Watch what Republicans say about Roe: GOP fear of backlash on abortion grows

The Republicans' big win is an albatross around their necks

Published June 27, 2022 9:48AM (EDT)

Ron DeSantis and Kristi Noem (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Ron DeSantis and Kristi Noem (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

I expected the right to celebrate their long-sought goal of forcing women to give birth against their will. After all, it has been their Holy Grail for the last 50 years. After decades of proselytizing that a zygote is more important than fully formed human beings, they have even recently succeeded in convincing Republican political leaders that it is decent and humane to force little girls who have been raped by their fathers to give birth to their own siblings. It is quite an accomplishment. So it stands to reason they'd pop the champagne, thrilled to have finally put women back in their place and looking forward to more hard-fought civil rights they can overturn.

But weirdly, I'm not seeing much joy in their victory.

Now such is often the case with the right-wing base. They tend to get angry when they win yet the other side doesn't immediately apologize for ever having opposed them and proclaim themselves converts to the cause. (This is a very old dynamic in America.) But this time we're seeing something a little different.

Yes, anti-choicers are angry at the protesters. One Republican candidate in Rhode Island, a police officer, even punched out his female opponent at a protest on Friday. But Republican officials mostly seem to be either rushing to avoid the subject or bending over backward to reassure everyone that their great victory isn't going to change much of anything.

RELATED: Amid all the gloating, anti-abortion right dreams of bigger wins — and possible violence

Politico tried to chase down some GOP candidates in swing districts and they punted, saying it is no longer a federal issue. Nevada senatorial candidate Adam Laxalt issued a perfectly incoherent "having it both ways" statement in which he celebrated the "sanctity of life" and at the same time reassured his own voters they won't have to observe it:

"The people of Nevada have already voted to make abortion rights legal in our state and the Court's decision on Roe doesn't change settled law and it won't distract voters from unaffordable prices, rising crime or the border crisis."

Republicans have a problem on their hands with Roe overturned and they know it.

This attempt to divert attention from his anti-abortion zealotry in his pro-choice state is embarrassingly transparent. Yet none other than Sean Hannity spent his entire show on Friday explaining that the Supreme Court didn't ban abortion after all:

[W]hile Democrats in the media mob predictably, are demagoguing and lying about this very ruling, we'll give you the facts straight up, let you decide. Now, first, let us be very clear. This decision does not make abortion in America illegal. It does not. I know that. Implying that they're saying it even, but it does not. Instead, individual voters, you will now decide abortion. 

Yes, he couldn't be more fatuous. After all, in the states where abortion is now illegal, individual women voters will no longer be able to decide on abortion. It's nonsensical. But the mere fact that he's not doing celebratory cartwheels tells you they are very concerned that this is going to cause a dangerous backlash. In fact, Donald Trump is reportedly very nervous about this and had to be talked into taking a victory lap. (That's got to be a first.)

RELATED: Supreme Court sets GOP up for midterm trouble

Trump's top rival for the presidential nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, is carefully testing the waters vaguely promising to "work to expand pro-life protections." South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem believes that forcing girls who've been raped by a family member to give birth will make for stronger families (which says a lot about the "family values" she and her voters believe in) But she, like a number of other governors including DeSantis, also bathed themselves in unctuous sanctimony, assuring the nation they would ensure that all the women and girls who would be unable to get an abortion would be well taken care of with medical care and support for herself and her children.

One can't help wondering why they didn't provide all this help before? After all, many poor women have been having children for the entire time Roe was in effect, doing exactly what these people say they wanted them to do and Republicans didn't lift a finger to help them. Did it not even occur to them over the past 50 years that if they helped poor women "choose life" it would show other women that they would be supported and their children would be cared for if they did the same? Apparently not. 

Donald Trump is reportedly very nervous about this and had to be talked into taking a victory lap. (That's got to be a first.)

Instead, Republicans were stingy and mean throughout the entire last half-century, rejecting every program for maternal health and child welfare that anyone proposed. Even to this day in places like Noem's South Dakota, where they refused the Medicaid expansion and even tried to stop the voters from putting the question on the ballot (which failed, luckily,  are miserly and selfishly denying even the most basic support for women and children. The idea that these right-wing extremists will suddenly adopt a generous welfare program for women and children is laughable. Recall this memorable moment during the Obamacare debates:

Republicans had a full-blown meltdown over the fact that the Democrats wanted to require maternity coverage in the Affordable Care Act, which they all voted against anyway. Then they tried to make maternity care "optional" for insurance companies for years afterward. They pushed to end the Children's Health Insurance program for decades, along with pretty much every other child welfare program. Just this year they refused to extend the expanded child tax credit that lifted tens of millions of kids out of poverty. (Just don't touch those tax cuts for the rich though. Those are sacred.) As we speak they're even blocking money for the school lunch program.

The idea that anyone would trust these people to ensure that women and their children are supported now that abortion is illegal in their states is mind-boggling.

RELATED: What the anti-abortion movement wants next — and how we can respond

But it does raise the question as to why they are even promising to do it even after they've spent years decrying "welfare queens" and "dependency" and cruelly degrading poor families as dysfunctional and claiming that "unwed" motherhood is an example of "defining deviancy down." So why suddenly are they all for a socialist welfare state?

This is just something they are saying at the moment to try to wriggle out of the jam they suddenly find themselves in with the Supreme Court delivering a huge win to the base and leaving them holding the bag: massive public disapproval and polls showing it is going to be a voting issue in the fall. That may not matter to candidates and incumbents in bright red districts but it could make a difference in statewide races and swing districts.

Republicans have a problem on their hands with Roe overturned and they know it. All you have to do is watch them stumble and dissimulate on television trying to persuade people they aren't going to keep making life miserable for millions of women and their families. 

As I wrote when the opinion was first leaked, if Democrats don't pin Republicans down on what further rights they intend to infringe and what specific plans they have in mind to mitigate the pain and suffering they are causing, it will be malpractice. The Republicans' big win is an albatross around their necks.

RELATED: Texas Senator John Cornyn says "Now do Plessy vs Ferguson/Brown vs Board of Education"


By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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