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Opinion Antiabortion ideologues should be careful what they wish for

Protesters and clinic volunteers speak outside a Planned Parenthood location in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 12. (Gaelen Morse/Reuters)
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Conventional wisdom holds that abortion is no longer a decisive issue for either party. Pro-choice voters side with Democrats; antiabortion advocates with the GOP; and single-issue voters tend to be on the antiabortion side. That could change dramatically.

The Post reports: “Americans say by a roughly 2-to-1 margin that the Supreme Court should uphold its landmark abortion decision in Roe v. Wade, and by a similar margin the public opposes a Texas law banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.” Even among Republicans, 42 percent want to uphold Roe.

With a 6-to-3 advantage on the Supreme Court, the right-wing bloc of justices could eradicate or severely limit federal protection for abortion. States would then have leeway to greatly restrict or even outlaw most abortions.

One might think such a ruling would not have political repercussions because both sides would get things they like. Blue states will enshrine abortion rights in state law, and red states will respond to voters who want to end abortions or greatly reduce access. But Republicans, especially Senate candidates vying for MAGA support in heated primaries, may find themselves in a bind.

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Consider that the disgraced former president is endorsing far-right candidates who have taken absolutist views on abortion. In Georgia, for example, a spokeswoman for Herschel Walker has declared: “Herschel Walker is strongly pro-life. He will always stand for the unborn and he will support constitutional conservatives for federal judges.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is on record speaking favorably about the Texas law prohibiting abortions six weeks after a woman’s last period. As Rubio said during a recent interview, ”By the time there’s a beating heart, which is around the six week period, it’s hard to argue that that’s not a human life." Meanwhile, J.D. Vance and Josh Mandel, Ohio Republicans vying to be their state’s most extreme Senate candidates, both support abortion bans even in cases of rape or incest.

In the event the Supreme Court gives states leeway to restrict or even ban abortion, antiabortion activists will demand Senate Republicans take the most extreme position possible, such as eliminating rape and incest as valid reasons for abortion and banning the vast majority of abortions that occur after six weeks of pregnancy. That’s a far cry from simply stating that they are “pro-life.”

Justice Elena Kagan on Nov. 1 argued that there is already evidence that Texas abortion law S.B. 8 has had a "chilling effect" on abortion providers. (Video: The Washington Post)

Governors and state legislators will likewise have to put their MAGA bona fides on the table. Suddenly, this becomes an issue up and down the ballot, posing a problem for Republicans forced into increasingly radical positions.

Suddenly, the group of voters who think abortions should always be legal or legal in most cases will have something serious to rally against. That may well raise the importance of the issue for women who have never lived in an America where safe, legal abortions were not generally available. The extreme, demeaning attitude toward women who would be denied control of their own lives would likely become a campaign issue in and of itself.

The intensity of views on the abortion issue is already shifting. The Post-ABC poll finds that “36 percent support state laws that make it more difficult for abortion clinics to operate, while 58 percent oppose such restrictions, including 45 percent who oppose them ‘strongly.’ ” On the Texas law specifically, 65 percent say it should be struck down. Moreover, “Roughly 8 in 10 women and 7 in 10 men prefer that women and doctors make decisions about abortion rather than being regulated by law.” It is rare to find any issue that draws this much support.

Justice Kavanaugh on Nov. 1 presented hypotheticals regarding whether states could use similar citizen-led enforcement schemes to avoid federal intervention. (Video: The Washington Post)

In short, if the Supreme Court seriously erodes federal protections for abortions, Republicans will be on the spot to answer difficult questions: Do you want to criminalize abortion for rape victims? Do you want to prevent doctors and women from making this decision? They will not have the Supreme Court to hide behind — and that may be trouble anywhere outside deep-red locales.