Republicans tangle over abortion as Graham’s proposed ban exposes divisions

In a memo to GOP campaigns released this week, the Republican National Committee laid out what it called a winning message on abortion: Press Democrats to find out where they stand on the procedure later in the pregnancy, look for “middle ground” on exceptions to prohibitions and keep the focus on crime and the economy.

Then, on the same day, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.) introduced legislation banning abortions nationwide after 15 weeks of pregnancy – eclipsing new inflation figures and undermining what many strategists of the GOP consider their best message for the fall: “Leave it to the states.”

“This is an absolute disaster,” said GOP strategist John Thomas, as Republican Senate candidates already targeted for their abortion comments were asked to intervene. .

Since the Supreme Court struck down Roe vs. Wade in June, Republicans scrambled for more abortion-friendly political ground, polls and election results suggest the problem disproportionately drives voters to vote for Democrats. But as the GOP seeks an effective counterargument to Democratic attacks on dozens of candidates who want to restrict abortion, it is sending an increasingly confusing message to voters eight weeks before the midterm elections.

Some candidates are downplaying or nullifying past support for strict bans, while others are pushing the debate on federal restrictions that many want to avoid.

Democrats are racing on these mixed signals to hammer home the simpler message they’ve been promoting for months, warning that Republicans want to continue eroding access to abortion even after the High Court struck down a constitutional right to the procedure.

Democratic pollster Molly Murphy said Graham’s 15-week bill, released on Tuesday, only bolsters the argument that Republicans will try to pass major new restrictions if they gain control of Congress. . “I feel like I had a roller coaster day between, ‘What kind of three-dimensional chess are they playing?’ to sort of settle, “They’re not,” said Murphy, who is working on the Arizona Senate race.

When asked if they would support Graham’s legislation, most GOP candidates in the closest Senate races gave ambiguous answers or did not answer. And though Masters said he would “of course” support Graham’s bill, his campaign spokesperson retweeted a message that seemed to channel some GOP whining about Graham’s announcement: “Why why why why why.”

Assistant Zach Henry deleted the retweet on Tuesday night and said he was not speaking on behalf of Masters.

More than half of Americans oppose a 15-week abortion ban with exceptions for maternal health, a Wall Street Journal poll of registered voters found last month.

While Masters drew particular attention to the change in position — only clarifying after his primary win that a nationwide abortion ban should target third-trimester and “partial-birth” abortions — other GOP candidates also backtracked or downplayed their views.

In Minnesota, GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen – who once said he would “try to outlaw abortion” as governor – recently posted an ad that began: “In Minnesota , [abortion] is a protected constitutional right, and no governor can change that. And I’m not running to do that. In Michigan, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon explicitly appealed to voters who might oppose her vocal support for a ban on abortion in pregnancy, with exceptions only for the life of the child. the mother.

“And just like that, you can vote for Gretchen Whitmer’s abortion program and still vote against her,” Dixon tweeted last week, referencing his Democratic opponent, after Michigan’s highest court cleared the way for a November ballot measure asking whether the state constitution should guarantee access to abortion.

Thomas, the GOP strategist, said he thinks candidates in tight races are smart to attempt a “pivot” on abortion. It’s not a winning question for Republicans, he argued, “but the goal is to assuage voter concerns…so the candidate can get back to the debate on the highest priority issues.”

But “will voters buy it?” Thomas talked about the candidates’ shifts. “Hard to say.”

Further complicating Republican discourse: Some GOP officials are pushing state-level bans that are much stricter than Graham’s proposal. Republicans sought to shift the focus to Democrats’ positions, noting that the United States is one of less than a dozen countries that allows elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. But even some abortion advocates say the other side has more energy at the end of deer triggers dramatic new restrictions on abortion in swing states.

Chuck Coughlin, a GOP strategist in Arizona, called a 15-week ban a “pragmatic” stance — especially compared to the much stricter law enforced by courts in his state. One of Masters’ former primary rivals, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, has argued for enforcing the ban, which dates back to the 1800s and bans all abortions except to save the life of the mother.

Democrats have said they see a compelling case against Republicans, even with attempts to rally the party behind less restrictive bans, such as Graham’s proposal, which would allow the vast majority of abortions to continue, but marks a clear deviation from the norm of about 24 weeks under Deer.

“The nationwide Republican abortion ban will be on the ballot, in every Senate race,” Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement. Vulnerable Democrats in states where abortion remains legal — who have argued for months that their opponents could help pass national restrictions — immediately pointed to Graham’s proposal.

In Nevada, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) again claimed that her opponent, former state attorney general Adam Laxalt, would support a federal ban on abortion; Laxalt denied this in an op-ed last month, but his campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Graham’s legislation. In New Hampshire, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) said “Republicans are moving forward” on “a bill banning abortion – no matter where you live.”

Still, abortion restrictions are unlikely to pass the Senate, even if the GOP regains control of the chamber in November — a political reality several senators nodded to on Tuesday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he would not eliminate the filibuster to pass abortion legislation, meaning such a bill would require 60 voice to the chamber to overcome a procedural obstacle. At the White House, President Biden is sure to veto any such measure, even if it reaches his office.

On Tuesday, McConnell declined to commit to introducing Graham’s bill, while Sen. John Thune (RS.D.), his top aide, said he “would like to see the federal government get out of business. of abortion”.

“I think every Republican senator who is in these hard-fought races this year has an answer as to how they feel about the issue,” McConnell said. “And that can be different in different states, so I’ll leave it to our candidates who are fully capable of handling that to figure out for them what their answer is.”

When asked if the GOP should be more united on abortion, Graham said candidates should go with what they’re “personally” comfortable with.

Some Republicans said they see no problem with disparate positions on abortion — as long as the GOP can redirect the conversation to inflation and other issues where they have a more unified position.

Republican strategist Doug Heye, a former communications director for the RNC, said “in theory, you always want” a consistent party message. But “the Republicans failed [former president Donald] Trump was re-elected without even having the party platform,” he added.

Major anti-abortion groups have been pushing to restrict the process at the federal level since the Supreme Court overturned deer. Late last month, Students for Life Action sent a letter to every Republican in the House and Senate, saying the federal government should enact nationwide limits.

“We cannot delegate ending abortion injustice to states alone. All of us at all levels of society, and especially lawmakers, must reverse nearly 50 years of public policy that has allowed the deadly harms of abortion to continue with the support of taxpayers,” wrote Kristan Hawkins. , chairman of the group.

Opponents of federal restrictions also made their case Tuesday on Capitol Hill. Ashbey Beasley was there to meet with Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) to discuss an assault weapons ban after she and her son survived a Highland Park, Ill., shooting July 4 – but she took a quick detour after seeing that Graham was having a press conference to present his new legislation.

After the event was over, she got up to recount when she found out her son had a fetal abnormality, her son at 16 weeks. After undergoing multiple in utero surgeries, she said, she and her husband decided to deliver the baby to live outside the womb until he died eight days later. But she argued that other women should have abortions as an option.

“What do you say to a woman like me? she asked.


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