Republicans still don't know how to talk about abortion

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  • The 2023 elections show Republicans still don't know how to talk about abortion.

  • Abortion rights advocates extended their winning streak in Ohio.

  • After Roe's reversal, the GOP hasn't been able to find a winning message.

Roe's reversal unleashed a wave of voter anger that caught anti-abortion activists and many in the GOP by surprise. It's clear they still aren't sure what to say about it.

Tuesday's results in Ohio continued an unbroken winning streak for abortion rights advocates since the Supreme Court's landmark decision last June. States across the country — including Ohio, Michigan, Kansas, and Kentucky — have either expanded protections or beaten back additional restrictions. Republicans hoping for a middle ground saw Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin's much-discussed support for a 15-week ban with traditional exceptions fall flat.

It's not apparent where the party goes from here.

Republicans are split in the wake of the results. Before the 2022 general election, some candidates began to soften their anti-abortion views one went so far as to scrub his website. Their actions now foreshadowed some of the party's struggles. Some are dismissive of just one election. (Never mind the fact that abortion rights advocates have now won seven times when abortion has explicitly been on the ballot.) Others concede that the party needs to broaden its message.

"We can't save lives, if we can't win elections," Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. "If pro-life Republicans want to actually save lives, they have to learn to LISTEN TO WOMEN and talk about abortion AND contraception."


Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio underlined how many Republicans will not simply abandon the issue amid the current struggles.

"Giving up on the unborn is not an option. It's politically dumb and morally repugnant," Vance wrote in his own lengthy post on X. "Instead, we need to understand why we lost this battle so we can win the war."

Vance, who said he was plugged into the push against the amendment, cautioned that his party needs to do more to work on its appeal to voters on the issue.

"[W]e have to recognize how much voters mistrust us (meaning elected Republicans) on this issue. Having an unplanned pregnancy is scary," Vance wrote. "Best case, you're looking at social scorn and thousands of dollars of unexpected medical bills. We need people to see us as the pro-life party, not just the anti-abortion party."

Some Republicans just want to ignore voters.

Building such an appeal may not be easy. As Vance described, many Republicans abandoned their decades-long commitment to traditional exceptions to abortion bans in the cases of rape, incest, or the mother's health. In a push for so-called "heartbeat" bans before Roe's reversal, several states abandoned some or all exceptions. Some Republican governors defended this move by emphasizing that being anti-abortion meant that one should oppose abortion in all instances. And some Republicans are questioning why voters get to weigh in at all.

"Thank goodness that most of the states in this country don't allow you to put everything on the ballot, because pure democracies are not the way to run a country," former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum said Tuesday night on Newsmax.

A contingent of Ohio Republicans is underlining a likely even more unpopular option: simply ignoring voters. In a statement after Tuesday's results, four lawmakers floated the idea of taking the power away from courts to decide the future of abortion bans after more than 2 million Ohioans voted in favor of the amendment.

Even thornier issues are still playing out, including access to abortion-inducing medication and punishment for those who help people access abortions. A federal judge has put on hold an Idaho law that punishes people who help an unrelated child obtain an abortion in another state if they can't prove the minor's parent did not give permission.

Democrats appear primed to use the dysfunction to their advantage. Polling shows the American people broadly trust President Joe Biden and other Democrats more on the topic. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear aired an ad that explicitly attacked his challenger over incest exceptions to abortion bans. Additional state votes could be coming in Arizona and Missouri. Florida may also join the list, though advocates have encountered some difficulties funding their efforts, according to a Politico report.

The GOP primary looms over the debate. 

The ongoing primary creates clear incentives for conservatives to pressure hopefuls to push more abortion restrictions. Evangelical conservatives also have major sway over key contests, such as the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.

"So you've got to work from the bottom up," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said during Wednesday's GOP presidential debate. "You've got to do a better job on these referenda. I think of all the stuff that's happened in the pro-life cause they've been caught flat-footed on the referenda and they have been losing the referenda. A lot of the people who are voting for the referenda are Republicans who would vote for a Republican candidate."

DeSantis signed a law outlawing most abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy shortly before he formally announced his campaign. Florida's law does include some traditional exceptions for rape, incest, and the health of the mother.

Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley has consistently stressed it is unlikely any GOP president would sign a national abortion ban into law given the Senate filibuster that would require 60 votes.

"As much as I'm pro-life, I don't judge anyone for being pro-choice, and I don't want them to judge me for being pro-life," Haley said. "Let's find consensus. … We don't need to divide America over this issue anymore."

Read the original article on Business Insider