Talking point

Curtailing abortion rights: will Republicans rue their victory?

The next few years are likely to be ‘chaotic or worse’, predicts the Los Angeles Times

Are the Republicans “the proverbial dog that caught the car”? For decades, they’ve been working to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 precedent guaranteeing American women the right to abortion, said Alex Shephard in The New Republic. But now that the supreme court is poised to deliver this prize, it’s dawning on the party that the move may carry a “devastating” political cost; polls show a clear majority opposes it.

Hence the oddly muted response of Donald Trump and many other GOP leaders. It’s one thing to fire up your base by attacking Roe as a symbol of undemocratic judicial overreach, but what the removal of this constitutional right “means in practice – prosecuting women who have had miscarriages, deaths from ectopic pregnancies, a precipitous rise in America’s already abysmal childbirth mortality rates – is far less appealing”.

Obstetricians are dreading the “post-Roe nightmares to come”, said Jessica Winter in The New Yorker. While abortion pills will enable some women secretly to terminate early pregnancies (though many states are planning to criminalise the distribution of these medications), they won’t help women with later-pregnancy complications. More deaths and injuries are certain.

The Left shouldn’t count on benefitting from an abortion backlash, said Megan McArdle in The Washington Post. Recent polls show no sudden swing against the Republicans. Activists on both sides feel very strongly about the demise of Roe, but most Americans don’t – probably because devolving abortion policies to individual states in any case won’t lead to much of a change for them.

In Kentucky, for instance, where 57% of voters want abortion to be illegal in all or most cases, the rules will probably be strict. But abortion is “already relatively uncommon” in the state. By contrast, in Massachusetts, where 74% think abortion should almost always be legal, abortion access will remain unfettered.

It’s hard to predict how this issue will play out, said Jonah Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times, because neither party’s official position on abortion currently reflects where most voters are. Only 25% of Americans think abortion should be legal under any circumstances and only 21% think it should be illegal under any circumstances. The tone has been set by “maximalists”, and moderate politicians have played along out of expediency. It’s going to “take a long time to unwind the polarisation caused by Roe and the result will not please the most committed on either side”.

The next few years are likely to be “chaotic or worse”, as Republicans and Democrats work out how to keep their electoral bases happy in a post-Roe world where politicians are democratically accountable for their positions on abortion. “The only way out is through.”

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