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Republicans are trying to find a new term for pro-lifers to avoid further electoral losses

WASHINGTON — Republican strategists are considering moving away from “pro-life” messaging on abortion after the Republican Party’s consistent Election Day defeats when reproductive rights were on the ballot.

At a closed meeting of Senate Republicans this week, the leader of a super PAC closely aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., presented polling results suggesting the voters react differently to commonly used terms such as “pro-life”. and “pro-choice” following last year’s Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, said several senators in the room.

The poll, which NBC News has not independently reviewed, was made available to senators on Wednesday by McConnell’s former aide Steven Law and showed the ‘pro-life’ party was no longer finding support. resonated with voters. The findings are based on a survey conducted in June by the Tarrance Group, a Republican polling firm.

“What intrigued me most about the results is that ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ mean something different now, that people see being pro-life as being against all abortions…at all levels,” Senator Kevin said. Cramer, RN.D., said in an interview Thursday.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said the poll made it clear to him that more precision was needed when talking about abortion.

“Many voters think that ‘pro-life’ means you never make an exception for abortion, and ‘pro-choice’ can now mean a number of things. So the conversation was mostly about how voters perceived these labels, which they had changed. So if you want to talk about the issue, you have to be specific,” Hawley said Thursday.

“You can’t assume everyone knows what that means,” he added. “They probably don’t.”

Abortion is now banned in 14 states, and several others have imposed restrictions. Eleven states, including Missouri, have banned abortion, with no exceptions for rape and incest.

Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., summarized Wednesday’s meeting as focused on “pro-baby policies.”

When asked if senators were encouraged to use a term other than “pro-life,” Young replied that his “pro-baby” descriptor “was just a term I created to demonstrate my concern for babies.

Senators who attended Law’s presentation said he encouraged Republicans to be as specific as possible when outlining their positions on abortion, highlighting findings he believes could negatively impact the elections. Many of the senators present represent states where Republican-led legislatures impose restrictions on abortion.

“People need deeper discussions; you can’t get away with a tag anymore,” said Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo. “What we have learned is that you have to go out and talk to people very specifically about their situation on this subject if you are running for public office.

Senators in the room stressed that the meeting was more of a conversation than a political strategy session, pointing out that Law, the head of the Senate Leadership Fund super PAC, was not trying to convince lawmakers of their own message.

“I think it was purely informational depending on what state you’re from, because it’s different in every state,” said Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind.

The Senate Leadership Fund did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A national strategist who worked on Senate elections last year said, “The issue of abortion was problematic for Republicans in the last cycle, so it’s no surprise that (the Senate Leadership Fund ) questions the public’s perception of this issue. It’s the smart thing to do.

The Republican National Senate Committee, the campaign arm of Senate Republicans, “encourages Republicans to speak out clearly in their opposition to a nationwide abortion ban and to support reasonable limits on late-term abortions when babies may be in pain. , with exceptions for rape, incest and life”. of the mother,” said a source close to the strategy of the organization.

The NRSC, the source said, “encourages candidates to compare this position with the Democrats’ support for taxpayer-funded unlimited abortion.”

Christina Reynolds, a spokeswoman for Emily’s List, an organization that promotes women candidates who support abortion rights, said the Republicans’ change in messaging “underestimates” voters’ understanding of the issue, adding that “concluding well” would not change the position of the voters. thoughts on abortion.

“I think their messages weren’t the problem. Their position is the problem, and they’re going to get stuck with those positions,” Reynolds said. “At the end of the day, voters are making it clear, in poll after poll and election results after election results, that they believe people should have the right to make their own health care decisions, that they support abortion rights, that they support Roe v. … Wading.

An NBC News poll in June found that 61% of all voters said they disapproved of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, 5 to 4, which left states responsible for the legalities and conditions of the abortion.

Abortion is shaping up to be a major issue in the presidential campaign. During the GOP debate last month, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley said her opponents weren’t being honest with Americans about what would be legislatively doable when it comes to possible federal restrictions on abortion.

“Can’t we all agree that we’re not going to put a woman in jail or give her the death penalty if she has an abortion? Let’s treat this as a respectful matter, humanize the situation and stop demonizing it,” she said.

Asked about the possibility of abandoning the term used by the anti-abortion movement for decades, a spokesperson for the anti-abortion group, Susan B. Anthony List Pro-Life America, used the descriptor which is part of the name of organization and spoke to abortion rights groups. .

“The pro-life movement serves both mother and child. We recognize the need to love and support them both. Today, the pro-abortion camp chooses to completely cut women off from their communication, choosing instead to address “pregnant people”. Now more than ever, the pro-life movement must continue to underscore its commitment to women and children,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Cramer, when asked what terminology senators should use instead of “pro-life,” replied, “I think it’s more of a ‘I’m pro-life, but…’. Or: “I care deeply for the mother and children, and we should always show compassion. But I believe that after 15 weeks, when the child can feel pain, it must be protected.

“Whatever your position, express it; don’t try to deceive anyone. This is where we get in trouble,” he added.