Republicans Stand Firm on Abortion Bans Despite Recent Election Setbacks

WASHINGTON ― Despite significant Democratic victories for abortion rights in Tuesday’s elections, congressional Republicans remain undeterred in their attempts to pass legislation severely limiting abortion nationwide.

Staunchly anti-abortion lawmakers argue that the GOP must intensify its efforts to persuade voters and push through a minimum 15-week abortion ban.

“We can’t give in to the idea that the federal Congress has no role in this matter because if it doesn’t, then the pro-life movement is basically not going to exist, I think, for the next couple of years,” warned Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), calling the results “depressing.”

Ohio, a GOP-controlled state, voted on Tuesday to enshrine abortion access in its constitution ― making it the seventh state in which voters successfully protected abortion access since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. Democrats also achieved significant wins in the Kentucky governor’s race and in Virginia’s legislature, two states where abortion was a key issue.

The Ohio vote is the latest evidence that Republicans are significantly out of sync with voters on abortion. Several states have affirmed abortion access or defeated attempts to restrict it. Voters in Arizona, Florida, and Missouri will continue to have a say next year.

Supporters of Issue 1 in Ohio cheer at a watch party on Nov. 7 in Columbus, Ohio.
Supporters of Issue 1 in Ohio cheer at a watch party on Nov. 7 in Columbus, Ohio.

Supporters of Issue 1 in Ohio cheer at a watch party on Nov. 7 in Columbus, Ohio.

Public polling shows that about two-thirds of Americans say abortion should generally be legal in the earliest stages of pregnancy, highlighting the challenge for the Republican Party, which has shown little to no sign of moderating its stance on the issue.

Top Republican lawmakers attributed Tuesday’s results to weak enthusiasm among their base rather than to the abortion issue. They argued that their party will perform better next year when President Joe Biden, who is grappling with low approval ratings, is on the ballot.

“The issues [in 2024] will be inflation, the border, what’s going on in the world. A very different issue set and a very different turnout,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

It is challenging to make definitive predictions about elections that are still a year away, particularly presidential elections, but the trendline in races where abortion has been central has been hard to miss.

And some Republicans were willing to acknowledge they face real problems that necessitate a change in strategy.

“The more we’re talking about abortion, the worse we’re doing,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said. “The more we’re talking about cost of living under Biden, the better we’re doing.”

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) called Tuesday’s GOP losses “embarrassing” and admonished state officials for not heeding voters on abortion. Ohio Republicans attempted to make it harder to change their state’s constitution but were similarly rebuffed by voters in August.

“These states need to recognize that they need to get on board with where their constituents are, and it’s clear to me in Ohio it wasn’t. Because that’s two votes to confirm the policies they were proposing were inconsistent with a majority of people,” Tillis told reporters on Wednesday.

Even Vance, who vowed to continue the fight against abortion, said that Republicans “have to accept we have some real public opinion and persuasion work to do.”

The problem, of course, is not simply the language used about abortion. It’s the policy. Many GOP state legislatures have passed extreme abortion bans. Top 2024 GOP presidential candidates have backed a 15-week or even a six-week abortion ban, in the case of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

In Congress, Republicans are limited by the filibuster, but some lawmakers still want to see a national abortion ban become a reality.

“It’s strange,” said Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) after Tuesday’s GOP losses. “They want to keep tripling down on a bad idea, and I don’t understand it.”


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