How the GOP's biggest judicial victory in a generation could doom them on Election Day
Since the Dobbs ruling, women are registering to vote faster than men.
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On abortion bans, Republicans are like the proverbial dog who caught the car — and now are at risk of getting run over.
You’d think the Supreme Court’s June ruling to end federal abortion rights would be something for conservatives to crow about, since they agitated for decades to make it happen. But a few big problems quickly became clear. The SCOTUS ruling in question (Dobbs) is opposed by a majority of Americans; not a surprise considering 60 percent of us think abortion should be legal at least some of the time. And this isn’t just a blue state thing. Abortion bans are unpopular even in purple and red places like Florida, Arizona, Ohio, and Kansas (more on that later).
In short, using the courts and legislatures to restrict bodily autonomy is a political loser for Republicans. Relatedly, since the Dobbs decision dropped, GOP hopes for a red wave in November faded from well-founded to quite shaky.
So as the primary season has given way to general election campaigns, Republicans in tough races are trying to distance themselves from the hardline anti-choice positions they staked out just months ago. And in at least one case, they’re making fools of themselves in the process.
The most publicized example of this flip-flopping came courtesy of floundering Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters, who late last month quietly scrubbed his campaign website of language endorsing a fetal personhood law that could ban abortion nationwide. Instead, as Business Insider detailed, the language on Masters’s site was watered down to express support for a much less extreme "law or a Constitutional amendment that bans late-term (third trimester) abortion and partial-birth abortion at the federal level."
But the most bizarre illustration of how Republicans are trying to distance themselves from themselves can be seen in a new ad from Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen, a quack doctor who’s trailing incumbent Gov. Tim Walz by nearly 20 points.
Not even six months ago, Jensen did an interview with Minnesota Public Radio in which he proclaimed, “I would try to ban abortion,” adding that “there is no reason for us to be having abortions going on.” But now that Jensen is trying to win an election in a state where two-thirds of voters support abortion rights, he released an ad in which awkwardly holds a newborn and downplays the issue as one that voters shouldn’t fret about.
“Abortion is divisive,” Jensen says, before adding, “let’s focus on the issues that matter.” (As if bodily autonomy doesn’t matter to women.)
If all this comes across as a bit desperate, that’s because it is. But with unpopular anti-choice positions doing a number on GOP polling, desperate times call for desperate measures. (Judd Legum’s Popular Information newsletter on Thursday provided more context for Jensen’s ad and detailed how another Republican candidate, Colorado Senate hopeful Joe O’Dea, has similarly backed away from years of advocating for abortion restrictions.)
There are other signs of trouble for Republicans. Since Dobbs, women have been registering to vote at far higher rates than men in states across the country. For example, in Kansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Idaho, the percentage of newly registered voters who are women spiked immediately following the Dobbs decision. Even more ominously for Republicans, in early August
, a proposed constitutional amendment in Kansas that would have overturned the right to an abortion in the state was defeated by an 18-point margin. About two-thirds of newly registered voters were women prior to the vote.
The politics of abortion isn’t just hurting Republicans — it’s also helping Democrats. Pat Ryan, a Democrat who ran on abortion rights in New York’s purple 19th District, recently won that special election. Last month, the New York Times detailed how Democrats “have spent nearly eight times as much on abortion-related ads as Republicans have.” They’re embracing the issue while Republicans struggle with it.
To get some expert perspective on how the politics of abortion will impact the midterms, Thor talked to Maya Sen, a political scientist and professor of public policy at Harvard University. A transcript of their conversation, lightly edited for clarity and length, follows.
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