also perceptible among independent voters, who decide the results in tight races. No fewer than 67% of independents think that abortion should be legal in the majority of cases. Even worse: 36% of Republican voters think so as well.
In the last few days, female Republican officials have had the guts to stand up. In South Carolina, three female senators, supported by three Republican senators, blocked the adoption of an anti-abortion law. Simultaneously, in Nebraska, an 80-year-old Republican senator, who had previously co-sponsored a bill to the same effect, refused “in good conscience” to continue in this direction, depriving his party of a majority. These measures, he explained, will galvanize women voters against Republicans. The proof? Before the Supreme Court decision, he was leading by 27 points in his district. After the court issued its decision, he led by only five points.
The electoral realpolitik is pushing Republicans to try and modulate their approach. The Washington Post reported that nine conservative legislators in South Carolina have retracted their support from a proposal to classify abortion as homicide. Republicans in Tennessee and Wisconsin want to add “exceptions” to their abortion bans for cases of rape or incest. In North Carolina, Kansas and Nevada, there are reports of setbacks and hesitation. Yet, this doesn’t prevent other states, such as Florida, from moving forward with restrictive measures.
The fear of a voter backlash from women, including Republicans, has been percolating throughout the campaigns for president in 2024. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed the current restrictive measures in Florida, did so overnight with as little comment as possible. The leading Republican candidate, Donald Trump, who put the anti-abortion majority in place on the Supreme Court, has felt the winds turn and now rejects any commitment to pass a federal ban on abortion. This earned him the wrath of the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America organization. Nikki Haley, the only female candidate for the Republican nomination, promised to clear things up. Before the same group, she affirmed, “The pro-life laws that have passed in strongly Republican states will not be approved at the federal level. That’s just a fact.”
Will all this backpedaling be enough to avoid the wrath of female voters? Joe Biden’s campaign never misses an opportunity to define abortion rights as a central issue in the upcoming race. Democrats are pledging to pass law providing a federal right to abortion. The central variable in this election will rest on the Democrats’ capacity to make this an issue at the ballot box. And to offer American women the chance to take back control of their bodies.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.