In response to the new wave of shocking state laws passed by Republicans to strangle abortion rights, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) put out a list of things Democrats can do to push back. Her approach is centered on federal legislation to supersede draconian state laws and guarantee women their rights.
This is highly unusual, because what we hear from Democrats on this issue is almost entirely defensive. Instead of proposing new legislation to aggressively expand abortion rights, the most they can muster is explanations of why the latest Republican law goes too far, all presented as though they’d prefer to be talking about something else.
It’s understandable that Democrats would feel despondent about what’s happening. What isn’t understandable is that they act like they’re the ones who have something to apologize for.
Earlier this week, I argued that Republicans are moving so quickly and aggressively to destroy Roe v. Wade because they have a very simple view of power: When you have it, use it to get what you want. It doesn’t matter to them that their policy goal — the elimination of Roe — is only supported by about 35 percent of the public. They know they could suffer a political backlash if they succeed, but it’s a chance they’re willing to take.
And the chances of that backlash are mitigated by their successful effort to create a system of minority rule. Because of the way the Senate gives disproportionate power to small conservative states, Republicans hold the chamber despite the fact that many more Americans voted to be represented there by Democrats.
That puts Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in charge, and his limitless cynicism empowered him to refuse to allow President Barack Obama to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 2016.
Then President Trump, who was in office despite the fact that his opponent got more votes, filled that seat with a justice guaranteed to overturn Roe, and then another to join him. Meanwhile, Republican gerrymanders and vote suppression put in place the extremist state legislatures and governors eager to create a reproductive-rights dystopia, where, as many people have pointed out, when a 12-year-old girl is raped, the doctor who performs an abortion for her would be sent to prison for longer than her rapist.
All that is true, as is the fact that Roe is all but gone already (more on that in a moment), and the possibilities for what could ensue run from the dreadful to the horrific. But apart from saying “this is terrible,” what are Democrats actually proposing to do about it?
The answer for most of them is not much, apart from saying that it’s really bad. Just as they have for years, Democrats are acting as though they’re the ones whose beliefs about this issue are in the minority, when the opposite is true. All that’s necessary to make them cover their heads in fear that the public will turn on them is for Republicans to start spreading some rancid blood libel about women giving birth and then murdering their babies.
And of course, savvy reporters can be counted on to write stories about how shrewd Republicans are being in spreading those lies, with lines such as:
The debate is still very much an open one. But it may come down to what Americans find more persuasive: the kind of nuanced explanation and argument abortion rights supporters are making, or a searing, one-word label like “infanticide.”
Perhaps Democrats could get the same compliments from the media if they started claiming that the GOP has proposed that all American girls must be taken to internment camps upon their first period so they can be impregnated by Republican state legislators. That might be a gross exaggeration of the truth, but “Say no to Republican child rape internment camps!” would sure make a “searing” message.
Of course, Democrats don’t have to go that far. You may recall how, a few years ago, Republicans thought they had the chance to destroy Planned Parenthood after some right-wing scammers used secretly recorded (and misleadingly edited) videos to claim the organization was illegally selling fetal tissue. Why, advocates of choice were really on the defensive!
In reality, they found that the organization remained hugely popular (in one 2017 poll, 75 percent of Americans rejected the GOP position that Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood for health services should be banned), and their efforts failed.
So here’s the current situation. Like it or not, Roe v. Wade is done. Either the five conservative justices on the Supreme Court will overturn it outright, or they will find a way to eviscerate it while leaving it nominally in place. Democrats can mount a public persuasion campaign to make sure everyone understands what the consequences are going to be, but in the short run, they can’t change Roe’s fate.
So they have to take the offensive. That means, as Warren suggests, writing a slate of federal laws that will protect and expand reproductive rights, not just in states where Democrats are in control but for all American women, especially those unfortunate enough to live in states controlled by Republicans.
That means guaranteeing the right to abortion, preventing the TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion providers) laws that attempt to regulate abortion clinics out of existence, increasing penalties for those who attempt to harass and intimidate medical personnel, and making medication abortions widely and freely available.
Most of all, Democrats need to stop worrying that there’s a guy in a "Make America Great Again" hat sitting in a diner in Ohio who won’t like the sound of their reproductive rights agenda. Forget him. He’s in the minority. Democrats have the majority of the American people behind them. They need to start acting like it.