Anti-Abortion Activists Say Weak GOP Stands Against Procedure Cost Midterm Wins
With the GOP’s overall tepid performance in the midterms across the country and inability to deliver the highly-anticipated great red wave of election victories, that at least some thought would handily take back control of the House and perhaps even Senate, members from one of the party’s core constituencies are calling for a sea change of a different kind.
Simply, anti-abortion groups blame what they see as an election defeat for their issue on the lackluster stances on abortion Republicans took during their campaigns.
Some in the movement fault Republican party leaders including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and GOP candidates like Pennsylvania Senate contender Mehmet Oz for not running harder on abortion limits.
McConnell — the person arguably most responsible for securing the Supreme Court majority that overturned Roe — is being blasted for keeping the issue at arm’s length while voters in his home state, Kentucky, considered and rejected a Republican-sponsored ballot initiative limiting abortion rights.
“If the argument is that this is a state issue, McConnell was not in the state arguing for the ballot initiative. There was nobody in the state … making it clear what was at stake,” Frank Cannon, a political strategist for SBA Pro-Life America, explained to reporters. “The pro-life movement has to do a better job and the political element of the pro-life movement has to step up. Without that, we’re going to be in trouble.”
“We’re not looking for show-votes,” said Kristi Hamrick with Students for Life, an anti-abortion advocacy group that was active in over 30 states during the midterms. “And we are going to have to be more innovative than the currently discussed options.”
In Pennsylvania, abortion opponents said, Oz’s campaign repeatedly avoided questions about whether he would vote for a federal bill introduced by GOP Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina that would ban abortion nationwide after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Oz emphasized his personal opposition to abortion while insisting the issue should be left for states to decide.
Hamrick is among critics who assert Oz’s decision to avoid the issue cost him his Senate race — believed to have been a very winnable seat for Republicans.
“Dr. Oz was as articulate on abortion as his opponent was during the debate,” she said, comparing Oz’s reluctance to speak on the issue to Senator-elect John Fetterman’s stroke-caused verbal struggles. “Running away from the pro-life issue like that really discourages a very motivated core of voters. This year wasn’t the time, if you were trying to draw a distinction, to back away.”
After witnessing the fruition of their decades-long goal of toppling Roe v. Wade less than six months ago, and then seeing access to abortion all but vanish in a quarter of the country, conservatives and other abortion opponents were left seething as the GOP suffered a considerable list of losses in House, Senate, state legislative and ballot initiative contests.
At the same time, the loss of Roe apparently galvanized abortion-rights supporters, who managed to outspend and outvote the anti-abortion contingent nationally.
The resulting rifts between abortion opposition groups and Republican leaders threaten significant damage to an alliance that for decades has helped form party platforms, heavily influenced the outcomes of primaries and, most certainly aided in guiding the federal judiciary toward the right.
As such, according to a report by POLITICO, the anti-abortion movement generally is being hampered by infighting, finger-pointing and harsh disagreements over what the messaging needs to be in a post-Roe era.
“I hope Republicans got the message loud and clear that running away from the issue doesn’t work,” Marilyn Musgrave, a former GOP member of Congress who now leads government affairs for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told POLITICO. “We saw the Democrats go all-in on saying women wouldn’t be able to get health care and would be punished and we did not see a Republican response to counter all those lies.”
Abortion opponents are now urging the GOP to campaign more openly and forcefully against abortion procedures. Others call for an internal assessment of how the message about abortion restrictions are being presented to voters, especially those from younger generations. There is mounting debate within the opposition’s ranks over which anti-abortion policies to push going forward and what tactics will work best against ballot initiatives abortion-rights activists plan to use to overturn abortion restrictions in several states.
Still, others within the anti-abortion movement contend the only real problem during the midterms was that their messaging wasn’t heard by enough voters — and are strategizing about how to take their talking points to the next level, taking stands in state capitols over limiting abortion access, how best to mobilize conservative voters in the Georgia Senate runoff after getting massively outspent in key November races.
“There are a lot of different ways to build a culture for life, but it’s frustrating when we start to attack each other privately or publicly,” said Jeanne Mancini, the president of the anti-abortion March for Life, which is preparing to hold its 50th-anniversary march in D.C. in January. “We need to get on the same page about what we stand for.”
Now that Republicans have eked out a narrow majority in the House, demands have been made Republicans to prioritize Graham’s proposed 15-week abortion ban, which many lawmakers have been hesitant to cosponsor.
While many anti-abortion advocates insist the issue should be left to the states, others argue the 15-week bill doesn’t go far enough because more than 90 percent of abortions in the U.S. happen before that point in pregnancy.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said she hopes to see a bill that prohibits abortion after the detection of fetal cardiac activity, around six weeks of pregnancy.
The midterm elections left neither Republicans nor Democrats with enough votes to pass a federal law restricting or protecting abortion — so the fate of abortion, at least into the foreseeable future, really is up to the states.
Leading national anti-abortion groups plan to expand their focus on state policies. Mancini said that March for Life held five marches in state capitals in 2022 and plans to double that next year, along with the group’s signature January march in D.C., which will next be themed, “Next Steps: Marching into a post-Roe America.”
After everything else, some in the anti-abortion movement see the midterm results as evidence their energies perhaps need to be spent beyond electoral contests.
“We can’t just rely on the political side of things,” Caroline Smith, from Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, said to POLITICO. “We can’t rely on lawmakers to make the change we need. Institutions are letting us down. Voters aren’t doing what we hoped they would do. We have to take things into our own hands.”