Where the Right Is Going on Abortion

Something I wrote back in 2006:

In the long term, even if Roe v. Wade were overturned and a whole mess of states criminalized abortion the next day, the overwhelming force of public opinion would eventually set things right again to make abortion legal. That is, unless the United States isn’t converted into a fundie theocracy, in which case all bets are off. And in that case abortion law will be the least of our problems.

Well, here we are. This week’s Arizona Supreme Court decision is still causing tremors. Republicans in Arizona are holding a master class in How to Look Stupid. On Tuesday they were denouncing the decision and trying to run away from the 1864 law. But then Republicans in the Arizona legislature blocked at attempt by Democrats to overturn the law. Which makes one question if they mean what they say. (/snark)

Meanwhile, Trump is still turning his unnaturally bronzed face toward cameras and promsing that just returning the issue to the states has already settled everything, and the states will sort it out (and don’t ask me about abortion again). But red states are descending into chaos over abortion (see: Arizona). It’s kind of been all over the news. Michael Tomasky writes at The New Republic that Trump has taken the dumbest possible position he could have taken.

The embrace of a 15- or 16-week ban would have left plenty of space between Trump and his party’s anti-abortion extremists. It would have enabled him to say, when some deep-red state passed some draconian ban, “No, I don’t agree with that at all; here’s my position, 15 weeks.”

But now? I remember thinking Monday morning that hypothetically, his new “states’ rights” position meant that any extremist position adopted by any state could now be hung around his neck.

The gods sure have a sense of drama because barely 24 hours passed before we went from hypothetical to all too real, when the Arizona state Supreme Court turned the clock back to General Sherman’s march to Atlanta. 

See also The problem with Donald Trump ‘leaving abortion to the states’? The states. And of course this chaos was entirely predictable. The Dobbs decision had sent the issue back to the states, and a number of state legislatures have since shown us all how bonkers they are. And the backlash against the Right over abortion was entirely predictable also; at least, I’ve been predicting it for some time. I wrote in 2005:

GOP dominance in the Midwest and South, especially in rural areas, came at a cost. Urban and suburban moderates and independents are getting squeamish about voting Republican. And if Roe v. Wade goes down, expect a stamped to the Left.

One sometimes hears that there was little abortion controversy before Roe, which is a flat-out lie. I well remember the Missouri state legislature did little else but argue about abortion, and I believe that was fairly standard. When Roe was decided, the relief in state capitals was palpable. If Roe is reversed, several states will outlaw abortion immediately, and most of the remainder will be embroiled in abortion wars as the Fetus People demand satisfaction. And Republicans won’t be able to hide any more. Most of ’em will have to find a way to placate the Fetus People while not scaring away everyone else.

Ain’t enough nuance on the planet to pull that one off.

Plus, “let the states decide” was the old, pre-Dobbs, talking point for the forced birth crowd. No one who has paid attention to this issue over the years believed they meant that, because there was no way they were going to stand aside and tolerate any states deciding to keep abortion legal. All too predictably, since Dobbs they’ve moved on to calling for some kind of national ban.

I don’t know if Ross Douthat fully appreciates what a tool he is here:

The captivity of the pro-life movement to the character of Donald Trump is a crucial aspect of contemporary abortion politics. But maybe not quite in the way suggested by Trump’s decision this week to publicly distance himself from his pro-life supporters by refusing to endorse national restrictions on late-term abortions.

Here Douthat has cheerfully forgotten that the old goal was letting the states decide. Now he’s embraced a new fiction that the abortion criminalizers only want to ban “late term” abortions. “Late term” here is Fetus People Speak for “whatever we say it means.” In medical science, a “late term’ pregnancy is one that has apparently gone on longer than normal, past the 40 week mark that is considered “full term.” In the context of Douthat’s column he seems to think that 15 weeks — less than the halfway point in the pregnancy — is “late term.” If a 15-week ban goes into effect, the Fetus People will gradually redifine “late term” to “ten seconds after fertilization.” You can count on that.

It’s clear where the Right is going on abortion, except to the Right. Even if they know deep down, they can’t sayit out loud.

See also Lawrence O’Donnell on Trump’s face paint.

8 thoughts on “Where the Right Is Going on Abortion

  1. I don't like to wade to deeply into the abortion issue, me being a man and all. My wife informs me that there should no limits put on abortion except those determined by a woman, her family and her doctor. I agree with that. That being said from a purely political standpoint it seems to me that a limited ban with exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother after somewhere around 16-20 weeks would get a bunch more support than "leaving it up to the states". I think there are plenty of "white suburban women" that could vote for Stump if that was his position. The problem the GQP is caught in a trap. They have been placating the fetus people for so long that anything seen as a compromise will be seen as "abortion on demand". Perhaps the only person that may have been able to get away with advocating for a 16 week ban is Stump. They seem to give him a pass on everything else, rape, sexual assault, porn stars, hush money, two impeachments, inciting an insurrection, trying to steal an election? I really think Stump stepped in it, he got some bad advice he should have supported a 16 week ban. Though we all know in wing-nut world flip-flopping is a feature not a bug so who knows he could change his position three or four more times before the election?

    • That was the way it was under Roe; Roe was the compromise.

      As we have seen in Texas, exceptions to protect the life and health of the mother are valueless in practice; there are always crusading prosecutors who will act to harass medical personnel and women who try to take advantage of them.

  2. For decades the Evangelicals thought (correctly) that the Republicans were just stringing them along for votes and money.  DJT brought no special ability to the job of POTUS – he got lucky with the opportunity to appoint three judges to the USSC. McConnell picked them, via the Federalist Society. So the Fundies are grateful to Trump because (in their minds) Trump delivered. Actually, Trump was there when the political lightning of three vacancies hit.

    Still, the Evangelicals are afraid that the GOP will betray them and make a deal to make abortion a less toxic political issue. Evangelicals don't want a compromise – they want to dominate women's sex lives. The GOP is perfectly happy with the draconian laws they have passed. They are trying to extend their reach into other states who are offering abortion to patients from Texas. This is the goal of Evangelicals – to rule women everywhere in their sex lives from abortion to contraception. 

    Trump realized around 2020 that his greatest achievement (abortion) was his greatest liability. He was on record taking credit for what the USSC did. Trump can't afford to lose the votes of Evangelicals nor can he survive the wrath of women who are beginning to appreciate how much their lives are impacted by losing Roe and they see it getting worse. 

    I never thought Trump would advocate for a federal law that would strike down what Texas has done (and is doing.) A 15-week federal ban that provided for reasonable exceptions would have totally betrayed what the Evangelicals feel is their "mission from God." The only way such a ban would have been acceptable is if it was a national minimum which individual states could exceed (leaving Texas law in place.) A lot of people (better informed than I am) think that was going to be Trump's play. Lindsey Graham and Michael Tomasky think that was the deal. I agree with Tomsny that if Trump had thrown the Fundies under the bus with a real 15-week ban, Trump would have improved his chances. Problem: abortion is a single-issue mandate for Evangelicals – had Trump betrayed them, they would NOT have gone along with the betrayal. I don't think they would have accepted any wink-wink hint that Trump would actually allow them what they want after he's elected. Abortion bans are not popular with voters – any concession by politicians to placate the majority will become permanent law, the Fundies know. 

    So Trump is saying, you can have and keep whatever you can pass at the state level. In those states that Evangelicals do not have a majority, the voters there will be allowed abortion on demand. Trump has implicitly admitted that the policy on abortion is shaped by politics… "we have to win."  The Evangelicals will not just go along with this – IMO, they will adopt a scorched-earth policy re a national ban. Either the GOP is all-in on a total ban or the Evangelicals will withhold their vote. They think they are on the cusp of the theocracy they wanted since Thomas Jefferson opposed them. They won't let Trump trying to stay out of prison rob them of owning every vagina in the country.

    This is just getting started. 

  3. The only way they can make this stick is to create an unequal society; either to outright keep women from voting or to so promote factionalism that women's opposition becomes ineffective. They are starting to moot this. This is a radical idea at this time; I hope the anti-choice faction fails at mainstreaming it.

  4. At least we have gotten closer to pinning down the specific time period he and they want to return us all to, when he and they believe America was great – 1864. 


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