The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Democrats must expose the right’s new antiabortion radicalism

An abortion rights demonstrator holds a sign near the Supreme Court building in D.C. on June 24. (Eric Lee for The Washington Post)
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Having secured their dream victory over Roe v. Wade, those on the antiabortion right have barely paused to celebrate. Instead, they’ve dramatically lurched rightward.

They once said overturning Roe would merely return the abortion question to the states. But now they’re busily constructing an ugly future in which new state laws authorize ever-more-punitive abortion bans and empower private vigilantes to pursue women and those who help them cross state lines.

Democrats must highlight this new antiabortion radicalism — loudly, aggressively and repeatedly.

The Post reports that antiabortion groups and GOP legislators are working on new state initiatives to keep women who live in states where abortion is being outlawed from traveling to other states for abortion care. This is the hot topic at national antiabortion gatherings, and lawmakers are mulling bills experimenting with new legal weaponry. Some initiatives even target contraception.

Democrats need to step up and confront this new reality.

In the past, Republicans have been skilled at dreaming up all kinds of wild and hyperbolic ideas about the liberal position on abortion, and having everyone on their side repeat it endlessly. These days they all say, “Democrats want abortion legal up until the moment of birth!” which is not a thing.

Democrats need some of that same rhetorical focus. And there’s a whole lot to work with that is actually happening.

The new mania began even before Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was handed down. In the spring, bills started cropping up that would do things such as allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps someone from their antiabortion state get an abortion out of state. Others would apply a state’s abortion laws to residents who get an abortion in another state.

This is still in early stages, but restricting women’s ability to travel to get an abortion is clearly of great interest to Republican legislators and the antiabortion movement. Groups such as the National Association of Christian Lawmakers are drawing up model legislation.

“It’s not a free abortion card when you drive across the state line,” an official of the conservative Thomas More Society told The Post.

Marc Thiessen

counterpointThe pro-life movement needs to move cautiously in purple states

Republicans are even targeting speech about abortion. Some sample laws make it illegal not only to help someone get an abortion but even to tell them how, with nothing specifying that it applies only to those living in the state where the woman seeks the information.

One piece of model conservative legislation proposes to make it illegal to give “instructions over the telephone, the internet, or any other medium of communication regarding self-administered abortions or means to obtain an illegal abortion.” This includes hosting or maintaining websites that encourage or facilitate such efforts.

It’s already having an impact. Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram are rapidly removing posts offering to send people abortion medication; when an Associated Press reporter tested their system by posting a message saying, “If you send me your address, I will mail you abortion pills,” it disappeared within one minute.

How should Democrats respond, politically and legally?

On the first, a robust internal debate is unfolding among Democrats over how to highlight the new antiabortion radicalism. A coalition of lefty groups led by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee is urging Democrats to forcefully call out the new antiabortion regime as an imposition on the country of a rogue Supreme Court gripped by a “legitimacy crisis” fueled by Republican radicalization.

Numerous Democrats have begun to adopt such language. Importantly, this links the idea of a legal regime of dubious legitimacy to the sudden new free rein that GOP states have to experiment with ever-more-radical antiabortion crackdowns.

Democrats will also highlight this new radicalism by talking about state-level answers to it. This is elevating the stakes in gubernatorial races: In swing states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, which have GOP-controlled legislatures, electing a Democratic governor will determine whether these states see abortion severely curtailed or even banned.

But that’s not all: Democratic governors can push back on specific right-wing tactics. For instance, if GOP laws attempt to empower citizens of red states to bring “vigilante” lawsuits against, say, a doctor in a blue state who performs an abortion on a resident of that red state, Democratic governors and attorneys general can lend legal support and resources to those targets.

Another case in point: Connecticut recently passed a law that acts as a shield against red-state antiabortion laws reaching across state lines. It would protect residents from subpoenas or summonses issued in connection with out-of-state efforts to punish them, among other things.

We’ll be hearing more talk in blue states about such proposals. This will serve a dual purpose for Democrats: It will mitigate the out-of-state effects of radical GOP laws, while simultaneously sounding the alarm about those right-wing tactics and educating people about them.

Republicans want to see people pursued, harassed, sued and jailed — within states and across state lines. Democrats need to make voters understand just how bleak that future threatens to be.

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