Republicans Are Scrambling To Obscure Their Records On Abortion

by | Aug 31, 2022 | Politics

Some Republicans really don’t want you to know about their positions on abortion.One of them is Blake Masters, the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in Arizona. Until recently, his campaign website promoted him as a “100% pro-life” candidate and pledged support for “a federal personhood law (ideally a Constitutional amendment) that recognizes that unborn babies are human beings that may not be killed.” Then, last week, correspondents from NBC News learned the website’s language had changed. The reference to Masters as a “100% pro-life” candidate? Gone. Mention of the personhood law? That’s vanished, too.Instead, the website now touts his opposition to late-term abortion and support for the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of taxpayer funds to finance abortion. AdvertisementSomething similar has happened in Michigan, where Republican state Sen. Tom Barrett is running for a U.S. House seat. Barrett’s website once touted his opposition to abortion under any circumstance and his promise that “I will always work to protect life from conception.” As recently as this past May, he told Melissa Nann Burke of the Detroit News he opposed allowing abortions in cases of rape or incest. But at some point, the abortion section vanished from Barrett’s website. When Burke and her colleague Craig Mauger asked Barrett for an explanation, he said he wasn’t aware of the change but assumed it was a routine update to focus on issues more important to voters.It was a strange explanation, given that two polls from the previous week found abortion to be the No. 1 issue in Michigan right now. By Monday, the website had another update with new language on abortion and, echoing the new Masters website, it focused on Barrett’s opposition to late-term abortion. AdvertisementThe website for Barbara Kirkmeyer, Republican candidate for a U.S. House seat in Colorado, used to include language on the “sanctity of life.” That language is not there anymore. (The Washington Post has details.)And the website for Mark Ronchetti, GOP candidate for governor in New Mexico who in a previous campaign said that “life should be protected — at all stages,” now promises a “middle ground” approach that focuses on prohibiting late-term abortion. (Politico has that story.)There are probably more such examples out there, with more likely to come. And it’s not hard to figure out what these Republicans are trying to do here — although whether their gambit succeeds will depend a lot on how much voters are paying attention.Republicans Face A Major Backlash On AbortionThe Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Care, which overturned Roe v. Wade and ended its guarantee of abortion rights, has sparked a political backlash capable of changing the outcome of elections in November. You can see it in the polls showing majorities opposing the Dobbs decision. You can see it in the figures for new voter registration, which consist disproportionately of women, younger voters and Democrats. Or you can see it in the outcome of recent special elections, including last week’s surprise win by an underdog Democrat in a swing district from upstate New York.AdvertisementRepublicans are reacting to this the way politicians always do when they find themselves on the wrong side of a public opinion divide: by trying to change the subject and, when they can’t do that, by disguising or distancing themselves from their previously stated, more unpopular position. In this case, that means scrubbing references to total bans on abortion and shifting the focus to late-term abortion, where Republican support for prohibitions has traditionally polled well.It’s an open question whether the strategy will work this time. Democrats have an answer on late-term abortion ― namely, that the procedure is rare and comes up in medically dire, ethically complex cases in which judgment is best left to a woman and her doctor. Although that hasn’t always proved persuasive in the past, reactions might be different in the wake of Dobbs, given how the Supreme Court’s ruling has focused public attention on questions of bodily autonomy ― i.e., who actually gets to make these sorts of decisions.And even if the Democrats’ argument remains unpersuasive, it’s not clear how much voters will care when abortion at any stage ― under almost any circumstances ― is already unavailable in some parts of the country and on the verge of becoming unavailable in even more.AdvertisementAbortion Access Is Really At Stake In NovemberMichigan is the perfect example. A 1931 law prohibits abortion, with only a narrow exception for the life of the mother. A series of lower state court rulings have block …

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