In the three weeks since the Supreme Court’s decision on deerRepublicans poised for a winning midterm election have scrambled to keep the public’s attention on President Joe Biden’s low jobs approval ratings and inflation, fearing abortion – a problem deeply felt that sounds bad for conservatives — could increase Democratic turnout and drive moderates away from the GOP.
The case has become an instant flashpoint in the national wars on abortion, alarming Republicans as they try to use abortion to rally grassroots voters without alienating the majority of Americans who say the Abortion should remain legal in at least certain circumstances.
But the case of the 10-year-old pregnant girl has laid bare just how out of control GOP messaging on abortion can get. Not only were the right-wing media and Republican politicians who questioned the story forced to backtrack once the facts of the case were confirmed, but the blows to Republicans look set to keep coming.
On Thursday, Jim Bopp, the general counsel for the National Committee for the Right to Life, ignited the issue when he told POLITICO that the 10-year-old girl should have carried her pregnancy to term – a statement he said , led him to receive death threats.
Despite what GOP leaders and strategists would prefer, the story is unlikely to fade quickly. Later this month, the Indiana state legislature plans to explicitly convene a special session to pass new abortion restrictions, likely becoming the first state to do so in the wake of the Dobbs decision that overturned the national right to abortion enshrined in deer in 1973.
“These are the kinds of things that are going to give life to the hopes of the Democrats to maintain some kind of coalition,” said John Thomas, a Republican strategist who works on House campaigns across the country. “I don’t think that’s the overriding issue as we enter November, but these kinds of unforced errors are a lifeline for Democrats.”
Thomas said Indiana’s case had come up before in at least one race he was working on, and he had informed candidates that “you’re trying to avoid the topic. You try to turn to another problem.
“Any day we talk about anything other than Biden’s cost of living is a politically wasted day,” said Scott Reed, a seasoned Republican strategist. “You know, we have a historic opportunity here in November, and we’re not missing it.”
Another national GOP strategist who works on several high-profile campaigns said Bopps’ comments could highlight exactly the parts of anti-abortion legislation that are making moderate voters disgusted.
“The overall goal of the pro-life cause is to save lives and while I believe his comments are well-intentioned, they do not reflect the realities of this case or the electorate,” the strategist said. “His comments open the door for Republicans in the swing district to be branded extremists, eroding the gains we’ve made with suburban women that will be crucial to winning in 2022 and 2024.”
For weeks, the widely held expectation among Democratic and Republican political professionals was that deer certainly wouldn’t be enough to prevent Republicans from securing a House majority in November, but it could limit their gains, scaring moderates and suburban women.
Abortion still ranks below other issues — especially the economy — as voters’ top priority, and the electoral landscape is so bleak for Democrats this year that they risk suffering widespread losses no matter what. be the fallout from deer. In November, said Dave Carney, a National Republican strategist based in New Hampshire, “it doesn’t matter what Bopp or whatever … his name is said. That’s not going to outweigh 9.1% inflation. »
But abortion has become a priority since the court ruling on deer. And in House races and statewide contests in swing states, even a change at the margins can have consequences.
Sean Walsh, a Republican strategist who worked in the White Houses of Reagan and George HW Bush, said the Indiana affair will not only turn off moderate Republicans, but serve as “motivation to get young voters to vote.” – who are generally unequal when voting. .”
“It hurts because it fixes the frames [of] the GOP’s stance as ‘extreme,'” said Mike Madrid, a Republican strategist who was a co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. “This particular case may not be remembered in a few weeks, but the steady stream of stories to come will have a definite cumulative impact.”
For Republicans in Washington, focusing on the more conservative elements of the party’s stance on abortion may be unavoidable. Of the 13 states with trigger bans that have come into effect or will soon come into effect as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling, only five contain exceptions for rape or incest.
Mike O’Brien, a Republican agent from Indiana and former legislative director to former Gov. Mitch Daniels, said the 10-year-old’s case should focus legislative debate on such exceptions.
“I suspect those who were already hoping for a bill with exceptions will point to this as an example of a horrible situation where options are needed,” he told POLITICO. “But lawmakers aren’t going to get off so easily with Indiana’s pro-life lobby that has already doubled down on a bill with no exceptions.”
In South Carolina, where lawmakers in 2021 passed a law banning abortions after fetal heart activity is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy, lawmakers are considering going further. State Senator Sandy Senn, the only Republican senator to vote against the measure, said she suspects many Republican women, like her, are ‘pro-life’ but ‘against forced childbirth’ – she thinks abortion should be legal in the first trimester. She says tougher bans could spur voters to lash out at Republicans in November.
“Their voices could be heard at the ballot box when many women vote on a single question on the issue of abortion, regardless of party affiliation,” Senn said. “It is absurd to require victims of rape and incest, many of whom are children themselves, to bear children until birth simply because a heartbeat is capable of detection.”
Even Republicans who oppose such exceptions doubt the policy of this one. South Carolina State Representative John McCravy, who chairs a special ad hoc committee on abortion, personally opposes rape or incest exceptions. But he’s not sure his fellow Republicans feel the same way.
He said if the legislation passes the committee with no exceptions for rape and incest, he expects the vote to be much closer than supporters might expect.
“If we get this bill through the judiciary [Committee] and there are no exceptions in it, and it gets to the ground, I think it’s going to be a close vote,” McCravy said.
Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, said he would lobby lawmakers in his state – who banned abortions after fetal heart activity was detected in 2019 with no exceptions for rape and incest – so they don’t change their minds about exceptions when they meet later. This year.
Approved candidates, he said, signed polls saying they would not support such exceptions. Gonidakis added that he believes the 10-year-old should have been able to have a legal abortion under Ohio law because of the health risks of carrying a pregnancy to term at that age. But whether the law needs to be clarified to make that more explicit for doctors fearing lawsuits is a question for state lawmakers, he said.
“This is a political decision that we should be discussing at the Statehouse, both pro-choice and pro-life. That’s why we have a legislature. Let’s go have this conversation and sit down and talk about it,” Gonidakis said.
In Indiana, Destiny Wells, a former assistant state attorney general who is also the Democratic nominee for secretary of state, said in an interview that she hopes the case will spur anti-abortion lawmakers to think twice about the impact of their legislation.
“I hope the state of Ohio expecting a 10-year-old to carry the child of her nationally-exposed rapist slows down anti-abortion legislation,” he said. she declared.
It is not clear if this will be the case. Spokespersons for both Indiana state legislative houses did not make any caucus members available for interviews to discuss whether the specific case would shape their legislative approach.
Asked if the high-profile nature of the 10-year-old’s case complicates the path to new abortion restrictions at the special session scheduled for July 25, a longtime veteran of the Indiana GOP told POLITICO: “I think everyone is aware of the case, but I don’t think it will be a determining factor. He added that he expects the exceptions ultimately include rape, incest and the life of the mother.
“What’s more important is how they seek to deal with pressure from interest groups on both sides of the issue,” he said, “whose views may not align with the majority sentiment of the general public”.