"You can go three hours that way": Kari Lake and Arizona GOP can't decide if abortion is bad or not

Kari Lake Kent Nishimura/Getty Images
Kari Lake Kent Nishimura/Getty Images
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Abortion is supposedly an act so evil that it's tantamount to murder — yet it's somehow less wicked if someone takes a road trip before doing it. That appears to be the bizarre opinion of Kari Lake, failed gubernatorial candidate turned current Republican Senate candidate in Arizona. At a Tuesday campaign event, Lake was dismissive toward those angered by a recent state Supreme Court ruling that resurrected a near-total abortion ban initially passed before Arizona was a state, and 55 years before women had the right to vote.

"Even if we have a restrictive law here," Lake tried to assure the concerned crowd, "you can go three hours that way, three hours that way, and you're going to be able to have an abortion."

The comment is confounding in multiple ways, and it's just the latest twist in Lake's ever-changing position on abortion. In 2022, she insisted that bringing back the 1864 law was a good idea because "life begins at conception." After the court's wildly unpopular decision, however, she discovered she could set aside her alleged deep moral qualms with abortion to denounce the ruling. Then again, on Tuesday she seemed to be fine with the ruling, not because of deep moral qualms but because she sees it as no big deal to make someone drive three hours to get an abortion.

This cavalier attitude towards what patients go through to get abortion care is, first and foremost, gross. There's nothing easy about driving three hours one way, sitting at a clinic for many more hours, and then trying to find a way home when you're not allowed to drive yourself after an abortion. (It's not safe to drive while under pain medication.) For younger women, low-income women and single mothers, that burden often makes getting an abortion impossible.

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But this "eh, just go out of state" attitude brings up more questions about how much Lake has even thought about her supposed deeply held beliefs about abortion. If it's so immoral that it must be banned in the state of Arizona, then why does it suddenly become OK if a woman does it in California? And if it's not immoral, as Lake's statement suggests, then why should abortion be banned in Arizona at all?

Last week, Republicans tried to dodge their own contradictions by blocking a Democratic bill to repeal the 1864 law from even coming to a vote. Democrats responded by yelling "Shame! Shame!" But it's not just Republican opposition to women's rights that is shameful; it's their cowardice. They could just vote to uphold the 1864 law, as they did in 2022, in conjunction with passing another ban on abortion. But they're so afraid to go on the record defending that cruel, ancient law, now that it's enforceable, that they won't even allow a vote on it. So even though Arizona Republicans drew humiliating national coverage over their gutless behavior, they did it again on Wednesday. Democrats once again tried to end the 1864 law, and using arcane rules of order, Republicans weaseled out of holding a vote at all. Worse, state Rep. Ben Toma, the speaker of the Arizona House, feigned a high-and-mighty attitude about it. He accused Democrats of "childish behavior" in trying to force this issue. But it's Republicans who are refusing to pull up their big boy pants and deal with this pressing issue.

Ahead of Wednesday's session, the Washington Post chronicled the chaos within the ranks of Republicans in Arizona who cannot decide whether they still think abortion is murder or they're fine with it now. Just a few months ago, Republicans in the state legislature were declaring that "abortion is the ending of an innocent human life" and that they would always "fight for the unborn." One even tried to open the carpool lane up to pregnant women to create a legal rationale for declaring that a woman is a "new mom" not when she gives birth, but after a sperm touches an egg.

But now, like Lake, they're suddenly all over the place and can't decide what they think about abortion. Rep. Matt Gress, like other Republicans documented by the Post, now calls the abortion ban "draconian" and is calling for its repeal.

It's not like these people just finally got around to looking at a biology textbook and realized that an embryo is not, in fact, a "pre-born baby." I daresay they all knew that already, and these histrionics about "life" were a pretext for the real goal: stripping women of basic rights. What's changed is that they have since learned that voters want women to have their rights. Now that women's safety is under threat, so are the electoral chances of Republicans in November.

Certainly, politicians change their positions all the time for political expedience or upon learning new information. In many cases, this can be a good thing. Being able to change with the times or adjusting to better serve your constituents are good qualities for a leader. Flexibility is one reason democracy tends to work better than other forms of government. But this sudden change of heart about abortion among so many Republicans suggests that they never really thought it was baby-killing, as they have proclaimed for years. Instead, it appears that they smeared millions of women as murderers for no other reason than to please the Christian right, whose main goal is restoring women to second-class status.

Rather than dealing honestly with the public, Republicans are scheming to find a way to trick voters into accidentally giving away their rights. On Monday, NBC News exposed a strategy document shared internally by party leaders, which offered ideas to bamboozle people about abortion measures on the ballot. The document suggested piling multiple, conflicting ballot measures onto voters to confuse them about how, exactly, they can vote to protect abortion rights. Should the will of the masses prevail and abortion is made legal again, it suggests abusing the health regulatory framework to make it more difficult and expensive for providers to offer abortion services.

It's always been the case that opposition to abortion is about hostility to women's liberation, not "life." As Nicole Narea at Vox explained over the weekend, when the 1864 abortion ban was first passed, supporters didn't even bother to pretend they thought abortion was "murder." First-trimester abortion was a common form of birth control that had been accepted for centuries. What changed was not people's moral views on abortion. It was the development of misogynist outrage at the burgeoning feminist movement of the 19th century and falling birth rates.  Male doctors also wanted to put their competition — midwives who made extra cash providing abortions — out of business. Eager to push women into more subservient roles, legislators started passing abortion bans —which was a lot easier to pull off when women couldn't vote.

Alabama Republicans are also facing the consequences of lying about the real purpose of abortion bans for so long, when their own court, taking seriously its own rhetoric about "life," functionally banned in-vitro fertilization. After all, if you actually believe an embryo is the moral equivalent of a child, IVF is worse than abortion, since it requires deliberately creating multiple embryos with the understanding most will not survive. If abortion is "murder," IVF is premeditated serial killing. But under a deluge of criticism, Alabama Republicans passed a bill that ostensibly protects IVF (though it really doesn't). In doing that, they tacitly admitted that they never actually thought abortion was a criminal act.

It may be hard to push the genie back into the bottle, however. In March, Democrat Marilyn Lands won a special election to the Alabama state legislature by running on a reproductive rights platform. What is remarkable is how decisive her victory was: In a district that Donald Trump narrowly carried in 2020, she beat the Republican by 25 points. Hers is just one in a long line of pro-choice victories across the country since Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022. I suspect an underrated aspect of this shift is that pro-choice candidates have been able to offer moral clarity and consistency. Their Republican opponents can't decide if abortion is murder or just something they kind of don't like.

Arizona Republicans clearly hope they can dodge and weave until this issue goes away. But it won't, and telling women to just "go three hours that way" will not solve their problem. Many voters were happy to ignore the inconsistencies and logical fallacies of the anti-abortion position when Roe v. Wade protected them from irrational Republican laws. But there's no ducking the radicalism of the GOP on this issue now, with Arizona Republicans committed to an abortion ban that predates modern medicine.