The abortion pill issue isn’t going away for Republicans any time soon

Democrats know that banning medication abortion is wildly unpopular. They hope to use it to boost their re-election chances in 2024

Eric Garcia
Wednesday 12 April 2023 23:14 BST
Related video: Florida bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy

The backlash against a conservative judge in Texas’s ruling that suspending the Food and Drug Administration’s two-decade approval of the abortion drug mifepristone shows no signs of stopping.

On Tuesday evening, 50 members of the Senate Democratic and 190 Democratic members of the House Democratic caucus filed an amicus brief in support of the Biden administration’s appealing US District Court for the Northern District of Texas Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk’s ruling.

Unsurprisingly, Senator Joe Manchin, who has long been ambivalent about abortion and opposed the Women’s Health Protection Act last year did not join, though Independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona did, as did Representative Ruben Gallego, who is running as a Democrat in next year’s Senate race in the state.

In a sign of how much the politics of abortion have changed, Senator Bob Casey Jr of Pennsylvania, whose father was the namesake anti-abortion governor in Planned Parenthood v Casey, signed onto the amicus brief, the same week he announced his re-election.

In addition, Senators Jon Tester of Montana, whose state beat back an anti-abortion referendum last year, and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a state that voted for Donald Trump twice and has a Republican governor, also signed on, as did Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who announced her re-election campaign on Wednesday.

Democrats know that essentially nullifying the approval of a commonly-used abortion drug is largely a political loser. Republicans lost scores of winnable races last election cycle. And just last week, liberals gained control of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court largely because Janet Protasiewicz campaigned on defending abortion rights.

And public opinion is firmly on the side of Democrats on this one. A new Pew Research Center survey found that 53 per cent of Americans say that medication abortion should be available in their state and only 22 per cent say it should be illegal, while 24 per cent say they are not sure.

Those numbers are staggering and spell nothing but trouble for Republicans. If they thought that the problems they faced when the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v Jackson Womens Health Organization which overturned Roe v Wade would end in 2022, these numbers show plenty of voters might actively oppose them.

That same evening a number of pharmaceutical companies and executives also filed an amicus brief denouncing the decision could seriously damage the industry.

In the past, Republicans likely would not dare cross a major industry like the drug lobby, but as Republicans move more to the right on social issues, they have found themselves opposing big business that it once clung to regularly for campaign contributions and policy proposals.

But Republicans want to avoid the issue as much as possible. On Tuesday evening, 69 Republican members of Congress, including 11 Republican Senators, filed a brief asking an appeals court to uphold the decision, The Hill reported. While the number may seem staggering, that is less than half of the House Republican conference and a little more than a fifth of the Senate Republican conference.

Conversely, as Jennifer Bendery at HuffPost reported, of the 38 Republican Senators who voted for Judge Kacsmaryk’s confirmation, almost all of them have been silent. By contrast, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who opposed him, denounced the decision.

But this was always going to be the next frontier for social conservatives. When I covered the Conservative Political Action Conference last month, one anti-abortion activist told me “the next step is chemical abortion,” in reference to medication abortion, which accounts for more than half of all abortions in the US.

This pits the Republican political establishment that has a vested interest in flipping Senate seats, holding the House of Representatives and winning back the White House, against a more strident activist class of social conservatives, whom they cannot afford to alienate.

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