Two weeks ago, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that would ban abortions in the state after the sixth week of pregnancy, a move that will be welcomed by Republican primary voters. The more important question is: How will that play out in the general election? It could, as a Biden campaign spokesman told RealClearPolitics last week, “become an anvil around [his] waist.”
The spokesman added that portraying Republicans as “extremists” on abortion will be a “huge tenet” of their campaign and that Vice President Kamala Harris “serve as the leading voice.”
Prior to the leak of the draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade last May, a Republican landslide in the upcoming midterms seemed all but certain. A year and a half of Democratic rule had been a disaster for the country by every metric. To name a few: Biden’s abrupt exit from Afghanistan had humiliated the U.S. on the world stage, unprecedented numbers of illegal immigrants were pouring over our open southern border, crime was spiking due to prosecutors’ soft-on-crime policies, inflation was a 40-year high, and gasoline prices were at a record high.
Politico’s report of the initial majority opinion came as a political earthquake and provided a lifeline for the embattled party and they ran with it. The decision had struck a nerve and few could have imagined the impact of the abortion issue on the midterms.
In the end, the anticipated red tsunami failed to materialize and Republicans were lucky to have won the House.
Republican candidates with extreme positions on abortion lost big. Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, who told voters he “looks forward to signing” a six-week abortion ban, lost by 15 points. Tudor Dixon lost her bid to unseat Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer after opposing an abortion for a 14-year-old girl who had been raped by her uncle. “I’ve talked to those people who were the child of a rape victim and the bond that those two people made,” Dixon said. “And the fact that out of that tragedy, there was healing through that baby.” Dixon lost by 10 points.
If Republicans continue to insist on such strict laws, we will continue to lose elections. The fact remains that the majority of Americans support abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy. Predictably, support declines in the second trimester, and drops even further in the third trimester.
A June 2022 Gallup poll found that 67% of respondents support abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy; 36% in the second trimester and 20% in the last trimester.
These results are very much in line with other surveys on abortion. For example, a 2022 midterm exit poll in the state of Wisconsin showed that “63% of voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while only 34 percent thought it should be illegal in all or most cases.”
Republican insistence on a ban after six weeks will cost a lot of votes. And, after losing the White House and both chambers of Congress in 2020, and the Senate in 2022, the party doesn’t have the luxury of defending extreme positions.
Four more years of a Biden administration, particularly if Democrats control Congress, could mean abortion on demand up until the time of birth. It could mean a lot more than that. But that’s a discussion for another day.
In a recent column, conservative commentator Ann Coulter argued that “Pro-life hardliners will get more babies killed” and that “[a] known side effect of anti-abortion zealotry” was “electing more Democrats.”
She wrote: “Unlike a lot of people complaining about the anti-abortion zealots, I am an anti-abortion zealot. That’s why I’m begging them to stop pushing wildly unpopular ideas. These fanatics are going to get millions more babies killed when Democrats win supermajorities in both houses of Congress and immediately pass a federal law making abortion-on-demand the law of the land.”
“Extremists have got to learn to take half a loaf,” Coulter added. “[P]ro-lifers need to be told: you can’t get everything you want. If Republicans give you this, they’ll lose their jobs, and the people who’ll replace them want you dead.”
Coulter also cites the failure of six statewide ballot initiatives put in place by pro-lifers since the Dobbs decision. Pro-lifers “lost in blue states, in purple states and in red states. They were not outspent. These were direct-to-the-people votes. The tiniest restriction on abortion failed — even wholly theoretical restrictions! Every expansion of abortion rights won.”
Republicans would be foolish to dismiss the importance of abortion as an issue in 2024. In a perfect world, a ban on abortion after six weeks with exceptions for rape and incest would be a reasonable solution. But the majority of Americans consider that to be an extreme position.
Why not propose a ban on abortions after the first trimester with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother, a position that two out of three voters support? But insisting on a ban after six weeks would be handing the Democrats a club with which to bludgeon us. It is a luxury Republicans cannot afford.
A previous version of this article appeared in The Washington Examiner.
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