Erin Ryan on Republicans' abortion problem
"They don’t give a shit about women, and they don’t give a shit about children."
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Earlier this month, voters in Ohio enshrined abortion rights in their state constitution, while at the same time Virginians rejected an abortion ban promoted heavily by Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Those results are the latest example of how abortion has become politically toxic for Republicans in red and purple states, and Democrats are working to capitalize by getting abortion rights measures on the ballot next year in Arizona, Nevada, and Florida.
Republicans are having a hard time taking no for an answer. Virginia Rep. Bob Good claimed that the reason Republicans in Virginia were swept out of power in the state’s General Assembly is because they didn’t push abortion restrictions hard enough. Donald Trump, meanwhile, seems to understand that abortion is a losing issue for his party and has been doing his best to avoid talking about it, but the fact he set the stage for Roe’s demise by appointing three anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court will undoubtedly be a political liability for him next year.
Public Notice contributor Thor Benson connected with the always entertaining Erin Ryan, a widely published columnist and co-host of Hysteria, a Crooked Media podcast focusing on women’s issues, to get her take on the politics of abortion and how it will affect a high-stakes election cycle. She pointed out that even as the Nikki Haleys of the GOP try to sound moderate on the issue, Republican men just can’t help themselves.
“Can the Jim Jordans and the Mike Johnsons shut the fuck up long enough to let the women in their party confuse people? I don’t know if that is actually something they can do,” she said.
A transcript of the conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.
What did you make of the results in Ohio?
I’m happy about it, obviously, but I’m not surprised. There was a lot of polling leading up to Election Day that said the abortion rights measure in Ohio was going to pass. It was just a matter of how big, and it turns out the results were pretty much in line with polling. It still feels good every time.
Kansas in late 2022 was extremely exciting, because it felt like that came out of nowhere. Ohio was exciting too because we think of it as a red state. It’s another piece of evidence that the Supreme Court way overstepped when it gave states the right to decide what women are allowed to do with their bodies and what doctors are allowed to do in their practices.
The data shows that people from all different kinds of backgrounds, including some more conservative voters, support protecting abortion rights by a significant margin. Is there just not the coalition for restricting abortion rights that Republicans thought there was?
It shows there are a lot of ways to get to a point where you’re like, “Actually, I’m pro-choice, and I’m going to vote accordingly.” You can get to it from a libertarian standpoint. You might think the government doesn’t have any business helping anybody make these decisions or regulating this at all. Another way to get to it is if you’re a straight-up feminist and think women have the right to control what’s in their bodies.
I think there are also people who consider themselves conservative who are distressed by the way really restrictive laws like Ohio’s existing six-week so-called “heartbeat” ban have played out. There are 20 women who are suing the state of Texas because the law there made them endure horrible, torturous bodily indignities, like carrying non-viable fetuses for months and not having any way to receive legal health care.
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People are being told that if they’re losing a pregnancy they don’t get to have any medical intervention until they’re nearly septic. I think there are people who are like, “I don’t think abortion is morally right, but I think it’s even more morally incorrect for the government to force women to go through these scenarios.”
There is no way to take a legal scalpel to this and outlaw only the type of abortion that makes people angry. There is such a gray area in reproductive healthcare, and I think a lot of conservatives trying to design laws around abortion have a complete lack of understanding not only of the way human reproduction works, but how pregnancies continue or are lost, how things can go wrong, and what procedures are needed in order to rectify those things.
The practice of obstetrics and gynecology is one that if you asked a medical professional — if more medical professionals were consulted when making these laws— they would say there is no way to outlaw abortion without endangering people who never intended to have an abortion. I think there’s a small but sizable contingent of people who are seeing this now. It’s people who maybe had an idea of a young, irresponsible woman waltzing into the clinic and using abortion as birth control and being really flippant about it. That’s not reality.
Part of this feels like the dog that caught the car. They really wanted to overturn Roe for a long time, and now they have, and they’re not sure what to do.
There was a real complacency in the run-up to the Dobbs decision in the mainstream. Part of that was by design. The anti-choice lobby for generations tried to keep their fight quiet to the mainstream and loud to their fringe. People never thought Roe would be overturned.
When the draft of the Dobbs decision leaked, I think a lot of people read it and were like, “No fuckin’ way. This is really over the top. There’s no way.” Then the actual opinion was really similar to the draft that was leaked. I think people were like, “Oh my God. They’re actually going to do it. They actually did it.”
I would make the analogy that if I were sitting at home watching TV and someone came up to my door and knocked, and I didn’t answer, and then all of a sudden they start taking an ax and chopping at it, it would take me a few seconds to be like, “Oh. I need to fight for my life right now.” I think there was kind of a delay because people were like, “They’re not gonna do that.”
A lot of the states that have voted to protect abortion rights are quite conservative. Do you think post-Dobbs this is becoming a less partisan issue and people are starting to think more about how they actually feel about it?
People are thinking about the abortion debate beyond the actual procedure of abortion. They’re thinking about it as an issue of freedom, an issue of bodily autonomy. This country is absolutely shitty to parents, and the party that has been promoting the tightening of abortion restrictions has done nothing to make becoming a mother a more attractive choice. Nothing.
It takes the air out of any argument that what anti-abortion people are doing is protecting women or protecting children. They don’t give a shit about women, and they don’t give a shit about children. There are so many examples of that now. Like I said, there are a bunch of ways different people are arriving at the same conclusion that the government doesn’t have any business restricting abortion, and the people that are trying to regulate it don’t know what they’re doing.
JD Vance said the Ohio result was “a gut punch.” Do you think Republicans are kind of stunned right now and are just scrambling to figure out a new strategy?
Good. I hope he’s depressed.
In the Republican debate the day after Election Day, we saw Nikki Haley say something we’ve never seen Nikki Haley say before, which was to sound sort of reasonable and live and let live in regards to abortion. I’m sorry, infertility is a very serious thing, and I know so many people who have gone through it, and it’s completely heartbreaking, but I think it is completely grotesque to weaponize it as a way to justify restricting other people’s abortion access. [Editor’s note: Haley has been open about her struggle with infertility, and has cited adoption as one of the reasons she’s opposed to abortion.]
RELATED FROM PN: Nikki Haley and the politics of faux-moderation
But within Nikki Haley’s personal story of why she’s pro-life and how she thinks everyone should just live and let live, she did eventually say she would sign an abortion ban if she could get 60 votes in the Senate. I think what’s going to happen among Republicans right now is we’re going to see a lot more women talking about it — talking in a slow, quiet voice and making a lot of eye contact with the camera, sharing personal stories — and left unsaid will be the fact that all of them would sign or vote for a nationwide ban if they had the chance.
It’s going to be a lot of smoke and mirrors, a lot of soft focus — but it’s also a matter of, can the Jim Jordans and the Mike Johnsons shut the fuck up long enough to let the women in their party confuse people? I don’t know if that is actually something they can do.
Democrats are now looking at pushing similar ballot measures to protect abortion rights in states like Arizona, Nevada, and Florida. What do you think about that strategy?
It’s great and they absolutely should do it. I’m not a political strategist. I’m just a person who tries to call balls and strikes, but I would say from a resources standpoint, there’s only so many places Republicans can be all hands on deck defending themselves against very legitimate criticisms they have earned by outlawing abortion, restricting abortion, and putting women in positions of completely inhumane crimes against humanity.
This will make it so Republicans have to spread resources around to try and defend themselves. I also think Arizona is solidly a purple state at this point. The public referendum process in Arizona is not quite as easy as it is in Ohio. It’s a higher threshold, but abortion has overperformed in all of the places where it’s been put up for a vote, so I’m excited to see this actually put to the people of these states rather than state legislatures.
In terms of 2024, how do you think Democrats should approach this issue? Should they go really hard and talk about the worst stories out there from states that have restricted abortion? Should they make it about personal freedom?
They don’t have to necessarily pick a lane. There are different ways to arrive here. Let’s help people along in all of the possible ways.
Kayleigh McEnany said on Fox that Republicans need to try to be the “pro-mother” party by doing things like expanding the child tax credit to include fetuses. Look, I pay like $3,000 a month for childcare. Letting me have nine extra months of a child tax credit doesn’t do dog shit, but they’ve got ideas. They want to do things that are publicly pro-family but don’t actually amount to much.
I think Democrats need to get out in front of that Republican narrative. We still don’t have paid family leave. You know that if Democrats brought that up in 2024, Republicans would have to put their money where their mouth is. Do you care about families or not?
Democrats should continue to let women tell their stories, which is really the biggest strength they have. It’s not just random people, like Ron DeSantis, going up there and spewing anecdotes. It’s having the women themselves who have the courage to get on camera and just say what happened to them. I think that’s the most powerful messaging tool for Democrats.
Beyond that, we need to actually start passing laws or pushing for policies that make being a parent easier so that we can head Republicans off on their narrative, which is that they’re the pro-family party. They’re not. They’ve never been. If we let them get away with being the only party that’s bragging about doing something for families and children, then they could get away with it.
That’s it for today (and happy Thanksgiving!)
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