The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans could be taking a victory lap. Here’s why they aren’t.

Abortion rights activists are seen through a hole in an American flag as they protest outside the Supreme Court on June 25. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

Republicans could be taking a victory lap right now. They’ve managed to achieve major policy victories — on guns, religion in schools and especially abortion — despite lacking control of any of the branches of government that are supposed to craft policy.

Truly, it’s an impressive feat.

Yet for some reason, the GOP is not working especially hard to keep these legal developments at the forefront of midterm voters’ consciousness. Instead, the Democrats have been the ones beating the drum louder about recent Supreme Court rulings, declaring abortion rights to beon the ballot,” and megaphoning the economic, social and medical consequences that will result from losing the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

Sure, Republican politicians have praised the court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and the nearly half-century of right-wing planning that led to this ruling. But when asked any obvious follow-up questions about the subject — such as whether they’d like to see abortion outlawed nationwide, or how they plan to support the families whose lives will be derailed by forced births — Republican politicians have mostly changed the subject.

Asked what legislative actions on abortion they’d pursue if handed back control of Congress, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other Republicans have usually skirted the issue. When Politico recently asked Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) if he would vote for a federal ban on abortions, he replied: “I have a flight right now.”

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Similarly, when asked on ABC’s “This Week” why the states with the most restrictive abortion laws invest the least in programs for women and children, South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem pivoted to complaining about “what Joe Biden is doing to the energy prices in this country, what inflation is doing in this country, our national security policies.”

Why don’t Republicans want to talk more about their victories? Why are politicians such as Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) trying to make the court decision sound less extreme? Why are Republican officials so unwilling to explain what new “resources” they plan to invest in new mothers and their babies?

Perhaps because they know that GOP positions on reproductive rights and on services for families disproportionately affected by the loss of those rights are pretty unpopular.

In recent months, poll after poll has found that the majority of Americans support access to abortion in most or all cases and oppose efforts to overturn Roe. Even in many of the states expected to ban all or nearly all abortions, such as Missouri, South Carolina, Iowa, Georgia and Texas, majorities say they support a legal right to abortion care.

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No wonder, then, that many Republican politicians are treading lightly around the issue.

Democratic voters and abortion rights activists are, understandably, infuriated that Democratic officials aren’t doing more to help women access reproductive care and other services. The public supports such measures, after all, and the party retains control of the White House and both legislative chambers. But absent a filibuster-proof majority — or, alternatively, the will to change filibuster rules — there’s little Democrats can do to counteract the court’s decision.

Even so, there’s at least one useful option available: getting Republicans on the record about what they do and don’t support.

Republicans don’t want to talk about when women should retain the right to end a pregnancy, or what services politicians will provide to parents forced to have children they might not want or be able to afford. Democrats should force them to vote on these issues, one by one.

An earlier Democratic procedural vote for a bill that would have enshrined the right to abortion into federal law failed in the Senate last month. But the bill was broad enough that even normally pro-choice Republican senators (such as Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska) were willing to vote against it as “overly broad.” Democrats should break this issue into parts and force Republicans to answer all those sensitive questions they’ve been ducking.

For instance: Do they support a federal right to abortion in, say, the first trimester? Yes or no?

What about a right to abortion if the mother’s health is at risk? Or if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest?

Should states be able to ban IUDs and any other contraceptives that prevent implantation of a fertilized egg?

What about paid leave and other programs that provide resources to new moms and their babies? Should states that ban abortion be required to provide postpartum health care to women forced into unwanted (and sometimes dangerous) births?

Republicans have been frustratingly opaque about their agenda (and not only as it relates to reproductive health). Democrats must get them on the record either committing to the protections and programs American women need — or fessing up to the unpopular positions they have been trying to hide.