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A new poll lays bare the GOP’s post-Roe dilemmas

The poll shows that several ideas in red states are opposed not just by the vast majority of Americans but also by many or most Republicans

On June 24, the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, leaving abortion decisions up to the states. Here’s what you need to know — and what comes next. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)
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The Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has provided Republicans with some difficult choices on how far to go in curtailing abortion rights across the country. Among the ideas already codified in some states and under consideration elsewhere: banning abortion without exceptions for rape and incest, banning mail-order abortion pills, banning travel across state lines for abortions and even banning abortion nationwide.

A new poll shows that all of these proposals are broadly unpopular with the American public. More interestingly, in many cases, they’re also pretty unpopular among Republicans.

The Public Religion Research Institute is out with one of the first big polls testing abortion views in a post-Roe world. The big takeaway is that caution is the watchword for Republicans who are newly empowered to severely restrict abortion rights.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently indicated that a GOP-controlled Congress could consider banning abortion nationwide, and former vice president Mike Pence has endorsed the idea. The PRRI poll shows that just 12 percent of Americans support that approach, while 53 percent want Congress to pass a law preserving the right to abortion. Another 32 percent prefer a middle-ground approach of letting states decide the issue.

Such a ban is unlikely unless Republicans gain 60 votes in the Senate or nix the filibuster — something McConnell says he wouldn’t do for an abortion ban. (Democratic candidates have still seized upon McConnell entertaining the idea in their campaign ads.)

But some proposals that are more actionable — and have been acted upon — suffer from a similarly bipartisan deficit.

Republicans and antiabortion groups in several states are considering legislation to ban crossing state lines to obtain abortions in states with fewer restrictions — even as it’s not clear how that could pass legal muster. The poll shows that 77 percent of Americans and 64 percent of Republicans oppose such a ban.

Republicans in even more states are considering laws making it explicitly illegal to order abortion pills by mail. It’s a central battleground in the fight over access to abortion, given increasing use of the pills and the possibility of ordering them undetected. The poll shows that 72 percent of Americans and 56 percent of Republicans oppose such a ban.

To get banned abortion pills, patients turn to legally risky tactics

Another central issue in Republicans’ post-Roe plans is how they address exceptions for rape and incest. Most “trigger laws,” which went into effect in red states when Roe was overturned, have no such exceptions.

The poll shows that 72 percent of Americans and 52 percent of Republicans oppose an abortion ban that would provide an exception only for the life of the pregnant individual — similar to polls conducted on such exceptions before Roe was overturned.

The GOP’s newfound abortion dilemma on rape and incest

A more resolved issue in red states is criminalizing abortion. Republicans have shied away from punishing the people seeking abortions — a Louisiana law to that effect was abandoned after even groups opposed to abortion balked — and the national GOP has claimed that “Republicans DO NOT want to throw doctors and women in jail.” But upward of 20 states threaten medical providers with a year or more, sometimes much more, in jail, according to a review by Politico.

The poll shows that 74 percent of Americans and 48 percent of Republicans oppose making it a felony to perform an abortion.

Abortion is a difficult issue to poll, and the opposition to some of these proposals might be somewhat inflated. It seems possible, for instance, that at least some Republicans oppose an abortion ban with only a life-of-the-mother exception not because they want rape and incest exceptions, but because they also oppose the life-of-the-mother exception.

It also seems counterintuitive that 56 percent of Republicans would oppose banning the mailing of abortion pills, given that most Republicans oppose abortion rights in the vast majority of cases. It’s possible some might misunderstand the question to refer to Plan B, which is not the same thing.

But this is hardly the first evidence that some of these proposals could pose significant dilemmas for the GOP, as we wrote before the Supreme Court struck down Roe. In some ways, a post-Roe world was more beneficial to the GOP politically as a hypothetical. But now that hypothetical is reality. And Republicans will face pressure from some in their base to go down some of these roads, after years of activists dreaming about just such an opportunity.

But those activists will often be acting against the wishes of the vast majority of Americans and even significant majorities of their own red states. And in some cases — including some laws already on the books — they appear to have run afoul of many or most Republicans as well.

Exactly how far the GOP goes post-Roe will say a lot about who is driving the party.