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The 2022 election sees the abortion scenario reversed in favor of the Democrats


As recently as April, Democrats were sharply divided on whether to make abortion a top campaign issue, driven in part by longstanding fears that Democratic candidates were entering a danger zone by mentioning even the A-word. President Joe Biden himself has been frequently criticized by the left for his apparent inability to say the word “abortion” without carefully covering up his words.

Republicans have historically shown no such restraint. For years, abortion has served as the ideal line of attack for the GOP. Republicans could castigate Roe v. Wade as a societal evil during campaign season when the likelihood of repealing him seemed slim. This allowed them to rally the more extreme and active parts of the base without alienating too many moderate voters, who might ignore the belligerent rhetoric because they believed their reproductive rights were guaranteed.

A wave of new polls indicate that even self-styled conservatives are getting nervous about the full scope of anti-choice legislation.

Flash-forward to today, at the height of the midterm election race, and the political landscape around reproductive freedom and abortion rights has changed massively.

The Supreme Court’s stunning decision to overturn Roe v. wade in June swept away abortion rights, allowing the GOP to begin enforcing the draconian abortion measures they had long encouraged. But it also means voters now understand the Republican threats were sincere — and they are backing down.

As a result, Republicans are scrambling to talk about something else. The GOP’s withdrawal from abortion, dubbed by Axios “The Big Scrub,” is an unprecedented shift in what was once a core Republican messaging tactic.

The latest indication of how the tables have turned came on Tuesday, when NBC News reported on the 2019 audio of Doug Mastriano, now a GOP gubernatorial candidate from Pennsylvania, telling Pennsylvania radio station WITF that women undergoing 10-week abortions should be charged with murder.

Today, those comments are unlikely to play well for Mastriano. He seeks to lead a purple state where a majority of voters support legal abortion. His comments only reinforce messages from his Democratic opponent, Josh Shapiro, who has described Mastriano as dangerously extreme. Several recent polls seem to agree: the FiveThirtyEight average gives Shapiro a 10-point margin over Mastriano, with no signs of a race change.

Since the post-Roe Gate, Republicans have rushed to impose new fetal personality laws that effectively end abortion access from six weeks of pregnancy, as well as crack down on exceptions in cases such as rape or incest. But these extreme actions soon provoked an equally powerful reaction from voters across the country.

Data collected in August by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that abortion has moved up the rankings of top political issues. The organization found that 56% of voters now consider abortion a “very important” issue in deciding their vote. That’s up from just 43% in March.

And these voters are more and more in the camp of the right to abortion. A recent survey found that the margin between those who identify as pro-choice and pro-life has tripled (to 17%) from what it was before Roe’s overthrow.

It’s also impossible to separate the sudden U-turn by Republicans from a flurry of new polling that indicates even self-styled conservatives are getting nervous about the full scope of anti-choice legislation. Nearly half of those Republicans are women, a weak point for Republicans in recent elections. According to Gallup, women support abortion rights by nearly 30 points.

It is no coincidence that the flight of conservative women from the GOP over its stance on abortion has led to a twin concern about Republicans losing critical support among suburban conservatives — losing votes from those two groups would be disastrous for the GOP in hotly contested midterm races.

After a summer in which party bigwigs, including former Vice President Mike Pence, salivated at the prospect of a nationwide abortion ban soon, much of this post-Roe the zeal has dried up. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, once a proponent of forcing performative but futile floor votes on abortion restrictions, is now advising candidates to talk about something else or risk spoiling Republicans’ chance to resume the Senate in November.

Even the most Trumpiest of Trump-aligned candidates get the message loud and clear. After months of advocating for a fetal personality law, Arizona Senate hopeful Blake Masters deleted mentions of the issue from his website in late August.

In April, Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen emphatically promised Republican voters that “we’re going to ban abortions – that’s not really news.” In early September, Jensen took to noticing that abortion is a protected constitutional right in Minnesota and erased harsh anti-abortion language from his campaign website.

At the same time, Democrats have become more confident in outright defense of abortion in their campaigns and messaging. Since Roe, Democrats have framed the abortion discussion in language that has made it clear that they grudgingly support the concept. President Bill Clinton preferred to refer to abortion as “safe, legal and rare”, a slogan that many Democrats later adopted. This position dominated the party for decades, allowing politicians to claim support for Roe’s principles while classifying abortion as something to be avoided, if possible.

The post-Roe political landscape has reversed this logic. In New York, Democratic House candidate Pat Ryan won a special election victory over Republican Marc Molinaro by anchoring his campaign on abortion issues. In ruby-red Kansas, voters stunned political observers in August after beating an anti-abortion referendum by 18 points. And Democratic candidates in states from Arizona to Pennsylvania have covered the airwaves with ads criticizing their Republican opponents for a host of extreme abortion-related positions.

These unexpected policy shifts are possible because of a nationwide increase in voter registration driven, many experts say, by American anger over the Supreme Court’s decision and deep concern over some staggering anti-abortion language making its way into Republican legislation.

The former GOP hardline on abortion is also hurting Republicans in another way: by dividing conservative state legislatures.

In Kansas, more than 70% of new voters were women. Texas has added more than 300,000 new voters since the Dobbs ruling, giving Texas Democrats a startling 10-point advantage over the GOP in total registered voters.

The former GOP hardline on abortion is also hurting Republicans in another way: by dividing conservative state legislatures. Over the summer, the unpopularity of a Louisiana bill to define life as beginning with egg fertilization became such a drag on Republicans that the right-wing Louisiana House eventually dumped the offensive bill of its most authoritative provisions.

But that didn’t sit well with Louisiana’s anti-abortion activists, who occupied the House gallery and yelled at GOP lawmakers to “lie” about their commitment to ending abortion. While the struggle has divided the right, it has united pro-choice activists. Fights like this have put Republicans on the defensive nationwide and helped tip the November election forecast toward the Democrats.

What Newsweek described as the right’s “wild pivot” on abortion is actually a miscalculation. Republicans have strayed so far from what voters actually want that they didn’t notice their policy faux pas until far too late. Mastriano can’t undo his last radio interviews, and the rest of the band can’t rewrite their records either. Voters should hold them accountable for their extremism in November.

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