Previously published in The Hill.
Most Americans believe abortion should be legal in most cases. In every state where voters have voted on the issue since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, voters have sided with reproductive freedom and against abortion bans.
But the Republican presidential debate made it clear that those facts will not stop Republican politicians from doing what is being demanded by the party’s anti-choice zealots: pass a nationwide abortion ban.
Living in or moving to a pro-choice state may not protect you if Republicans take power in Washington. At the debate, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) endorsed the anti-abortion rights movement’s demand for “at least” a federal ban on abortion at 15 weeks — long before the age of fetal viability. He added: “We cannot let states like California, New York and Illinois have abortions on demand up until the day of birth.”
Scott wasn’t the only one pushing that dishonest characterization. It’s the current messaging strategy for Republicans who know abortion bans are unpopular with voters. They make misleading claims about pro-choice policies to distract attention from their attacks on freedom. It hasn’t worked so far, but you should expect to hear a lot more of it between now and the 2024 election.
What you shouldn’t expect to hear is any acceptance of dissent from the anti-choice movement. When the “unapologetically pro-life” former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said candidates should be honest with voters that an abortion ban could not make it through the Senate, adding that she would seek “consensus” on restrictions, former Vice President Mike Pence chastised her, saying “consensus is the opposite of leadership.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed one of the nation’s most extreme abortion bans. But a few weeks ago, when he said he believed abortion was an issue best left to the states, he was criticized by anti-choice leader Marjorie Dannenfelser, who demanded that DeSantis and other candidates support a national ban. During the debate, DeSantis defended his anti-abortion credentials; afterward, he told Sean Hannity that as president he “obviously” would support a bill to prevent late-term abortions.
Former President Donald Trump did not take part in the debate. No doubt aware that abortion bans are not popular with a majority of voters, Trump has avoided taking a clear position on a federal ban. He has said there is a “vital role” for the federal government in “protecting unborn life,” but he hasn’t let himself get pinned down on what kind of ban he would seek or sign.
Dannenfelser’s group has pledged to oppose any candidate who refuses to support a federal ban at 15 weeks, but it is unthinkable that anti-abortion groups wouldn’t do everything in their power to put Trump back in the White House if he becomes the GOP nominee. After all, Trump promised them a Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade. And with their help, and the complicity of Senate Republicans, Trump made it happen. And now bodily autonomy and reproductive choice are not safe anywhere in this country.
“The New Pro-Life Movement Has a Plan to End Abortion,” read a headline in The Atlantic earlier this year, “And it doesn’t care if American voters don’t agree with them,” it added. It detailed the draconian laws put in place by Republican state legislators and governors since Roe v Wade was overturned. Anti-abortion activists keep pushing the envelope with efforts to ban medication abortion and even restrict travel between states.
If some activists have their way, there will be no safe havens to travel to. Princeton Law Professor Robert George filed a brief in the Dobbs case urging the Supreme Court to declare that fertilized eggs were protected from the moment of conception under the 14th Amendment. Under that interpretation, he wrote, states would be required to treat abortion as homicide.
If you don’t think that can happen, and you can’t imagine a national abortion ban becoming law, just remember how unthinkable it once seemed that Trump would become president, or that the Supreme Court would eliminate a constitutional right recognized in law for 50 years.
On access to abortion, legal equality for LGBTQ Americans, the freedom to learn and even a commitment to democracy, the 2024 elections will be a choice between freedom and right-wing authoritarianism that is celebrated by the MAGA movement and the Republican politicians who support it out of conviction or cowardice.