The 3 biggest lies Republicans use to avoid admitting they plan to ban abortion

Republicans pretend they're "pro-choice" by giving the choice to Republican state legislators, not pregnant people

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer
Published October 27, 2022 5:45AM (EDT)
Updated December 2, 2022 2:42PM (EST)
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz (Mark Makela/Getty Images)
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz (Mark Makela/Getty Images)

For decades now, Republicans have been running on an anti-abortion platform. Much to the dismay of feminists, it seems to have done little to discourage voters from turning out for them. It's no wonder, then, that Republicans began to believe that voters either agreed with their anti-choice views or weren't really bothered by them. Then, in June, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, opening the door to a stampede of Republican-controlled state legislatures banning abortion. The result was a widespread backlash that made it quite clear that no, actually, the public does not support abortion bans. Instead, it seems that voters had spent years dismissing Republican anti-choice views as empty gestures to placate the religious right, not action plans. (The idea that right wing radicalism is "just talk" strikes again!)

Now the public understands Republicans are dead serious about banning abortion. Abortion has been banned in 13 states and at six weeks in Georgia. Other states have banned second trimester abortions, putting patients who don't discover fetal anomalies until that stage in crisis. Experts believe that soon abortion bans will be in effect in half the states. 

For their political prospects, however, Republican politicians would very much like to return to the before times, when voters believed all this "pro-life" talk was meaningless noise, not a concrete plan to dismantle reproductive rights. The rhetoric deployed to prop up this illusion has gone well beyond the typical verbal embroidery politicians employ. Instead, it can be characterized as outright dishonesty meant to trick voters into giving up their own rights. Here's the three biggest talking points Republican politicians are using to distract from their true views on abortion access, and why folks should not fall for them. 

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1. I'm only trying to stop all those (imaginary) ninth-month abortions!

Dr. Mehmet Oz, the GOP candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania, falsely claimed Tuesday that his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman would "allow abortion at 38 weeks, on the delivery table." Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis accused his opponent, of supporting abortion "until the moment of birth." Donald Trump takes it to the next level, routinely claiming women go through the entire birth process just so the doctor can "execute" the baby in the delivery room. 

When I told Dr. Meera Shah, a family physician who provides abortions in New York, that Dr. Oz suggested patients get abortions at 38 weeks, she was outraged. "That's just not something that happens," she said. Labor can be induced at that stage, she noted, but abortion at that stage "doesn't even make sense." As she notes, 38 weeks is a "full term." You don't "abort" a pregnancy that is complete. It's literally a non-sequitur. 

Oz "doesn't know anything about this work," she added, noting he's "never practiced sexual or reproductive health." Instead, he's just "disseminating falsehoods to create divisiveness among people." 

Even on its face, this talking point is nonsensical. No proposed bans are limited to 38 or even 32 weeks. States are banning abortion entirely or at much earlier points in a pregnancy. Invoking an imaginary "38 week" abortion to justify these bans is like banning all cars from the road to prevent hypothetical drivers from going 200 mph in a school zone. 

This nonsensical talking point also dehumanizes women by ascribing barbaric behavior to them. "Talking about it in such a way is so disrespectful," Dr. Shah said. "It's disinformation." 

2. Banning abortion is about kicking politicians out of your doctor's office! 

Dr. Oz, in the same Tuesday debate, argued that there "should not be involvement from the federal government" and that it's a decision between "women, doctors, local political leaders." During a Kansas referendum on abortion rights, anti-choice ads routinely characterized a vote to ban abortion as somehow protecting "choice" — because it leaves the choice to state legislators. 

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These talking points are an obvious attempt to confuse voters with language that sounds pro-choice, hoodwinking voters into thinking the politician does not support a ban. But of course, there is nothing pro-choice about any of this. Giving the decision-making power to GOP-controlled state legislatures is not, in fact, leaving the choice to women and their doctors. We know this because more than a dozen of those states have banned abortion already. For the patient denied an abortion, it hardly matters if it's a state or federal politician who took away this basic right. 

It remains to be seen if Republicans are fooling anyone with these talking points.

In addition to deliberately trying to confuse voters, the "leave the choice to the states" talking point is about trying to soothe women into believing they will still have access simply by traveling to another state. But over 800,000 abortions are performed every year in the U.S. If the number of providers is drastically slashed, the remaining clinics could be too overwhelmed to help everyone who needs their services. 

3. I totally support exceptions that you or your daughter will totally be able to get! 

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin claims to support "exceptions to abortion restrictions in the case of rape, incest, or the life of the mother." Despite claiming to believe abortion is "murder," Oz says he's fine with rape exceptions. Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina says a pregnant rape victim "should make that decision with her doctor."

As with the "leave it to the states" talking point, the constant chatter about "exceptions" is meant to lull people into believing they, personally, will always have access — even if other, supposedly less deserving, people are cut off. 

In reality, as feminist writer Jessica Valenti wrote in a recent newsletter, "exceptions to abortion bans are exemptions in name only." 

In Mississippi, for example, doctors are too afraid of the vague law and harsh legal consequences to provide victims with abortion at all. Mississippi Today launched an investigation and couldn't find one doctor in the whole state willing to give a rape victim an abortion. 

Similarly, the "life of the mother" exceptions that may sound reassuring on paper are a nightmare in practice. In Texas, patients are being forced to wait until miscarriages go septic before they're allowed to terminate. In cases of fetal anomaly, patients are being told they have to wait until full term to give birth to babies who will die upon delivery. "Basically, they said I had to carry my baby to bury my baby," one patient who had been denied an abortion told the press

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This "exceptions" talk is misleading on a deeper and harder-to-measure level, as well. Polling shows that large numbers of Americans want abortion to be legal for the "right" reasons, but not for the "wrong" ones. What that means in practice, as abortion clinic workers have long darkly joked, is "the only moral abortion is my abortion." Which is to say, people tend to view their own reasons for doing something sympathetically but assume other people have less honorable impulses for their choices. (This is known as the "fundamental attribution error.")

The talk of "exceptions" allows some voters to falsely believe they and theirs will always be safe, while other people with "bad" reasons will not be. But, as Valenti points out, doctors don't want to risk arrest in the first place, so they will almost always play it safe by offering no abortions at all. Even if you could make the case abstractly for an abortion exception, it doesn't matter if there's no provider willing to take the risk. 

It remains to be seen if Republicans are fooling anyone with these talking points. Voters are well aware of the partisan divide on this issue, perhaps more than any other. When abortion bans were purely hypothetical, Republicans could get away with these word games, mostly because voters tuned the issue out entirely. Now that the bans are truly happening, there's a limit on how much lying and deflection will work. The few elections we have seen have shown that gaslighting rhetoric isn't fooling many voters. The real test, however, will come in less than two weeks, when Americans turn out for the midterm elections. 

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story characterized abortion bans in several states as "total." At this time, all state laws include some exceptions. A current list can be found here.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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