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Will abortion split the GOP?

Republicans are struggling to find a consensus. Credit: Getty

March 15, 2024 - 2:30pm

Republicans are struggling to find a consensus on abortion policy.

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, Republicans who have publicly identified as pro-life now find themselves in the position of specifying exactly what that means — and calculating voter sentiment in the process.

Donald Trump, arguably the man most responsible for Roe’s overturning, supports a 16-week limit on abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and risk to the life of the mother. It’s a proposal that would have been struck down under Roe, yet it’s still a far cry from the heartbeat bills and general bans being passed at state level.

Republicans tend to be more staunchly pro-life in states that are reliably red, which are concentrated in the Southeast and Midwest. Purple-state Republicans have slimmer majorities and thus see a greater risk of losing elections due to any negative impact of supporting abortion restrictions. In Congress, a proposed 15-week limit in 2023 caused uproar among GOP politicians, who feared it would hurt them electorally, and the bill didn’t make it to a vote.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the influential anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told Politico last year that her organisation was urging Republicans to rally behind a 15-week limit. The group, among other things, creates public scorecards for politicians, rating their stances on abortion. “We’ve been very clear to [Trump] and all the others that 15 weeks is the right line. You can go earlier if you want. The 15 weeks is the sweet spot,” she said.

Trump himself has been critical of state abortion restrictions — most notably Florida’s, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, which the former president called a “terrible mistake” in the press while the two were battling for the GOP nomination.

Abortion was blamed for the Republicans’ lacklustre performance in the 2022 midterms, and is now widely seen as a losing issue for the party. A 16-week limit would still allow the vast majority of abortions to take place: about 94% of abortions in the US occur at or before 13 weeks. A motivating factor, it seems, is to demonstrate compromise and consensus on a hot-button issue and to distance national Republicans from less popular state-level efforts to ban abortion at six weeks or earlier.

Ballot measures enshrining legal abortion access have passed easily even in a number of red states. But the issue isn’t particularly damaging for individual Republicans on friendly territory. DeSantis, for example, was reelected with a massive majority in 2022 after signing a 15-week limit and expressing a desire for stricter measures, and other Republicans in the state performed similarly well.

Democrats in Congress, meanwhile, are in lockstep support of legal late-term abortion. If Trump wins in November and Republicans have sufficient majorities in Congress, a 16-week limit resembling abortion in much of Europe is a strong possibility, while an outright abortion ban is not.


is UnHerd’s US correspondent.

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Matt M
Matt M
4 months ago

Why wouldn’t Trump just leave it as it currently is, i.e. in the hands of the states? What does he gain by trying to impose national regulations?

T Bone
T Bone
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Its Smart Politics because it makes Democrats defend their position. Since the Left is allergic to Federalism they won’t make the Constitutionally correct argument…that it is an issue for States to decide.

He is just carving up the moderate center and can then call out Democrats on their Strawman hysteria.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
4 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

I think you’re probably right, but it just seems abhorrent to be using this issue for political traction. Not just Trump of course, but the entire political caste.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
4 months ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Why abhorrent? Do you consider abortion itself abhorrent? Do you consider discussing abortion abhorrent? Do you consider identifying abortion as an issue people feel strongly about abhorrent? Please elucidate.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
4 months ago

A down vote is not an explanation. My question is valid.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
4 months ago

I didn’t downvote, and i’m very much pro-abortion. Did you even consider that? No.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
4 months ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

I genuinely don’t understand. You cannot articulate what is abhorrent, is that what you mean? Do you consider a foetus that is miscarried a baby, whilst an aborted foetus of the same age not a baby? The Romans used exposure to kill unwanted babies. Why are pro-abortionists squeamish about acknowledging the fact abortion is the contemporary way of killing unwanted babies?

Sylvia Volk
Sylvia Volk
4 months ago

Seems clear to me that what LL thinks abhorrent is politicizing abortion. Not abortion itself.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
4 months ago
Reply to  Sylvia Volk

Thankyou. The cases both for and against are extraordinarily complex and i’ve no need to explain myself any more than she has the right to make presumptions based upon a misinterpretation.

Sylvia Volk
Sylvia Volk
4 months ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Well said, LL.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
4 months ago
Reply to  Sylvia Volk

I am sure Lancashire Lad appreciates having a cheerleader.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
4 months ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

If you do not explain yourself, you are quite likely to be misunderstood. I guess you are a social justice warrior as you inappropriately mention rights when rights are not an issue. The whole point of the comments section is for discussion of issues mentioned and raised. I am not anti abortion but I am anti double think. Those who miscarry before the foetus is 24 weeks can now have the foetus offficially recognised as the loss of a baby indicating abortion is killing a baby. This is not likely to be a problem for Social constructivists as the perception of the material object (the physical baby) is what matters (wanted or unwanted) but it is troubling for those who believe the material and truth matters. Truth is unchanging, eternal, coherent and consistent. Whether killing of the unwanted is legitimate/ legal/ policy is a political matter. In Canada, the MAID program indicates killing of the unwanted has become policy there without ever having been debated. The dictatorial and tyrannical are always against free speech, open discussion and debate. Trudeau is frequently accused of being a dictator/ tyrant.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
4 months ago

This is utter gibberish.
Have you considered becoming an Unherd contributor?

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
4 months ago

“Do you consider a foetus that is miscarried a baby, whilst an aborted foetus of the same age not a baby?”
Neither are a baby, they are both a foetus.
The clue is in the question, sweetheart.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
4 months ago

Defend your position properly. A foetus under the age of 24 weeks is now effectively recognised to be a baby and a miscarriage to be mourned. There are legal ramifications but it seems educational standards are so low now that people like yourself are unaware of or blind to the implications.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
4 months ago

“Effectively recognized”
Bollocks. Maybe “effectively recognized” by the religious crazies who have zero interest in the welfare of that foetus and are solely interested in controlling the lives of women. Sound familiar?
Anyone can mourn a miscarriage – its a tragedy for the parents and the potential of the child that would have been.
But that doesn’t make a foetus a baby any more than it makes a clump of cells in a test tube stored in deep freeze a baby.
I won’t bother trying to parse the rest of your word salad.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
4 months ago

Press release
Baby loss certificate launched to recognise parents’ griefBaby loss certificates for parents who experienced a loss of pregnancy before 24 weeks are now available for application from 9am today (22 February 2024).
From:
Department of Health and Social CareThe Rt Hon Victoria Atkins MP, and Maria Caulfield MP
Published
22 February 2024

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
4 months ago

”but it seems educational standards are so low now that people like yourself are unaware of or blind to the implications.”

haha, and not on this issue, but really – on any and all, with this rather special poster. He is becoming a bit of an institution here, a kind of drunk Uncle who is part of the family gathering…,

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
4 months ago

I’ll let the irony of this poster concerning himself with the educational achievement of others speak for itself…

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
4 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

Dumb. Trump is too stupid to have a strategy. The American people clearly aren’t interested in being told what to do by a bunch of religious cranks.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
4 months ago

Who do you vote for; what with Biden being so far to the Right of your Politics?

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
4 months ago

My mistake! Here we have the exception, an American who is desperate to be told exactly what to do by a bunch of religious cranks and fat orange man in an ill fitting suit.
There’s always one!

Aloysius
Aloysius
4 months ago

Ah yes, those evil religious cranks insisting on … basic human rights like the right to life of every human being. Opposing the dismemberment of unborn children (the typical method of abortion around 16 weeks), what a bore!

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

As T-Bone says, it makes the left defend the indefensible. At present, Dems are in line with zero restrictions; have one at any point in a pregnancy for any reason. That is as far outside of the American mainstream as heartbeat bills and outright bans.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Yet the religious zealots keep losing every vote on abortion, even in red states.
Maybe the mugs who elect the likes of Katie Britt and Tommy Tuberville in Alabama will be convinced – but anyone who votes for those imbeciles deserves everything they get – but normal folks aren’t interested in living in the theocracy you seem to want.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 months ago

Meanwhile, the oh-so-enlightened blue states are crumbing under the way of their fealty to sanctuary city status. Karma’s a bear. But, hey; you can still terminate a pregnancy at any point, which is what really matters. Not the crime, not the homelessness, nothing else.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

You want to try that in English, slick?

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Trump always supported abortion rights. When he decided to run as a Republican—he had always been a Democrat—he was told he needed to be pro life or he would lose the election. Apparently, he’s back to supporting abortion rights.

Sylvia Volk
Sylvia Volk
4 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I’m not American, but now I wish he would declare himself as a Democrat, just to watch everybody’s brains explode.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 months ago

Irony: the 16 weeks that Trump supports is at least as generous as the window that Roe provided, the ruling that was once the left’s holy grail. But the left being the left, that couldn’t last. The decision that led to Roe being overturned began with a challenge to Mississippi’s 15-week window – again, longer than the original decision and at least as long as laws in countries where abortion is legal.
From Bill Clinton’s disingenuous talk of wanting this to be “safe, legal, and rare,” the left has moved to push for legality at any point in a pregnancy for any reason. Wiped out is any talk of viability, an issue that used to be part of the discussion. States that eliminated any restrictions celebrated by lighting up municipal buildings and engaging in “shouts” about having had multiple abortions, as if this is something worthy.
In a time of open borders, record personal credit card debt, more war, looming layoffs, rampant crime, and failing schools, the only people who are fixated on abortion are the ones who don’t anyone to notice the other issues. We all have an opinion on the subject but almost no one counts it as the single most important political topic on their list.

Wyatt W
Wyatt W
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

It’s the single most important topic to me…
If you believe the only consistent position (which is that human beings are people as soon as they’re conceived) then the murder of millions in our own country ought to be the #1 issue.

Obadiah B Long
Obadiah B Long
4 months ago
Reply to  Wyatt W

I’m against abortion. That said, it’s a spiritual objection, not a legal or logical one. A law against abortion is no better than a law compelling abortion. It’s in the same category as a law against being Baptist.
As a political issue, it’s confounding. It does not fit with either the principles of Conservatism nor Progressivism. When abortion rates are high, women’s accomplishments in the workplace go up, and crime goes down. So is that liberal or conservative? Neither, and both.
The only political dimension I can see is that Conservatives believe in minimal Federal government intervention. Murder, for example, is properly a State issue. We did not have Federal murder statutes until very recently, when the Federal government grew out of control.
The whole thing is best left in the spiritual dimension, which knows no politics.

Aloysius
Aloysius
4 months ago
Reply to  Obadiah B Long

I can somewhat understand this if your opposition to abortion is solely on the basis of, for example, specific revelation. Properly construed, though, faith and reason can’t contradict each other since God is the basis of reason, which is why we can for example discern constant laws of nature. Most people who oppose abortion, at least among those I know, do so thinking they are being logical in seeing the unborn child as deserving legal protection, and basic human rights are necessarily a political matter. There is a law against infanticide, despite that not having been the case in the ancient world, and I presume you support that, so when you draw a line and say humans get protection at birth but no earlier that is an active political decision – legal abortion is not a neutral position that leaves the matter to the spiritual dimension, it is a political decision, and in my view, a mistaken one.

Obadiah B Long
Obadiah B Long
4 months ago
Reply to  Aloysius

Well-reasoned. My point is slightly different (possibly muddled). Abortion is confounding. God is not Republican nor Democrat. Abortion beliefs are, or should logically and morally be, orthogonal to politics as we know it. I was taking exception to Wyatt, who claims it as his primary issue.
I would suggest that there are other absolutely vital issues concerning how we provide security, prosperity, and other very basic needs that are fundamentally Republican vs Democrat differences.
The only clear-cut political issue around abortion that I can see is “more-vs-less” government intervention, especially Federal. The best role for government with regard to this issue is to educate, not regulate.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 months ago
Reply to  Obadiah B Long

This should have nothing to do with God/religion. Humans discuss, debate and agree rules for ourselves so we can all get along together. On a personal level we will be happy with some decisions and unhappy with others. But without compromise we will only argue and that’s no help to anyone.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Actually, I think this is a decision where the parents should have most of the input. But within an agreed legal framework which should be as unprescriptive as possible and safe.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Wyatt W

If you believe the only consistent position (which is that human beings are people as soon as they’re conceived)….
I don’t. Neither do most people. 

Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Jeez – the article skates over the fact that deep red states will vote closer to heartbeat or (or to like Mississippi), and New York, California, Illinois et al will vote to permit abortions any time before birth.

That’s the whole point of Dobbs. The issue is just plain not a constitutional issue – the states retain the police power (which covers abortion, death penalty etc) not the Federal Government. Perhaps a federal statute saying no MORE than 15 weeks etc would stop New York from killing actual babies, but provide leeway for the in between states.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
4 months ago
Reply to  Richard Pearse

There’s already a law about killing babies, sport.
You need to keep up.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
4 months ago

Indisputable Fact: 100% of everyone alive today was not aborted by their mother!
I, for one, am very grateful.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
4 months ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Not true – now they allow abortion to, and during birth – one guesses there may have been a late stage abortion that for some reason failed to actually kill the 9 month old fetus, after aborting it.

The world is so sick now, and abortion is the banner they wave – that any depravity is possible.

Helen Creighton
Helen Creighton
4 months ago

Late term abortions are vanishingly rare and done for highly specific reasons such as saving mother’s life and in cases of deformity incompatible with life. Horrific things to go through .. nobody chooses that for a whim nor are they granted one. As for your other contention about the sickness if the world – haha. Infanticide as in post birth killing if babies was a standard practice in all cultures until very, very recently. Exposure, Witholding if nutrients, drowning, ashes in mouths .. all common. Unwanted, deformed, unlikely to live long but consume resources while doing do, being female, being the product of adultery .. any reason would do and at various points all perfectly legal. In ancient Rome a man could legally kill a baby if he suspected adultery while he was away. Such were your golden ages and good old days. Babies are cherished more than at any point in human history since we are able to prevent them happening to begin with and medical advanced means we are able to produce mostly healthy and wanted infants. The past was a horror show. As little ago as pre WW2 it was common to leave the premature and unhealthy babies to quietly expire. And we all know what the Catholic Church did to babies born to unmarried mother’s, they often ended up stuffed in septic tanks or sent for slave labour.

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
4 months ago

You’re deploying the venerable straw-man technique, i.e., shooting down a ridiculous argument that your opponent didn’t make.
I’m pretty sure that your interlocutor isn’t a cheerleader for the reproductive practices of the ancient Romans, nor did he make any reference to the “Good Old Days”, still less state that this apocryphal era was worthy of imitation.
Modern opponents of abortion tend to favour better reproductive education, cheaper and more easily available contraception, and streamlined adoption processes for those unwanted children who are born.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Me, less so. I for my part think that the world would be a better place if (say) Vladimir Putin’s mother had aborted him.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
4 months ago

You dimwits don’t seem to have realized that abortion is a losing issue for you because most Americans don’t want to be told what to do by a bunch of religious psychopaths who think The Handmaid’s Tale is a guidebook and not a cautionary story.
An individual human life doesn’t begin at conception, obviously. Most abortions happen before anything resembling a human has formed.
These apocryphal tales of women having late term abortions are obviously nonsense. No woman carries a fetus into late term and then aborts it on a whim – even you clowns must understand that. Late term abortions are typically because of serious medical irregularities on the part of the fetus or the mother and are unbearably difficult for all concerned.
Let’s just be honest. This is all about the overwhelming need for conservatives to control women and treat them as lesser persons. And of course to punish them for having sex, or at least sex that they don’t approve of.
How many abortions do we think Donald Trump has been the direct cause of?

Aloysius
Aloysius
4 months ago

Perhaps a doomed exercise, but regardless of disagreement on the question of abortion, it’s worth at least doing so on a factual basis. To that end, I think some of your statements are simply factually incorrect.
First, biologically speaking, human life does begin at conception. To be more precise, an individual of the species Homo sapiens begins to exist at the point of fertilisation. Indeed at that point it is a living organism since it is growing by cell division; it belongs genetically to the species Homo sapiens; and it has solely within itself a distinct genetic code that given time, nourishment and the right environment allows it to self-directedly develop into an adult human (this fact is agreed with by 95% of mostly pro-choice biologists according to a U of Chicago study). You might respond that that human is not meaningfully a “person” deserving of rights, because it’s too different from us, but that is a different point.
As regards late-term abortions, your absolute statement is also incorrect. Some people commit infanticide. This is of course rare, but not unheard of, which is why we have laws against it – so the same logic extends to late-term abortion. A small percentage of a large number can still be thousands of late-term abortions, and surveys have been done showing that medical issues are not the only reason, as many women report not knowing whether they were pregnant, or not being able to decide whether to not to go through with the abortion. Even for medical cases, it is often for the diagnosis for disabilities like Down syndrome, which should not make you less deserving of rights than other children.
Finally, you clearly know me better than I know myself, but I assure you that I and all the pro-life people I know are sincerely opposed to abortion on moral grounds, not out of some secret desire to control women (many if not most of them are women themselves). I used to think the same things you do, then I learnt more about abortion and changed my mind. I hope you can do the same.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Aloysius

I assure you that I and all the pro-life people I know are sincerely opposed to abortion on moral grounds, not out of some secret desire to control women (many if not most of them are women themselves)“.
I’m sure that is how they would spin it, but those people are almost certainly religious, and thus beholden to as patriarchy bent on controlling women.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago

Yes, I’ve always thought it highly likely that Trump has not just been the “direct cause” of abortions, but probably actually funded some.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago

Just put it to a referendum. Abortions will be legal nationwide up to 14 weeks, yes or no. If it passes with a majority of voters and a majority of states then it becomes law

Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
4 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Doesn’t work that way in the US on a federal level: People vote for senators and congressmen from the several Stares, who pass laws, that can be signed or vetoed by the President.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago
Reply to  Richard Pearse

So have 50 seperate referendums, and then a vote in the Senate. It would be a brave Senator to vote against the wishes of his electorate surely?

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
4 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

The referendum system does not exist in all states.