The desperate GOP effort to find an acceptable message on abortion

The recent defeats at elections has resulted in the GOP scrambling to find a message on abortion that will placate the anti-abortion zealots in their base while not alienating everyone else. Will Saletan looks at where the GOP candidates for the presidential nomination have ended up.

AS A PRO-CHOICE BACKLASH against the Dobbs decision sweeps across the country—defeating pro-life ballot measures, passing pro-choice referenda, and taking down Republican candidates—the GOP is scrambling for safe ground. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is telling candidates to oppose a federal abortion ban. The chairwoman of the Republican National Committee is advising them to settle for “reasonable limitations.”

In the Republican presidential race, the two men who stoutly advocated a federal ban on abortions—Mike Pence and Tim Scott—are gone. The candidates who remain on the debate stage or who don’t need it—Chris Christie, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Donald Trump—are hedging or downplaying the issue. They still call themselves pro-life. But they’re finding ways to pretend that they’re not a threat to abortion rights.

WHICH OF THESES CANDIDATES, beneath their respective façades, is most likely to ban abortions? Here’s my best guess. DeSantis signed the strictest ban as governor, and he’s doing the least to conceal that he’d do more as president. Haley, despite her pro-choice mimicry, would sign any abortion restriction that reaches her desk. Christie is the candidate least likely to sign a ban, since he has set the highest threshold for acting without a consensus of the states. I’m excluding Ramaswamy, who can’t be trusted.

As for Trump: He doesn’t care about this issue at all. He views pro-lifers as an interest group, like the dairy industry. He thinks that by ending Roe v. Wade and giving them the “power to negotiate,” he has sufficiently bought them off. And so far, he seems to be right.

Expect more shifting rhetoric from all of them as they grope around for a formulation that is evasive and vague enough to not antagonize too many people.

It is ironic that the call to ban abortions, which theGOP long used as a rallying cry for their base and resulted in them hailing the US Supreme Court’s overthrow of the Roe v. Wade precedent as one of their greatest victories, has so soon turned into an albatross around their necks.


  1. says

    The problem is people are being investigated for miscarriages even in states with “reasonable limitations” and doctors are terrified to perform life-saving abortions and the voters are aware of all of this.

  2. Matt G says

    To add to Tabby’s point, OB/GYNs are packing up and leaving these areas, which are already underserved by healthcare.

  3. birgerjohansson says

    “…turned into an albatross around their necks”.
    As they love to say, “acts have consequences”.

  4. JM says

    The old school Republicans, back in the 80s and 90s, knew full well that they didn’t actually want to overturn Row vs Wade. The Republican strategists understood that Row vs Wade was popular. The Supreme Court had cut the line well and the conservative Christian stand on abortion was unpopular. That actually overturning Row vs Wade would be counter-productive because it would line people up for the Democratic party.
    Abortion was a useful issue for lining up evangelical Christians to vote Republican when many actually ran counter to the party. At the time there were a lot of fundamentalist Christians that didn’t vote because they disliked both parties and considered all politicians too dirty. The Democratic party had a strong Christian side, Carter being a Democrat and a fundamentalist Christian wasn’t considered that unusual.
    Once the Republican politicians took a pro-life line in public the party started to attract people who took it seriously. Eventually people that actually believed the pro-life line got elected as Republicans and started to seriously push the issue. They eventually succeeded and are now pushing a lot of people to vote Democratic.
    The Republicans have tripped themselves up this way with several issues. Their contradictory anti-immigration position were they hate illegal immigrants but love cheap labor has tied them up in knots. Their anti-government rhetoric has them giving speeches about how every other person in Congress is bad but I’m great. Their anti-welfare line leads them to evasive definitions where only city folk get welfare, country farmers get subsidies.

  5. says

    My state’s governor, upperclass-twit-rebranding-himself-as-man-of-the-people Glenn Youngkin, offered a ban on abortions after 15 weeks as a “sensible moderate compromise.” Which didn’t look all that good after one state enacted just that, but then quickly cut the legal window down to 6 weeks. Also, we HAD a sensible moderate compromise earlier — it’s called Roe vs. Wade.

  6. lanir says

    I don’t think there can ever be a reasonable compromise with antiabortion extremists. Their starting point is pure fantasy. Everyone else is working with reality, where there are consequences to basing your healthcare decisions on nonsensical gibberish.

    The extremists want to imagine they’re saving thousands of babies and that there are never any negative consequences to the rules they want imposed. And the laws enacted by politicians who pander to them are not built with exceptions. They’re built with traps. That’s why the hospital lawyers make the doctors wait to treat you even in cases where the outcome is obvious in medical terms. And as far as I can tell the extremists view pregnancy as a penalty for having sex. And given the hypocritical way so many GOP politicians operate, if getting their mistresses pregnant puts them in a desperate situation where they’re easier to manipulate, so much the better.

    I encountered some of these people outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic some years back. They just projected smug superiority while they yelled at me from some distance away. They were making up life stories for me while urging me not to get involved with abortion. It was a very surreal experience to have people confidently creating the story of my life for me from wholecloth and then yelling at me for “choices” I’d made in their fantasy.

    How can you reason with people like that? They don’t want to reason with you and they’ve already decided everything you say is a lie because the reality you’re working with doesn’t fit in their fantasy life. You don’t have anything to offer them except cognitive dissonance or a return to reality and they don’t want either.

  7. another stewart says

    @5: a hard 15 week ban is a policy of killing women by medical neglect. A 15 week ban with exceptions for medically indicated abortions might be a nullity (as I understand, the great majority abortions after 15 weeks are medically indicated), or an indirect policy of killing women by medical neglect via a chilling effect on medical decision making.

  8. sonofrojblake says

    I don’t think there can ever be a reasonable compromise with antiabortion extremists.

    This. They’ve not arrived at their position by reason, there’s just no way to reason them out of it. In a civilised democracy, or even somewhere like the USA, the only thing you can do is outvote them. (Actually in the USA you could also just shoot them, obviously, but that’s typically their tactic rather than their opposition’s).

  9. Silentbob says

    @ 8 sonofrojblake

    you could also just shoot them, obviously

    Holy fuck -- dude, seek help. You are clearly not well.

  10. sonofrojblake says

    Oh yeah, I think of the USA as a place where people get shot a lot. I’m clearly not well. Help!

    Fucking cretin.

  11. says

    another stewart: ANY law or policy restricting access to abortion, or birth control for that matter, will, inevitably and intentionally, have a chilling effect on medical decision making.

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