In the wake of a disappointing midterm election cycle for the GOP, which analysts and exit polls attributed in large part to widespread public dissatisfaction with the party’s efforts to criminalize abortion, the Republican National Committee is urging party members to … er, redouble their efforts to criminalize abortion.
A resolution passed on Friday at the winter meeting of the RNC exhorts GOP lawmakers to “pass the strongest pro-life legislation possible”—essentially, to double down on one of the least popular parts of the party’s platform. The document suggests that six-week abortion bans, such as the one that took effect in Georgia after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, are one example of the types of laws Republican legislators should pursue, but it implies something much stricter: The “strongest possible” anti-abortion legislation would be a total abortion ban. The resolution also makes an oblique comparison between abortion and human enslavement, noting that the party’s original 1856 platform “rejected ‘the twin relics of barbarism,’ polygamy and slavery.”
Abortion, the document states, is one of “the new relics of barbarism the Democratic Party represents.”
The resolution goes on to criticize Republicans who, in the lead-up to the 2022 midterms, strove to attract moderate voters by keeping quiet on the topic of abortion or walking back their extreme stances. In the parlance of the document, these candidates “failed to remind Americans of our proud heritage of challenging … the forces eroding the family and the sanctity of human life.”
As a strategic move, this all very unwise. But what’s the Republican Party to do? It has spent the past several decades rallying its base by claiming abortion is literally murder—the RNC would look like a bunch of chumps if they backed down now that the dog has caught the proverbial car.
Even as Republicans as disparate as Donald Trump and South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace—a mild Trump critic—blame the party’s uncompromising stance on abortion for its underperformance in the 2022 midterms, there are loads of far-right advocacy groups and anti-abortion PACs (such as the Susan B. Anthony List) invested in the opposite interpretation: that Republicans didn’t do as well as expected in November because they didn’t talk about criminalizing abortion enough.
That’s the takeaway from the RNC resolution, which encourages candidates to “go on offense” and make Democrats seem like the extreme, out-of-touch party on abortion. But if you look at polls that track American attitudes on abortion, it is clear that the Democratic position is far more popular.
I’m not just talking about the middle-ground protections of Roe v. Wade, which a majority of Americans—including a plurality of Republicans—have long favored. When it comes to the positions on either end of the spectrum—abortion fully legal vs. fully illegal—about three times as many people support the former as the latter.
According to the RNC resolution, only “a fringe minority” supports the lifting of all limitations on legal abortion. That’s not true. In one NPR/Ipsos poll conducted this month, 26 percent of respondents said abortion should be legal in all cases, a far larger cohort than the 9 percent of people who said abortion should be illegal in all cases. Other surveys show similar results: A Wall Street Journal poll from last fall found that just 6 percent of people supported a total ban on abortion. Only 29 percent said it should be illegal with exceptions for rape, incest, and the woman’s life. In a 2022 Gallup poll, more than one-third of respondents said abortion should be legal under any circumstances, while only 13 percent said it should be banned under all circumstances.
Gallup has performed this same poll annually, and over the past three years, there has been a marked rise in the proportion of Americans who believe abortion should be fully legal. Meanwhile, the segment of participants who believe abortion should be completely banned, with no exceptions, has plummeted to its lowest level since the mid-1990s. And in a segment of the poll that asks respondents specific questions about whether abortion should be legal in each of the three trimesters of pregnancy, the proportion of people answering “yes” has risen for each trimester.
In other words, the people who want to remove all restrictions on abortion (which is not even the explicit Democratic position on abortion!) are not the “fringe minority”—those are the people who want to ban abortion outright! The GOP is trying to justify its extreme agenda by claiming to reflect the consensus American position on abortion, when it is only reflecting the views of about 1 in 10 people. That cost-benefit analysis doesn’t quite click for me, but I’m sure the GOP has assiduously thought this one through!