Republicans, facing devastating fallout from "Dobbs effect," refuse to quit abortion bans

They brought this on themselves

By Heather Digby Parton


Published April 14, 2023 9:00AM (EDT)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

If you are following the issue of abortion right now you almost surely have a headache. There is just so much happening all over the country that it's very hard to wrap your head around what's going on and how to fight it. This was the predictable outcome of overruling Roe v. Wade to "send it back to the states" because it was always part of the anti-abortion movement strategy. Instead of fighting on one front at the national level, pro-choice advocates would be forced to fight on many different fronts in many different ways while at the same time battling back one attempt after another in the federal courts to degrade the right in the states where it is legal. The final goal remains a national ban even if they have to get it done incrementally.

This was always obvious by the fact that while they always piously proclaimed that abortion is murder while at the same time insisting that they merely wanted to return the issue to the states, as if it was fine with them if some states decided to keep it legal. What they really wanted to do was disperse the resources and energy and wear down the opposition.

So far, it isn't working.

If anything, they have galvanized the pro-choice majority and it's wreaking havoc on Republican politics. In red states they have managed to enact all the draconian policies they dreamed of post-Roe — and that effort is ongoing. Just last night, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a ban on abortion after six weeks. But he did it in a closed door ceremony and didn't announce it until 11 pm, illustrating how dicey abortion politics have become for politicians with national ambitions.

Here's South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, who announced a exploratory committee for president this week, trying to answer the most obvious question anyone can ask in this election cycle. He sounds like he's speaking in tongues:

Even Donald Trump is having trouble negotiating the issue with his most devoted followers. According to Rolling Stone, he's been meeting with evangelical leaders and trying to convince them that abortion is a loser and they need to change their approach. He tells them they must stop talking about bans and start emphasizing "exceptions" instead because otherwise Democrats will paint him as an "extremist." And when he's asked about how he plans to advocate for their cause in the future, he resorts to bragging about his past accomplishments (which basically consists of signing the three Supreme Court nomination papers that were pressed into his hands by Mitch McConnell and the Federalist Society's Leonard Leo.)

His supporters were not amused. One wondered if Trump was "going to try to make us swallow getting next to nothing in return for our support?"

The final goal remains a national ban even if they have to get it done incrementally.

Apparently, Trump's telling anyone who will listen that the Republicans are "getting killed" on abortion, which is true, and Republicans in Washington are freaking out, as Rolling Stone reports:

In recent weeks, numerous emergency meetings — focused on abortion-related messaging and the potential for compromises — have been held by conservatives in nonprofit organizations, on Capitol Hill, and in elite Republican and evangelical circles, multiple sources familiar with the situation attest. "The 'Dobbs effect' is real and maybe devastating," says one Republican member of Congress, referencing the Dobbs v. Jackson case the Supreme Court used to overturn Roe v. Wade, who requested anonymity to speak freely. "And there isn't a solution that everyone can rally around yet." 

Trump seems to think that if the anti-abortion zealots will just agree to allow some exceptions for rape and incest (and maybe the health of the mother) that the whole thing will calm down and everyone can go back to the way it was. Sure, Don.

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First of all, even if the anti-abortion zealots were to agree, the genie is out of the bottle. Roe was overturned and the battle for women's autonomy isn't going to magically disappear because they agree to allow for an exception for rape and incest, which until fairly recently was supported by most pro-lifers. The right to abortion is supported by a large majority of Americans and that majority is growing. Gallup polls from last May show support for abortion in all or most cases at 85%, higher than when polling began in 1975 (76%). With those numbers it's not surprising that a recent PRRI poll found that in only seven states is there a majority against abortion rights: South Dakota (42% say it should be legal), Utah (42%), Arkansas (43%), Oklahoma (45%), Idaho (49%), Mississippi (49%) and Tennessee (49%). Not one state in the country had more than 14% saying it should be illegal in all circumstances.

Unfortunately, those numbers are not going to deter the anti-choice movement and the institutions that support it, including the churches that wield massive influence on the Republican Party. 

And there are activist right wing members of the judiciary ready to step in, as we've seen with the Texas judge who banned one of the medical abortion drugs and an appeals court which upheld one of the worst aspects of his ruling by calling up the archaic Comstock Act banning the use of the mail to transport it. In doing so, they've also put the FDA's ability to regulate all drugs at the mercy of a full variety of zealots who seek to interfere in all Americans' private medical decisions. (Just wait for the vaccine cases to hit the courts.) The Supreme Court will now have to sort it all out. What could go wrong?

And then there are the activists:

"If you're ignoring abortion [as a 2024 Republican candidate], you do so at your own peril," says Kristan Hawkins, president of Students For Life of America. Lila Rose, the founder of the like-minded group Live Action, argues: "What the GOP needs to be doing is doubling down on what makes them even have any kind of competitive advantage over the opposing party: that they defend families, they defend the vulnerable..."

Lila Rose believes the GOP's national policy should be a total ban with no exceptions and she holds Trump responsible for going wobbly on the issue.

Meanwhile, the pragmatists in the party seem to be drifting toward some kind of 15 week "compromise" but they need look no further than Ron DeSantis who had already signed one into law yet felt compelled to push for the more draconian 6 week ban under pressure from the right as he tries to gain traction in the GOP primary. There is no reason to believe that he will be able to finesse this any better than Trump will.

They brought this on themselves. For decades they encouraged and enabled a religious right extremist faction in their party to seize power (even tacitly encouraging anti-abortion terrorism) secure in the knowledge that they would be thwarted in their goals by Roe v. WadeThey allowed them to demagogue the issue as murder, genocide and even a holocaust apparently thinking that it was all just politics. Now this has become inconvenient and these people are being asked to stand down. Apparently, they didn't know that "sending it to the states" was just the anti-abortion movement's strategy and they never meant a word of it. The GOP is stuck with a political albatross around its neck and it's choking on it. 

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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