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Opinion Time to force the GOP to defend its abortion extremism

Abortion rights activists march on Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court in Washington on May 14. (Jose Luis Magana/AFP/Getty Images)
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As we inch closer to what seems to be an imminent Supreme Court decision reversing nearly 50 years of precedent to strip women of their constitutional right to seek an abortion, Republicans are strangely quiet. One might expect them to be reveling in their decades-in-the-making victory; instead, they appear wary of discussing the subject, even though they are usually delighted to speak about imposing their White Christian nationalistic views on others.

A recent CBS News poll found that while 86 percent of Republicans want their candidates to focus on “traditional values,” only 59 percent want them to talk about abortion. By contrast, among Democrats, who used to view abortion as not a “winning issue,” some 83 percent want their candidates to focus on the subject. Either a large segment of Republicans does not consider its party’s antiabortion stance to be part of “traditional values,” or it has figured out this is a lousy issue for them.

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Certainly, some Republican candidates are trying to avoid the subject, and they have reason to run for cover. Polls show more that 60 percent of voters think the decision to have an abortion should be between a woman and her doctor, and record-high numbers of voters say they do not want to overturn Roe v. Wade. That is precisely why Democrats in the midterms should force Republicans to explain themselves.

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The problem for the GOP stems in large part from its ever-radical desire to criminalize abortion even in cases of incest, rape or damage to the health of the mother. Apparently, “pro-life” advocates are not all that concerned with already-born women. Especially when the states outlawing abortions have among the highest rates of maternal deaths in the country, disproportionately among women of color, abortion bans amount to grotesque indifference to human life.

Meanwhile, many in the the mainstream media remain incapable of grilling Republicans on the implications of their views at this historic moment for women’s rights. When Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) said he’d prefer to allow abortion in cases of rape or incest but nevertheless signed into law a ban without those exceptions, it is incumbent on his interviewer to push him: How can you justify traumatizing women by forcing them to give birth in cases when you acknowledge abortion would be acceptable? If your wife or daughter were raped, would you approve sending her to jail if she chose to end the pregnancy? Will your state be imposing greater punishment for such a rape survivor who seeks an abortion than for her rapist?

These are tough and in some cases jarring questions, but the media cannot be afraid to offend their interviewees. Indeed, it is their job to confront Republicans more generally with the radical implications of their position:

  • If a woman’s pregnancy would risk exacerbating any one of a slew of serious health conditions, are you still going to punish her for seeking an abortion? If so, would that mean men get full preventative treatment for ailments, but women would not?
  • If a woman is told she must be in bed for a significant portion of her pregnancy, would you arrest and convict her for not sufficiently restricting her movement to avoid miscarriage?
  • Your position on abortion is grounded in a particular religious view of when “personhood” begins. How can you justify seeking to impose your faith on others, including Jewish women for whom abortion may be required in some instances?
  • Are you going to ban all abortions from the moment of conception? What does that mean?
  • What is the constitutional principle that would protect access to contraception if you think the 14th Amendment doesn’t address intimate issues or personal autonomy?
  • Are you going to compel doctors to testify against patients?

Republicans would rather not discuss any of these questions. But given the devastating physical, financial and psychological harms that women would endure from being denied autonomy over their own bodies, it’s long past time to start holding Republicans who have crafted this constitutional nightmare to account. That means Democrats need to go on offense, and the media must do their job.