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Kristi Noem's ghoulish Sunday TV tour showed how hard women's lives will become in deep red states
And if Republicans have their way, the rest of the country won't be far behind.
Please read to the bottom for an important Public Notice publishing schedule update.
Recent polling indicates a whopping 85 percent of American voters think abortion should be legal in all or some circumstances, and a majority of 55 percent identify as pro-choice (compared to under 40 percent who identify as pro-life). And while abortion rights are obviously overwhelming popular in blue states, opinion is close to evenly divided even in red ones like South Dakota, where a ballot measure to ban most abortions was defeated by more than 10 points in 2008.
Nonetheless, thanks to the Supreme Court’s move on Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade, South Dakota is one of 13 states where abortion is now illegal. And comments Gov. Kristi Noem made during a Sunday media tour hinted at dark things to come for women (or anyone seeking an abortion) in deep red states like hers.
To start with, it needs be pointed out Noem’s position on abortion is incoherent in multiple respects. For instance, she repeatedly insisted on ABC’s This Week that she doesn’t “believe women should ever be prosecuted,” but ended the interview by leaving the door open to South Dakotans facing criminal charges if they leave the state to get an abortion.
“I think that’s [something] there will be debate about,” Noem said.
As jarring as it was to hear, it is comments of that sort from Republican governors that prompted President Biden on Friday to make a full-throated endorsement of the right of women to travel across state lines.
You might recall that during the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump took a lot of heat for telling MSNBC that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who get abortions. In fact, the blowback was so severe that his campaign was forced into a rare walk-back.
But as Noem’s comments indicate, Trump was just a few years and three conservative SCOTUS justices ahead of where his party is today, now that Roe is history. If abortion isn’t a right, then there’s nothing stopping Republicans from punishing people who get them, and some Republicans are already openly talking about doing it.
Republican talk of helping pregnant women is just that and nothing more
This Week host Martha Raddatz didn’t point out that Noem was trying to have it both ways on the topic of prosecuting people who get abortions, but she did nail her for talking a big game about supporting women and families while not following through. And Noem is far from alone in that respect among governors of deep red states.
"The 14 states that have the most restrictive abortion laws, including South Dakota, invest the least in policies and programs for women and children,” Raddatz said, referring to a recent study from the Commonwealth Fund. “So what do you mean when you say these mothers will never be alone?"
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Noem responded lamely by hyping a new state website that, as Rolling Stone details, “appears to direct pregnant people in need mostly to existing federal programs, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and federal affordable housing, in addition to a handful of non-profits, some which have eligibility requirements or provide a limited amount of free services.” She then tried to pivot to bashing Biden for inflation and gas prices, but Raddatz to her credit wasn’t having it.
Noem postures as someone who believes privacy rights are “very important,” as she put it during a second Sunday interview on CBS’s Face the Nation. Yet she’s clearly open to the idea of prosecuting her constituents if they travel to, say, Minnesota for an abortion. Sen. Elizabeth Warren pointed out this disconnect during an interview on This Week that came right after Noem’s.
"Look, what [Noem’s] really saying is that when this decision is made, it should be made by the government — that the government should move in and the government should determine whether a pregnancy is forced to continue,” she said.
It really gives the lie to the idea the GOP is the party of “limited government,” doesn’t it?
But another respect in which Noem’s positions are incoherent was illustrated by her misleading defense of South Dakota’s abortion ban, which makes no exception for cases of rape.
“We continue to make sure we go forward, and that we’re putting resources in front of these women and walking alongside them, getting them the health care, the care, the mental health counseling and services that they should need to make sure that we can continue to support them and build stronger families,” she said. It’s obviously horrific to suggest that pregnancies resulting from rape can produce strong families so long as there is enough mental health counseling, and South Dakota hasn’t demonstrated a willingness to make those sorts of investments: The state has the sixth highest infant mortality rate in the country.
Noem wasn’t the only red state governor talking out of both sides of their mouth on the Sunday shows. On Meet the Press, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he’s not comfortable with his state’s abortion ban not making exceptions for cases of rape.
If he was uncomfortable with this before last week, he had at least one good opportunity to make his voice heard — Hutchinson was the one who signed Arkansas’s abortion ban into law in 2019. (Chuck Todd let this slide.)
It’ll be left up to the states until it’s not
A range of prominent Republicans have downplayed SCOTUS overturning Roe by characterizing abortion as rightfully a states’ decision. If you don’t like bans like the ones in South Dakota or Arkansas, this thinking goes, then at least and theory you can move to California or New York. (In practice, of course, this is much harder for individuals, and sets up interstate conflict over laws in one state that another doesn’t recognize.)
But make no mistake — we are a mere two election cycles away from abortion being banned nationwide. Mike Pence wasted no time on Friday calling for a national ban, and hours later House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy signaled he’d support some form of it too.
So while it may be tempting to think that the reproductive rights situation will remain unchanged in blue states despite the demise of Roe, don’t get it twisted — being in Illinois or Massachusetts won’t save you if Republicans have control of Congress and the presidency by 2025. SCOTUS ending the federal right to an abortion may be out of step with public opinion, but Republicans are talking about making the entire country look like South Dakota anyway.
Public Notice publishing schedule update
For the past nine months, I’ve been publishing four newsletters a week. From talking to experts about the fraught state of American democracy to breaking down Trump’s unintentionally hilarious fundraising emails to decoding right-wing media, I’m proud of the work I’ve done, and there’s much more good stuff to come here in Public Notice.
But as I ramp back up to a full-time schedule following the birth of my son Owen, I’m thinking twice about that hectic pace. And I’ve concluded that three newsletters a week hits the sweet spot between quality and quantity.
To be clear, there will still be plenty of weeks where I end up running four newsletters, because the pace of news requires it — I’ve published four each of the past two weeks, for instance, including hearing-by-hearing breakdowns of the January 6 committee’s proceedings. But the baseline going forward will be three weekly newsletters, hitting your inbox Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This change will allow me to invest a bit more time beefing up each edition, so I’ll still be working hard to make sure subscribers get their money’s worth and then some.
Thanks so much for your support, and if you haven’t already, please consider a paid subscription — it’s the best way you can help make my work here and on Twitter sustainable.
Thanks for reading! Barring breaking news, I’ll be back with more Wednesday and Friday.
UPDATE — Since I first published this piece, news broke that the January 6 committee is holding a previously unscheduled hearing Tuesday afternoon, so I will in fact be back right after it with a wrap up.