Some liberals seemed really surprised by the results of the Kansas referendum on abortion. Reliable republican state, pro-choice landslide victory. Who would have expected that?
Others suggested that only the pro-life side should be shocked. “The anti-abortion movement has always claimed that voters would reward Republicans for turning Roe,” wrote Mark Joseph Stern of Slate. “They are now discovering how delusional this conviction has always been.”
It is true that activists often tend to be unrealistically optimistic. But no one who favored Roe’s heart in particular should be surprised by the KS result. On the sidelines, perhaps — but the Republican state’s vote to preserve the right to abortion underscores what has always been clear: With Roe’s end, the pro-life movement must now adjust to the democratic competition it sought.
Currently, a majority of Americans prefer the abortion restrictions that were excluded under Roe, but just over a third of the country takes the position that abortion should be largely illegal, a number that shrinks if you remove the various exceptions.
This means that the millions of Americans who voted for Donald Trump favor the right to first-trimester abortion – some are old-fashioned Republicans in country clubs, others are secular, working-class voters or anti-wake-up “Barristol conservatives” who hate the progressive elite but find the streak Religious conservatism is also alienating.
In many red and purple states alike, those constituencies have a balance of power. Even with exceptions, the state probably needs to be very republican or very My religion to ban first-trimester abortion to be common, which basically means the Deep South and the Mountain (especially Mormons) West. This was clear before Ro Fall – that outright bans will be the exceptions, and competition in many states will be over how far the restrictions can go.
The KS result confirms this assumption. The state already has a delayed ban, and the extended ballot procedure did not specify an alternative, but rather promised the legislature general authority to write new abortion laws. Would the outcome have been different if the referendum had suggested restrictions at about 12 weeks? I think so. Can the pro-life movement suffice with this kind of goal? Well, that is the question, with different countries giving different answers.
In purple Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp signed a law in 2019, now in effect, banning abortion after about six weeks with various exceptions; Looks like he’s on his way to re-election. In the red state of Florida, popular governor, Ron DeSantis, is now taking his stand on a 15-week ban.
On the other hand, Republican candidates for governor in Pennsylvania and Michigan have a record of taking positions with few exceptions that seem unsuitable for their state.
I suspect that liberals are deluding themselves if they think that abortion has become a dominant issue in an economically and geopolitically charged environment like this one. But on the sidelines, chances are clear: If Republicans ran for no-exceptions in moderate conservative states or rolled back first-term bans in swing states, they would lose some win-win election.
But then again, serious life advocates have always known that if you bring abortion back into the democratic process, you have to treat public opinion as it already exists. And the way you change your mind is to prove that the growing version of your ideas is viable, so that voters trust you more and more.
This requires addressing immediate concerns head-on. It is not enough, for example, for opponents of abortion to react to stories about delayed care for abortions or ectopic pregnancies in pro-life states by pointing out that the laws are misinterpreted. All officials in those countries should be mobilized to make hospitals fear bad lawsuits more than hypothetical pro-life litigation.
It requires long-term creativity, so that each new fetal protection is combined with reassurances that mothers and babies alike will be better supported than they are today.
When I make the last point, I get a credible liberal response, that the Republicans could have done more for families already, and they didn’t, so why would that ever change?
But that is the point of exercising democratic pressure. Republican religious conservatives have pushed away from libertarian economics in the past—”merciful conservatism” arose from evangelicals and Catholics—but as long as abortion was primarily a court battle, the association with family politics was indirect.
Now that Republicans have to legislate on abortion, though, there are incentives to make the connection clear — especially in states where socially conservative Democrats, especially Hispanic voters, may join a pro-life coalition.
This does not mean that it will happen, only that the incentives for democratic politics are how it will happen. Rowe’s end opens the door to an incremental and creative pro-life movement; It does not guarantee the emergence of such a movement. But the results in Kansas show what will happen if it doesn’t.
#opinion #abortion #policy