Bans May Hand Dems Political Weapon 05/25 11:01
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A flood of laws banning abortions in Republican-run
states has handed Democrats a political weapon heading into next year's
elections, helping them paint the GOP as extreme and court centrist voters who
could decide congressional races in swing states, members of both parties say.
The Alabama law outlawing virtually all abortions, even in cases of rape or
incest, is the strictest so far. Besides animating Democrats, the law has
prompted President Donald Trump, other Republican leaders and lawmakers seeking
re-election next year to distance themselves from the measure.
Their reaction underscores that Republicans have risked overplaying their
hand with severe state laws that they hope will prod the Supreme Court, with
its ascendant conservative majority, to strike down Roe v. Wade, the 1973
decision that legalized abortion. It also illustrates the way that those
statutes are forcing the GOP to struggle over how to satisfy its core,
anti-abortion supporters without alienating the vast majority of voters averse
to strictly curbing abortion.
The Alabama law is "a loser for Republican candidates in Colorado, without
question, and in many other swing parts of the country, because it's extreme,"
David Flaherty, a Colorado-based Republican consultant who's worked on
congressional races around the country. "'It's only going to widen the gender
Brian Fitzpatrick, a Vanderbilt Law School professor and former aide to Sen.
John Cornyn, R-Texas, said there are many "women, moderate women who are going
to be scared that this right that they thought they had for the last 40-some
years is going to be shelved" and they will be motivated to vote.
GOP Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Susan Collins of Maine, both seeking
election next year, said the Alabama ban goes too far by eliminating exceptions
for pregnancies involving rape or incest. A 2005 survey by the Guttmacher
Institute, which backs abortion rights, found about 1% of women said they had
abortions because of rape or incest.
Democrats see the statutes as a way to weave a broader message about
"You use it as an example of what they do when they're unchecked," said Rep.
A. Donald McEachin, D-Va., a leader of the Democratic Congressional Campaign
Committee, House Democrats' campaign organization. "I think it drives moderate
Republicans away from their party."
Democratic presidential contenders are competing to lambast the Alabama law,
which allows exceptions when the mother's health is endangered. Sen. Kirsten
Gillibrand, D-N.Y., called it an "existential threat to the human rights of
women," while former Vice President Joe Biden said GOP hopes of striking down
Roe v. Wade are "pernicious and we have to stop it."
Campaign Facebook and Twitter accounts of Democrats seeking re-election next
year, such as Sens. Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama and New Hampshire's Jeanne
Shaheen, are littered with posts attacking the harsh restrictions. "The people
of Alabama deserve to be on the #rightsideofhistory --- not the side of
extremists," Jones tweeted.
Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Ohio have enacted or neared
approval of measures barring abortion once there's a detectable fetal
heartbeat, which can occur in the sixth week of pregnancy, before a woman may
know she is pregnant. Missouri lawmakers approved an eight-week ban.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that of the
country's 638,000 abortions in 2015, almost two-thirds were performed within
the first eight weeks of pregnancy. About 1% were performed during or after the
Spotlighting the perilous political territory Republicans are navigating, an
April poll by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that Americans
support Roe v. Wade by 2-1. A Gallup poll last year found that 57% of adults
who described themselves "pro-life" nonetheless said abortion should be legal
if the pregnancy results from rape or incest.
The focus on the state measures has also stolen GOP momentum on abortion.
Until now, congressional Republicans had spent much of this year forcing
Democrats onto the defensive, goading them into blocking bills aimed at curbing
the rare abortions performed late in pregnancies and misleadingly accusing them
of supporting infanticide.
"Obviously, the attention has shifted," said Sarah Chamberlain, president of
the Republican Main Street Partnership, which represents dozens of moderate GOP
lawmakers. She said while her group doesn't think Democrats' focus on the harsh
laws has gained traction, "We are talking about that and how it's going to play
in our districts."
Some Republicans say the Democratic drive will have minimal impact because
the abortion issue drives relatively few voters from each party. Others say GOP
candidates should accuse Democrats of extremism by opposing bills restricting
abortions late in pregnancy and, if they wish, cite their support for exempting
rape and incest victims.
Democrats have "never seen an abortion they don't like," said David O'Steen,
executive director of the National Right to Life Committee.
Added Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., who heads the National Republican Senatorial
Committee, the Senate GOP campaign arm: "We're not Alabama state
representatives, we're United States senators. And each of us has to make our
Yet the laws have generated energy among abortion-rights groups, which held
more than 500 demonstrations and other events this week. "We will power this
movement into 2020. There will be political consequences," said Ilyse Hogue,
president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., distanced
themselves early last week from the Alabama statute. They were joined Wednesday
by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who told The Associated
Press, "My position remains unchanged for 25 years. I'm opposed to abortion
except in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother" being in jeopardy.