For the last few decades there has been a trend of red states passing increasingly draconian abortion bans which never go into effect. Liberal groups immediately file challenges to them and enforcement of the laws is halted until the cases can get settled. They are virtually never settled in their favor. This has a dulling effect and whenever you read about some ban in some conservative state you can sort of write it off to conservative theater. In May, however, Texas passed a bill that was designed to avoid this trap. It’s crafty! Instead of the heartbeat ban being enforced by the state, the law allows private citizens to sue over abortions. It jams up[ the process of getting the bill blocked because it isn’t immediately obvious who the abortion rights groups should sue to stop from enforcing it.
On Wednesday, this crafty little tactic seemed to succeed, when the Supreme Court officially refused to stay enforcement of the law. The law is now in effect in Texas.
I try not to write about issues like this because though I have my own personal opinions about abortion, they aren’t very interesting opinions. I’m pro-choice, like most Americas, and like them, my opinion hasn’t really changed. But I don’t know a huge deal about the subject and there are lots of people who do; abortion has been legal across the country for as long as I’ve been alive; and I’m a boy, which isn’t to say men can’t have opinions about abortion, but that in my particular case I just don’t feel like I have anything helpful to add. So, this isn’t really a post about how abortion is good or bad. I’m sure you think whatever you think and that won’t change.
One piece of conventional liberal wisdom that was handed down to me growing up in the 90s was that the GOP didn’t actually want to ban abortion. They say they do and lots of their members do but that if they actually did it, it would result in electoral devastation so the party itself really wanted to be able to fight a perpetually losing battle. I don’t know that this was necessarily ever true to the extent it was discussed—it’s not like the GOP is a monolith—but it was definitely true of certain factions of the GOP.
For 50 years, the pro-life side of this debate has had more energy and has voted on the issue more. But the fact is that a majority of Americans are pro-choice. A law like Texas’ hasn’t been in effect in the United States in generations. You have to wonder how it changes that political calculus.
Right now, Republicans are on the road to winning back Congress in 2022. Midterms are always tough on the party in the White House and Joe Biden’s approval rating is newly underwater. Democrats only control the House by a slim margin and redistricting might eat into that on its own. Does elevating abortion to a top issue really help with that? I sort of think…not.
“At last, a Republican legislative majority has enacted its declared beliefs in almost their fullest form,” writes David Frum in The Atlantic. “And won permission from the courts to impose its will on the women of its state.”
This is a new reality, and one that opens a way for the prolonged U.S. abortion-rights debate to be resolved. If the Texas Republicans prosper politically, then abortion-rights advocates must accept that the country truly is much more conservative on abortion than they appreciated and adjust their goals accordingly. But if not, and I’m guessing that the answer is not, anti-abortion-rights politicians are about to feel the shock of their political lives. For the first time since the 1970s, they will have to reckon with mobilized opposition that also regards abortion as issue No. 1 in state and local politics.”
Or, to put it another way:
When God wants to punish us, he gives us exactly what we want.