Radio silence from Republicans as US abortion laws tighten

Some conservatives are beginning to ring the alarm over the issue, arguing it is increasingly costing the party votes

In this file photo illustration taken on May 8, 2020, a woman looks at website with the Mifepristone Abortion Pill on her smart phone in Arlington, Virginia (Olivier DOULIERY / AFP)
In this file photo illustration taken on May 8, 2020, a woman looks at website with the Mifepristone Abortion Pill on her smart phone in Arlington, Virginia (Olivier DOULIERY / AFP)

WASHINGTON (AFP) — A US judge’s move to ban a leading abortion pill has been met with near total silence from Republican leadership, as some conservatives warn the party is already paying an electoral price for a push to curb the procedure that is out of step with the American public.

The Republican Party has suffered blow after high-profile blow at the hands of voters in the nearly 10 months since the US Supreme Court first struck down the constitutional right to abortion, returning the decision to the states.

The latest examples are last week’s landslide victory of a pro-abortion rights judge at the Wisconsin Supreme Court — which, along with the April 7 decision by a Texas judge to overturn the two-decade-old approval of mifepristone, has prompted a handful of conservatives to begin ringing the alarm.

“A year we should have wiped the floor nationally but this and other issues we’ve been tone deaf on and lost. #ReadTheRoom,” tweeted Republican congresswoman Nancy Mace on Monday, referring to the mifepristone ruling, which is being appealed.

Dan O’Donnell, a conservative radio host in Wisconsin, wrote after the party’s defeat on the Supreme Court there that, when it comes to abortion, “as difficult as this may be to come to grips with, Republicans are on the wrong side politically of an issue that they are clearly on the right side of morally.”

Other notable losses in recent months include in the conservative state of Kansas, which in August defied expectations to vote decisively in favor of protecting abortion access.

And former Republican president Donald Trump himself blamed the “abortion issue” for the party’s lackluster performance in the November midterm elections, where it had been expected to storm to power in Congress — but instead failed to take the Senate and just barely won the House of Representatives.

For decades, Republicans have used the issue of abortion rights to electrify their conservative religious base — even as poll after poll showed that the majority of Americans favor some kind of abortion access.

When the US Supreme Court decided to strike down abortion rights last June, the Republican leadership praised the ruling, with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell calling it “courageous and correct” and then-House minority leader Kevin McCarthy tweeting that every “unborn child is precious, extraordinary and worth of protection.”

Abortion rights protesters attend a rally outside the state Capitol in Lansing, Michigan, on June 24, 2022, following the United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

As the losses rack up, however, the warning lights are flashing, and the ruling against mifepristone — which is used for more than half the abortions carried out annually in the United States — has been met with no such fanfare.

Only Trump’s deeply conservative former vice president Mike Pence, a darling of evangelical circles, came out of the woodwork, hailing a decision that he said “fixed a 20-year wrong.”

“I bet a lot of Republican politicians quietly wish this issue of abortion rights would just go away,” David Axelrod, a former adviser to Democratic president Barack Obama, tweeted.

“It won’t. They are trapped in a quagmire (of) their own making.”

Democrats, for their part, are wasting no time leaping into the breach, quickly linking the mifepristone ruling — made by a Trump-appointed judge — to the former president, who is seeking to again challenge President Joe Biden for the White House in 2024.

The ruling is “another massive step towards Republicans’ goal of a nationwide abortion ban,” tweeted Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, adding that his party was “relentlessly working to protect a women’s right to choose from this extreme MAGA Republican agenda.”

“MAGA (Make America Great Again) Republican” is how Biden and the Democratic Party refer to the party’s Trump-supporting hard right.

Meanwhile, the warnings from Republicans such as Mace are being largely drowned out by a slew of bills banning abortion altogether, including in cases of rape or incest, in state assemblies still controlled by the Republican Party’s conservative base.

In Iowa, a Midwestern state expected to weigh heavily on the Republican presidential primary choosing the party’s nominee for the 2024 election, a conservative prosecutor last week suspended reimbursement for morning-after pills for victims of sexual assault.

Abortion-rights activists rally on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, Saturday, July 9, 2022 (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

And in Mace’s own home state of South Carolina, a dozen Republicans are pushing legislation that would criminalize abortion as “homicide” — making women convicted of having one eligible for the death penalty.

The intractability of the party’s base on the issue leaves Mace fearful for its future.

“Because we keep going down these rabbit holes of extremism, we’re just going to keep losing,” Mace told The New York Times.

“I’m beside myself that I’m the only person who takes this stance.”

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