Elias: A Turnover for the Red Team

Republicans have made abortion a political game, and they’re losing.

by Chantal Elias | 5/23/19 2:10am

Alabama’s newest abortion law is a series of losses: for women, for science and for the Republican Party. On May 15, Alabama’s Governor, Kay Ivey (R) signed into law a near-total ban on abortion with the exception of when a mother’s life is at risk or the case of a lethal fetal anomaly. The law criminalizes abortion, with clauses indicating that doctors could face up to 99 years in prison for performing an abortion in the state. While the law clearly opposes the national strides made in legalizing abortion and liberating women’s bodies, it is not your routine Republican policy. Alabama’s restrictive abortion law is out of sync with just about every interest group and political party, and with its passing, the rallying power of the Republican Party’s pro-life posture is dwindling in intensity. Come 2020, Republicans will start losing districts if they do not abandon this hard-line stance against abortion. 

In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled that under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Constitution includes a fundamental right to privacy that gives a pregnant woman the liberty to choose whether or not to have an abortion. This landmark case, Roe v. Wade, gave room for states to institute laws that would come into effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned — laws that would lead to the criminalization of abortion in these states. Alabama, surprisingly, was not one of these states. 

The introduction and passing of an abortion ban is, in every sense, a political move. One of the writers of this legislation, Eric Johnson, president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, even stated that the “bill was specifically designed to go to Supreme Court and challenge Roe v. Wade.” 

One must ask: Who is the abortion law intended to please? Perhaps it is the residents of Alabama, but if that were the case, why did a 2018 poll show that just 31 percent of Alabama residents favored an abortion ban that lacks a rape and incest exception? Now, perhaps I am overlooking the strength of Republican hardliners in Alabama … except that, according to the same poll, conducted by Planned Parenthood, 60 percent of Alabaman Republican Evangelicals ­— the population often regarded as a pro-life stronghold —believe there should be a rape or incest exception. Alas, we have on our hands a law made by a governing body that fails at its foremost purpose: to represent the views of the population it represents.  

The passing of this law signifies a split between the farthest-right Republicans and the new “center-abortion” Republicans, who take a more moderate line on abortion. President Donald Trump, it seems, falls within the latter. He recently tweeted “I am strongly Pro-Life, with the three exceptions — Rape, Incest, and protecting the Life of the mother ­— the same position taken by Ronald Reagan.” 

This divergence in the Republican Party’s view on abortion isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon — it follows a longer trend of abortion perspectives falling outside neat party lines. As early as the 1970s, there was internal conflict regarding the Republican Party’s abortion platform. President Gerald Ford opposed Roe v. Wade, while his vice president Nelson Rockefeller and fellow Republican members of Congress took a much more liberal position. 

In the past few years, the united pro-life platform has been a leg-up for Republicans, who have been able to sway uncertain voters to the right by leveraging the moral pathos of abortion. But a push too far to the right on abortion policy could mean a substantial loss for Republicans in the polls. It stands to reason that if Alabamans aren’t having their opinions represented at the local level, they will vote for a change in political leadership. And Americans who are pro-life but believe in the exceptions for rape and incest might stray away from the Republican Party if it refuses to defend those exceptions.

The criminalization of abortion in Alabama and the state government’s failure to take into account the views of the public are indicative of the outdatedness of the Republican Party. Constituents are angry, and, right now, it’s looking like the abortion debate will earn Democrats a point on the scoreboard in the 2020 election.