GOP's abortion tipping point: How a midterm sweep could move the needle even further to the right

Mitch McConnell has boasted about introducing a 20-week ban in the Senate. That's just the beginning

Published October 30, 2014 4:53PM (EDT)

Mitch McConnell                               (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Mitch McConnell (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

Election Day is next week, everyone. (Do you know where your polling place is? Find out before Tuesday.) And as usual, a lot of really important stuff is at stake. But a lot of eligible voters aren't going to vote, which maybe means that, even though more people report wanting Democrats to control Congress, Republicans might take over both chambers. That is a frightening prospect if you're the kind of person who believes that everyone should be able to vote without obstruction, see a doctor when they're sick and, you know, eat food even if they don't have lots of money.

On the topic of the many scary things that might happen if, say, Republicans take control of the Senate (something they could very well do), RH Reality Check policy reporter Emily Crockett has a piece on the possibility that Mitch McConnnell, if he can hold onto his seat and becomes Senate majority leader, will introduce a federal ban on abortion at 20 weeks. And how a GOP Senate majority could mean an uptick in anti-choice legislation more generally.

“If you look at the Republican record in the House, we can expect that Senate Republicans will try to throw poison pills of all kinds into appropriations bills,” a senior Democratic leadership aide told Crockett. “If they take this course, they’d be setting up the possibility of yet another Republican government shutdown.”

But as Crockett points out, there's no guarantee a 20-week ban would pass, and President Obama's veto will be the ultimate word on the matter if it did survive a vote. But it's a small encouragement. As dangerous as the actual antiabortion policies that could take hold in Congress if the GOP gains a total majority, I'm equally concerned about what the "new normal" on reproductive rights might begin to look like at the federal level if wildly anti-choice Republicans start setting the tone for our national debates, moving the needle even further to the right. Those poison pills can pack a punch.

Most people know, or at least most people who are reading me writing about this on Salon right now know, that there has been an extreme spike in state-level antiabortion legislation in recent years. There have been more antiabortion laws advanced in the last three years than in the entire previous decade. The agenda is no joke. And what that has done, in addition to devastating access in many states, is set a terrible new standard for what constitutes access. In Mississippi right now, there is just one clinic to serve the entire state. The continued existence of the Jackson Women's Health Organization has been a hard-won victory, and it's a battle that activists in the state are forced to fight, on different fronts, every day. But it's just one clinic. That is such a terribly low bar for access, but it has started to look a lot like business as usual.

And that's a frightening thing, because it makes it that much harder to talk about something beyond "choice" and a pathetic standard of access that denies almost everyone except affluent white women the ability to exercise their constitutional rights. And that's what conservative lawmakers across the county have been working toward. If Republicans win big in the midterms, we can expect to see more of that.

So, again, do you know where your polling place is? Find out before Tuesday.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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2014 Elections Abortion Abortion Rights Elections Midterms Ohio Reproductive Justice Reproductive Rights Texas