Even After Midterm Losses, House Republicans Show No Inclination To Moderate On Abortion

DEARBORN, MICHIGAN - NOVEMBER 06: Proposal 3 flyers are displayed on a table for volunteers at the RFFA Dearborn site on November 06, 2022 in Dearborn, Michigan. Community members and activists of Proposal 3 continue... DEARBORN, MICHIGAN - NOVEMBER 06: Proposal 3 flyers are displayed on a table for volunteers at the RFFA Dearborn site on November 06, 2022 in Dearborn, Michigan. Community members and activists of Proposal 3 continue canvassing and organizing around Michigan ahead of the November 8 midterm election. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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Thanks to the 2022 midterms and Kansas’ primary election a few months earlier, there is now a very recent set of data points enforcing the reality that even in some deeply red states, majorities of voters support abortion access (or, at least, reject abortion restrictions). 

In a different political world, that may have given Republicans pause. With the energy seemingly flipped to supporters of abortion access, many of whom were not highly motivated by the issue until the Supreme Court overturned Roe, alternate universe Republicans might seek to moderate their position. 

As horror stories of women sickened, jailed, denied treatment, forced to carry pregnancies with no chance of success or that are products of rape leak out from all corners, parallel universe Republicans might find it politically expedient to soften their absolutist stance. 

But to begin the 118th Congress, these Republicans have not. 

They will hold votes as soon as this week on a trio of anti-abortion legislation: a bill permanently banning federally funded abortions, a bill that claims to protect infants who survive an attempted abortion and a bill to condemn attacks on anti-abortion organizations and facilities. 

None of these bills will pass the Democratic-controlled Senate. But they’re likely the tip of the iceberg in terms of the red-meat messaging bills House Republicans will introduce over the next two years. 

The first would seek to make permanent a restriction that has existed in some form since 1976. The Hyde Amendment has long been attached as a rider to the appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services, which Congress renews annually. Democrats have in recent years started to push for stripping the rider from the funding package. 

The other two bills are more firmly rooted in anti-abortion lore. 

The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act is a rehashing of an anti-abortion fixation which flared up intensely in 2019. An earlier panic also led to the passage of the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002, which is still on the books. 

It’s a talking point the movement favors because the idea is horrifying: Republicans posit that, routinely, doctors are murdering babies born after botched abortions. This kind of legislation seeks to open the doctors up to criminal charges. 

It’s an emotional manipulation of what is often a tragic and deadly medical emergency. Abortions late enough into pregnancy to result in an infant that can survive independently are extremely rare and virtually always related to fetal abnormalities or severe risk to the life of the woman. Democrats opposed similar legislation last congressional term, saying that it was an attempt to intimidate doctors and intervene into women’s health care. 

The other bill, decrying attacks on anti-abortion entities, obscures the rich and disturbing history of anti-abortion violence. Anti-abortion extremists have murdered several people in connection to providing abortions, kidnapped providers, bombed clinics and made hundreds of death and anthrax threats. Many of the most famous killings of abortion providers happened in the 1990s, but the violence is recent, too: in 2015, a gunman describing himself as a “warrior for the babies” killed three people and injured nine more at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. 

The bills are an enduring sign of the political incentives that keep Republicans, particularly those in the House, often far to the right of their own constituents on the issue. Thanks to cumulative years of gerrymandering, used to greatest effect by state Republicans, the vast majority of House races are simply no longer competitive. In an R+20 seat, a Republican candidate won’t worry about a general election against a Democrat; she’ll be worried about surviving a primary. Kowtowing to the anti-abortion lobby, then, becomes much more politically crucial than matching her constituents’ position on abortion. 

Dobbs turned abortion politics on its head. But for House Republicans, we can expect more of the same. 

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