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Amateur Hour at the White House

The GOP's Abortion Dilemma

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

President Trump gets a lot of credit on the right for creating the conditions that led to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. That's totally fair. One suspects that any Republican president would have nominated more or less the same SCOTUS justices, but it's Trump who got the job done. 


Now, to put all this in context, some states have, in the wake of the Dobbs decision, substantially impeded public access to abortion. Others have expanded it. In addition, although Republicans scored a political “win” by returning power over abortion policy to the states, Democrats used Roe's demise as a way to rally their base and exceed expectations in the 2022 midterm elections. Thus, the abortion ledger, if you will, post-Roe, may be more in balance politically than many people realize.

But what's the bottom line in terms of abortion itself? Has the number of abortions performed in America actually declined since the Dobbs decision, and, if so, by how much? 

That data has recently become available, and it comes to us courtesy of the “Society of Family Planning”, which, since it is essentially a pro-abortion organization, has little incentive to minimize the impact of Dobbs. And yet the Society's extensive analysis shows that the incidence of abortion in America since Roe's demise is down by only 3%. 3%!!! That's a lot of hullabaloo for what many would consider a fairly marginal change in the abortion landscape.  And keep in mind that, during Trump's presidency, the number of abortions actually increased by 8%. Ergo, the abortion baseline is actually higher today than it was when Trump, the slayer of Roe, took office. In short, reports of the death of “abortion rights” are greatly exaggerated! 


None of this, needless to say, prevents the Left from claiming that the Supreme Court has abolished “women's rights” and reinstituted a form of fascist patriarchy. Just as, the more people of color vote in America, the more the Left claims that “Jim Crow 2.0” is blossoming, we can assume that the truth about abortion will similarly have little or no impact on progressives' ramblings, or, indeed, on the political ramifications of the issue. He who controls the media narrative controls everything.

Republicans have an additional problem on their hands. 

Democrats are increasingly coalescing around a common view of abortion that posits the fetus as a contemptible parasite, and embraces the termination of as many fetuses as possible as the most morally, socially, and environmentally sound approach. They therefore have gone far beyond the quaint logic of Roe itself, which only fully protected a woman's “right to choose” in the first trimester, by advocating instead that abortion should be allowed (and encouraged!) up to the moment of birth. This perspective is profoundly disturbing and dangerous, but it has the virtue of being intellectually and politically coherent.

The GOP and conservatives, by contrast, have long disagreed on whether abortion should be permissible in cases of rape, incest, and serious health risks to the mother. Now they are also wringing their hands and wondering whether to "outlaw" (ineffectually, as it turns out) abortion at six weeks, or fifteen, or some other magic number. Very few of them are trying to outlaw abortion altogether. This is highly problematic, because it makes it appear as though Republicans are “pro-life” only when it is feasible, convenient, or popular. If, on the other hand, every fetus is endowed with “personhood” and is worthy of preservation, then why do Republicans and conservatives shrink from the logical conclusion: that all abortions constitute murder?


The answer, unfortunately, has been staring rank-and-file Republicans and conservatives, and ardent pro-lifers, in the face for several decades: most GOP politicians talk about abortion only when it is politically advantageous to them, and they are unlikely to support any anti-abortion measure that would effectively suppress the practice (like punishing women who pursue an abortion). Driving women seeking abortions out of one state and into another, or online to obtain medication abortions via virtual clinics, does not, at the end of the day, reduce the incidence of abortion – but it is not at all clear that Republican politicians care, as long as they have placated their pro-life constituents.

Post-Roe, therefore, Republicans and conservatives are increasingly confronting two depressing realities: one, the number of abortions performed, and thus the number of human lives snuffed out, is essentially unchanged; and, two, the abortion issue has become a winner for Democrats and an albatross for the GOP.

That sounds an awful lot like the worst of all possible worlds.

Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Alfred and blogs at: He appears on the Newsmaker Show on WLEA 1480/106.9.


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