The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans’ overreach on abortion may haunt them in 2022

Jillian Dworin protests Texas's new abortion law in Austin on Sept. 1. (Jay Janner/AP)

Texas’s diabolical abortion law, which essentially erases rights afforded by Roe v. Wade by offering a $10,000 bounty to anyone who turns in a woman seeking an abortion after six weeks, is unpopular even in Texas. According to a recent poll, 50 percent of the state’s residents want Roe to remain in place while 48 percent want to overturn it.

We may finally get a ruling on the merits of the law now that a plaintiff from Arkansas is suing Alan Braid, a Texas doctor who explained in an op-ed for The Post his reasons for providing abortion services outside the law’s legal limit.

Outside Texas, voters have made their positions clear: They hate the idea of spying on women. Nationally, a supermajority of Americans disapprove of the Texas abortion scheme, as a recent Monmouth University poll finds. “A majority of the public (54%) disagrees with the Supreme Court allowing the Texas law that effectively bans abortions after six weeks to go into effect. Another 39% of Americans agree with the court,” the poll reports. Even more emphatically, “Seven in ten Americans (70%) disapprove of allowing private citizens to use lawsuits to enforce this law rather than having government prosecutors handle these cases. Additionally, 8 in 10 Americans (81%) disapprove of giving $10,000 to private citizens who successfully file suits against those who perform or assist a woman with getting an abortion.” In fact, only 46 percent of Republicans approve of such bounties, while 41 percent disagree with incentivizing private citizens to “turn in” women.

The issue has become a strong suit for Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former governor Terry McAuliffe in his race against right-wing Republican Glenn Youngkin, whose private stance on abortion is much more strident than what he would like to say in public.

Follow Jennifer Rubin's opinionsFollow

It seems Republicans have taken a divisive issue and created an enormous bipartisan coalition against themselves, uniting pro-choice and even some antiabortion voters who don’t like the vigilante mechanism. Americans really do not approve of incentivizing residents to invade women’s privacy and harassing them when they might be suspected of getting an abortion outside the time limits.

The bill should remind voters and politicians that even absent a bounty, banning abortion (the Texas law would ban approximately 85 percent of abortions) is very unpopular. The Monmouth poll reports: “Currently, 6 in 10 Americans say abortion should be always legal (33%) or legal with some limitations (29%). Another 24% say it should be illegal except for rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life and 11% say it should always be illegal.” A substantial majority, 62 percent, do not want to change Roe, which will be argued before the Supreme Court on Dec. 1.

Just as politicians experience blowback for restrictive abortion laws, it is not unreasonable to expect that a Supreme Court decision undermining Roe (let alone upholding the bounty law) would intensify the court’s waning credibility. (The Monmouth poll notes, “Currently, 42% approve and 45% disapprove of the job the Court is doing. In 2016, the top court’s rating stood at 49% approve and 33% disapprove.”) That in turn would fuel efforts to limit Supreme Court justices’ terms or even add members to the bench. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who has been struggling to preserve the court’s institutional reputation, no doubt understands the peril the court faces. However, as is apparent from the court’s refusal to block the Texas law before it went into effect, Roberts does not control the court.

The pro-life movement and its accessories among right-wing judges have grossly misread public opinion. Voters recoil when the issue is framed as infringing on women’s privacy and autonomy and demanding she carry a fetus to term and undergo childbirth (even in cases of rape and incest).

The pro-life movement didn’t help its cause by going down this road just as red states were rebelling against a requirement to put on a cloth mask. Clearly, protecting innocent life is not the motivating factor (unless they care only about the unborn). Pro-choice advocates have long argued that abortion bans are not about protecting “life” but about controlling women — stripping them of decision-making over their lives and denying them medical advice and care. Republicans have helped them nail down that case, thereby inviting substantial political backlash. They might regret inviting this fight.