After Dobbs, Abortion Politics are Straining the Republican CoalitionRoundup
tags: Republican Party, Supreme Court, reproductive rights, abortion rights, Dobbs
Daniel K. Williams is a professor of history at the University of West Georgia and the author of God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right.
Republicans are divided on abortion.
In April, former president Donald Trump incurred the wrath of SBA Pro-Life America for his opposition to a federal ban on abortion — a “states’ rights” position that the organization declared was “morally indefensible.” With former vice president Mike Pence criticizing Trump’s position and suggesting that a 15-week federal ban should be considered — and with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signaling his antiabortion bona fides by signing a six-week ban into law — it appears that the 2024 GOP presidential primaries might witness a more vigorous intraparty debate on abortion policy than Republicans have seen in decades.
State legislatures are already experiencing this intraparty division. In South Carolina, three Republican female state senators helped stop a bill that would have banned nearly all abortions. In North Carolina and Nebraska, internal divisions forced Republicans to settle for 12-week abortion bans (the Nebraska ban could pass as soon as Friday), instead of earlier ones favored by antiabortion activists.
For some, this is a debate about tactics rather than long-term goals. Even some Republicans who oppose abortion question whether strict bans are politically possible or electorally wise.
But the divisions also reflect a deeper reality: Republicans have never reached a consensus on the morality of abortion. Today, more than one-third of Republican voters want abortion to remain legal in all or most cases, while 60 percent want it to be mostly or entirely illegal. And in previous decades, Republican voters were even more divided on the issue.
For a while, the two groups within the GOP could unite on a strategy to appoint conservative justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. But now that a conservative Supreme Court has overturned Roe in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, they cannot agree what to do next.
In many ways, this division reflects a tension between personal liberty and moral regulation that is as old as the Republican Party. Supporters and opponents of abortion rights can both claim support for their position from the party’s founding principles.
In the 1850s, the Republican Party was founded on the principle of opposition to slavery’s expansion — which meant that it favored morally based restrictions on slavery in the name of securing the personal liberty of the enslaved. That embedded both principles — personal liberty and moral regulation — in the party’s DNA.
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