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Opinion Republicans make their Dobbs woes worse

Abortion rights advocates gather outside the Michigan Capitol in Lansing during a "Restore Roe" rally on Sept. 7. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Republicans’ zeal to pass stringent forced-birth laws and their pining for a national abortion ban — as the party’s candidates scramble to erase evidence of their antiabortion views from their campaign websites — reveal just how little they think of women.

As the MAGA right courts its radical base, women are apparently supposed to forget that Republican candidates have been at the forefront of the effort to deny them personal agency and to intrude on their most intimate health-care decisions. They’re supposed to forget which party has consigned pregnant people to physical and mental suffering. Not likely.

Republicans’ behavior has poured salt into the constitutional wounds the Supreme Court inflicted with its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision. In Michigan, supporters of a ballot measure to protect women’s right to choose and prevent a 1931 abortion ban from going into effect collected more than 750,000 signatures. Forced-birth activists tried to keep it off the ballot because of spacing errors in the text. The state canvassing board bought this argument, but the decision was appealed to the state Supreme Court.

In an amicus brief, two Michigan Law School professors, Margaret Hannon and Leah M. Litman, wrote, “Any doubts about the meaning of the Michigan constitutional and statutory provisions about the ballot initiative process must be construed in favor of allowing Michiganders to vote, and against the Board’s authority to prevent that from happening.” They argued: “The voters of Michigan want to be able to vote on the Reproductive Freedom For All ballot initiative. They must be allowed to do so.”

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In a 5-2 decision, the state Supreme Court agreed and ordered the measure to be put on the ballot. In her stinging concurrence, Chief Justice Bridget M. McCormack wrote: “Seven hundred fifty three thousand and seven hundred fifty nine Michiganders signed this proposal — more than have ever signed any proposal in Michigan’s history. The challengers have not produced a single signer who claims to have been confused by the limited-spacing sections in the full text portion of the proposal. Yet two members of the Board of State Canvassers would prevent the people of Michigan from voting on the proposal because they believe that the decreased spacing makes the text no longer ‘[t]he full text.’ ”

McCormack concluded tersely, “They would disenfranchise millions of Michiganders not because they believe the many thousands of Michiganders who signed the proposal were confused by it, but because they think they have identified a technicality that allows them to do so, a game of gotcha gone very bad. What a sad marker of the times.”

Litman told me that she found this “a moving, powerful and necessary statement by the chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.” She added, “Faced with the prospect that the voters were likely against them,” anti-choice advocates “tried to prevent people from voting on the issue at all.”

Fortunately, the Supreme Court was not swayed. But given that the canvassing board “is the entity that is supposed to certify the results of elections,” Litman pointed out, its antidemocratic judgment should be reason for concern about its future impartiality.

For now, the stunt will no doubt bring only greater attention to the Republicans’ extreme, antidemocratic advocacy. Despite polling and evidence that women are disproportionately registering to vote since the Dobbs decision, Republican operatives seem bent on denying that there is a growing backlash.

Consider this exchange on “Meet the Press,” with Republican flack Matt Gorman declaring abortion a nonissue:

Frankly, not even Republican zealots furiously scrubbing their campaign websites to conceal their actual abortion views seem to buy Gorman’s argument.

Then there is the Senate race in Wisconsin, where Republican Sen. Ron Johnson has routinely dismissed the impact of Roe’s demise.

Vanity Fair reports: “The two-term senator said he didn’t view the repeal of Roe v. Wade ‘as a huge threat to women’s health’ and that things would be ‘fine.’ ” Moreover, “He said anyone who does not like Wisconsin’s abortion laws ‘can move,’ has advocated for a federal abortion ban after 20 weeks — despite arguing that the matter was a state’s issue — and supported a Mississippi law to ban abortions after 15 weeks.”

In reply to Johnson’s muddled response seeming to suggest he favors a national ban (although his spokesman denied this), Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the Democratic nominee, responded: “Ron Johnson’s disregard for the rights and freedoms of Wisconsin women is disqualifying. … He is dangerously out of touch with Wisconsinites and it’s time to send him packing.” Polling that shows the state’s voters are overwhelmingly pro-choice indicates Barnes is right.

The side highlighting its opponents’ statements and antics on a critical issue usually has the upper hand. The side trying to obfuscate or deny its own position is invariably the one in trouble. No wonder Democrats are making hay of Republicans’ clumsy efforts and lack of candor.

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