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Opinion Republicans need to answer hard questions about women’s lives

A protester holds a sign during a demonstration in favor of abortion rights at Duncan Plaza in New Orleans on May 14. (Kathleen Flynn/Reuters)

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn abortion rights, we know three things: 1) The decision is hugely unpopular; 2) abortion bans will have dire consequences for women; and 3) Republicans have nothing to say about No. 2.

Recent polling on the issue is about as decisive as one can find in politics. NPR reports on its survey conducted with PBS NewsHour and Marist: “Majorities of Americans say they disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, think it was politically motivated, are concerned the court will now reconsider rulings that protect other rights, and are more likely to vote for a candidate this fall who would restore the right to an abortion.”

The poll shows 56 percent oppose the decision, while just 40 percent support it. Two groups critical to Democrats’ success — women and college graduates — oppose the decision by even larger margins. A CNN poll after the opinion was leaked also showed 66 percent disapproved, and a CBS News-YouGov poll released Sunday showed 59 percent oppose the decision.

These polls do not yet reflect widespread understanding of the implications of overturning Roe. Imagine the response if pollsters asked these questions instead: Would you force a teen rape victim to give birth? Would you force a pregnant woman with cancer to forgo chemotherapy because the treatment could terminate her pregnancy? Surely, those in support of abortion in those cases would be even higher.

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Republicans must now defend their decades-long quest to criminalize abortion. They will need to explain why rape, incest and protecting the health of the mother aren’t “good enough” reasons for the procedure. It might be harder than they thought, as Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) demonstrated on NBC News’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday:

NBC host Chuck Todd: So if a 13-year-old though in Arkansas is raped by a relative, that 13-year-old cannot get an abortion in Arkansas. Are you comfortable with that?
Hutchinson: I’m not — I would’ve preferred a different outcome than that. But that’s not the debate today in Arkansas. It might be in the future. But for now, the law triggered with only one exception. While you can debate whether there ought to be additional exceptions, every state’s going to make a different determination on that under our Constitution. And this is going to continue to be discussed. But at this particular point, the only exception in Arkansas is to save the life of the mother.

So effectively his answer is, sorry, but nothing can be done for the 13-year-old. For now, he’s willing to let the power of his state traumatize that child.

Hutchinson’s lack of clarity and direction is also stunning. Pressed on whether “morning-after” pills such as Plan B are now illegal, he could only say that they “should” not be an issue. So women are supposed to guess?

It comes down to this:

Todd: Whatever you thought of Roe, that decision never forced anybody to do anything they didn’t want to do. This decision now will force a woman to carry a pregnancy that they perhaps didn’t want to do. Does that at all make you uncomfortable, that we know — you’re forcing somebody to do something they don’t want to do? Roe didn’t do that. This ruling does.
Hutchinson: Well, no, I think it’s a very appropriate ruling. Obviously, when you’re looking at the government and the power of the government forcing someone to carry a child to term, you’ve got to think that through. And legislators are thinking that through.

“Forcing someone to carry a child to term.” Hutchinson’s blithe attitude toward policies that will wreak havoc on women’s lives sums up the utter lack of respect for women’s autonomy and personhood that is so pervasive among Republicans. It seems as far as Hutchinson is concerned, that 13-year-old rape victim is nothing more than a vessel.

Democratic candidates running for governor, such as Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, have fanned out to make the argument that the government shouldn’t be the one making these decisions and that Republicans are putting women’s lives at risk. Abrams made clear in a CNN appearance that only one party is focused on the needs and interests of women:

As someone who is pro-choice and proudly pro-choice, I believe that we need leaders right now who are willing to defend who we are and defend the women under our care. We have to be deeply concerned about what is happening to our LGBTQ community, to people of color, especially black women, who face the highest rates of maternal mortality in the nation. ...
We know that Brian Kemp has shown that he does not care about the women of Georgia, about the families in Georgia, except when it’s politically convenient. And so I believe that this is a sharp distinction between us, and I encourage every Georgian to pay attention.

Republicans are now in the uncomfortable position of defending their indifference to women. The issue is even more acute in states where the maternal mortality rate for women of color is high. And while the lack of child support, day care and medical care for children are not the only reasons to oppose forced birth, the dismal lack of services in red states now subject to abortion bans should underscore that this is not about protecting the life of a child.

This is a political issue that has gone from abstract to very real, very fast. If voters who oppose forced birth actually turn out in large numbers in the midterms, Republicans might begin to wonder if the promise of ending Roe was more beneficial politically than the reality. Now, everyone can see what they think of women.