The New York Times is trolling Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) for not doing more to restrict abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. “A culture warrior goes quiet: DeSantis Dodges Questions on Abortion Plans” the headline blared. “While other Republican leaders vowed to charge ahead with new restrictions — or near-total bans,” the story said, “DeSantis offered only a vague promise to ‘work to expand pro-life protections.’ ”
Never mind, apparently, that DeSantis signed into law a state ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy — similar to the Mississippi law the Supreme Court upheld in June. DeSantis is in a political bind, the story suggests, because “some on the right now see a 15-week ban as insufficient,” but restricting abortion further could risk his reelection campaign and presidential aspirations.
This is absurd. Florida’s 15-week ban — which DeSantis signed two months before the Supreme Court ruled such laws constitutional — is saving unborn lives. Left-wing activists have sued in state court, charging that the law violates the right to privacy in Florida’s constitution. DeSantis is fighting to uphold it, and the outcome of that legal battle will determine what further protections for unborn life are possible. In a swing state such as Florida, he is doing more than enough.
When the pro-life movement fought to overturn Roe, and return abortion policy decisions to the states, most recognized that the result would be differing sets of restrictions. In deep-red states with large, pro-life majorities, leaders would enact more restrictive laws. And in dark-blue states, abortion would unfortunately continue to be allowed with few limits. But in purple states — where public opinion is divided — pro-life leaders need to move cautiously and ensure that the laws they propose reflect political reality.
In Virginia, for example, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) has announced that he will seek to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. In a state that last year elected its first Republican governor since 2009, that makes sense. A recent Harvard-Harris poll found that 72 percent of Americans — including 60 percent of Democrats — want to restrict abortion to 15 weeks of pregnancy or earlier, or allow it only in cases of rape and incest. Youngkin’s approach puts pressure on Virginia Democrats, who control the state Senate: If they oppose the restrictions he supports, they will be at odds with most voters. But if he fought for a stricter ban, he risks letting them off the hook.
counterpointRepublican abortion boomerang
After nearly five decades of legal abortion — which has ended an estimated 63.5 million unborn lives — there is an understandable desire to save as many lives as possible. But the pro-life movement needs to resist the urge to rush through the most restrictive rules in every state and focus instead on passing sustainable abortion restrictions — while working to persuade more Americans of the sanctity of unborn life.
Many Americans are persuadable. According to the Harvard-Harris poll, 49 percent believe abortion should be restricted to the sixth week of pregnancy or earlier (12 percent), or only in cases of rape and incest (37 percent). If Republicans in Florida successfully defend their 15-week ban, and people see that the world has not ended, then over time a majority might support further restrictions. But if Republicans push too far, too fast, their efforts could backfire. It is very easy to change state representatives. Pushing for restrictions beyond what the public supports could lead to the election of politicians who want to expand, not restrict, abortion.
Winning hearts and minds also requires increasing support for mothers and children after birth. DeSantis understands this. In his State of the State address in January, he noted that “protecting life does not end with the unborn. It must also include continued efforts to promote adoption and foster care so that all Floridians have a fair chance in life.” In April, he signed a law increasing monthly payments for caregivers, raising the monthly subsidy for child care, and strengthening tuition and fee-waiver programs to help foster children attend state colleges and workforce-education programs.
More needs to be done. As my Post colleague Alyssa Rosenberg has pointed out, this is a particularly hard time for poor parents — with a baby formula shortage, high inflation that has driven up the cost of diapers and food, and thousands of child-care facilities shuttered by the pandemic. Now is the moment for the pro-life movement to coalesce around a platform of pro-family policies, such as: expanding refundable tax credits for adoption and reforming the child tax credit to include pregnant women; strengthening child support enforcement; increasing nutritional aid for poor mothers and children; making diapers tax-exempt and eligible for purchase under health savings accounts; preventing employers from discriminating against pregnant women; allowing new parents to use their earned Social Security benefits for family leave; adding flexibility to federal block-grant programs so states can find innovative ways to support parents; and improving public education by expanding charter schools and voucher programs.
If Americans see the pro-life movement building a culture of life, one that supports women and children after birth, they will be more likely to support efforts by swing-state leaders such as DeSantis to expand protections for unborn life as well.