Sometimes it feels like Republicans are more terrified by the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision than pro-abortionists.
How many voters know that the Democratic Party supports legalized abortion through all nine months of pregnancy on demand for virtually any reason? How many voters know this position aligns with only six other countries in the world — three of them, not incidentally, being North Korea, Vietnam and China?
How many voters know that Democrats want to pass a federal law banning states from stopping sex-selective abortions or the dismembering of the post-viable unborn or the requirement of parental and guardian notification for minors before getting abortions? How many know that Democrats want to strip medical workers of their conscience rights by compelling them to participate in the procedure or lose their jobs? How many people know that Democrats want to eliminate the popular Hyde Amendment, which stops the federal government from funding abortions with taxpayer dollars?
Now, maybe a majority of voters aren’t aware of Democrats’ maximalist positions because the media endlessly lies and obfuscates them. And maybe pollsters rarely ask useful questions on the topic because the answers are a lot more complicated than they’d like. And, maybe, after the shock of Roe v. Wade being overturned — treated by Democrats as if it had been chiseled into magical stone tablets over the past 50 years — the energy and passion of the debate will temporarily reside on the pro-abortion side. And, maybe, if every voter knew all the facts, it still wouldn’t matter. Abortion is a complex and emotional issue.
None of that excuses the inability, or aversion, of national conservatives to make a coherent and compelling pro-life case. Sometimes it feels like Republicans are more terrified by the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision than pro-abortionists. Even if pollsters were right about the unpopularity of abortion restrictions, there is this crazy thing that politicians occasionally engage in called “persuasion.” Rather than just chasing around voters for approval, this entails convincing them with arguments.
The problem, it seems, is that too many in the GOP accept the media’s concern trolling or listen to risk-averse advice of the consulting class. Recently, for example, Janet Protasiewicz beat conservative Dan Kelly by 10 percentage points to flip Wisconsin’s Supreme Court. Virtually every outlet treated the race as a national referendum on abortion. Anonymous consultants were recruited by one big media outlet after the next to offer off-the-record comments voicing their deep concern about the deleterious effects of the abortion issue.
Weird how this dynamic only works in one direction.
In 2020, Brian Kemp, who signed a heartbeat bill limiting abortion to the first six weeks a year earlier, easily defeated media darling Stacey Abrams to win the Georgia governorship (in a state that Donald Trump also lost). Abrams made abortion, along with guns, the central issue of her campaign, carpet-bombing the state with ads. In 2018, Terry McAuliffe also attempted to make abortion the dominant issue of his campaign against Glenn Youngkin. At the time, a Washington Post piece promised that the race was “our first big test of the new politics of abortion.” Well, Youngkin, who supports 15-week abortion limits, won. Alas, there were no handwringing deep dives from the Post about abortion undermining Democrats.
Georgia and Virginia are swing states. Ohio, where Mike DeWine signed a six-week ban in 2019 and won the state by 10 points in 2022, was one not long ago, as well. This is the same state in which pro-life J.D. Vance easily beat “moderate” Tim Ryan. This week, the governor of Florida and prospective presidential candidate, Ron DeSantis, signed a six-week ban on abortion. One imagines DeSantis will be just as popular among Republicans in his state since the bill passed overwhelmingly in the Florida Assembly. Of course, conventional wisdom says this hurts his presidential chances.
But Ohio, Virginia and Florida teach us nothing about abortion. Only the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, it seems, matters.
Whatever the case, the Republican nominee doesn’t need to impress California voters. They need to convince social conservatives in Virginia, Ohio and Florida to go out and vote. Does anyone really think DeSantis would be better off politically if he vetoed a pro-life bill?
Running from the abortion conversation, as so many Republicans seem to do, creates the impression they don’t really believe in their own stated position. Quite often, that’s probably the case. But if you’re going to run as a pro-lifer anyway, allowing the opposition to define your beliefs makes little sense. Especially when making a rational and moral case for protecting viable life, at the very least, isn’t particularly difficult — certainly not when contrasted with the left’s extremism.
Then again, if every Republican lost every race in the country over abortion, it still wouldn’t make killing human beings for convenience any less of a moral abomination or the fight to stop it any less important. A majority position isn’t, by default, moral or decent — quite the contrary. And meaningful political fights aren’t predicated on short-term gains. Overturning Roe took 50 years. The political fight over abortion might take even longer.