MADISON, Wis. — When the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, Wisconsin’s 1849 law that bars the procedure except when the mother’s life is in danger became relevant.
Legislature Republicans blocked an attempt by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to strike down the law. Still, there is disagreement within the GOP on how to move forward when they return to the state Capitol in January.
Powerful Republican State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos supports strengthening the exception for a mother’s life and adding protections for cases of rape and incest. Others, including GOP state Rep. Barbara Dittrich, say the law should remain as is, with no exceptions for rape and incest.
For decades, Republicans like Vos and Dittrich have appealed to conservative voters — and donors — with broad condemnation of abortion. But the Supreme Court ruling forces Republicans from state legislatures to Congress on the campaign trail to articulate more precisely what that opposition means, at times creating a divide over the party’s position.
Dittrich says a consensus among his fellow Republicans on an alternative to the 1849 law would be a “tremendous challenge.”
“We’ve heard before that the Democrats are the big tent party,” she said in an interview. “Now I would say the Republican Party is more of the tentpole party on some of these issues.”
Of course, abortion-rights supporters are now a distinct minority in Republican politics. Only two GOP members of Congress – the Senses. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — publicly support passing legislation to restore protections for a woman’s right to choose that the Supreme Court struck down in overturning Roe v. Wade. In Colorado, US Senate candidate Joe O’Dea is the rare Republican candidate this year to support Roe’s codification.
But the debate over a limited set of circumstances in which abortion might be legal has spurred some division within the GOP in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
In Indiana, after a decade of stalled abortion legislation, powerful Republicans passed the first near-total ban on abortion since the Supreme Court ruling. But even that measure sparked dissent within the GOP. Rape and incest exemptions for up to 10 weeks prevailed after 50 Republicans joined all Democrats in including them.
Still, 18 Republicans voted against the bill’s final passage, with about half saying the bill went too far and the rest saying it was too weak.
In South Carolina, meanwhile, Republicans have spent decades restricting access to abortion, and talks are underway of a near total ban. But some members of the legislature have expressed concern about pushing the current six-week ban further and called for a deceleration, particularly after watching Kansas voters increase a ballot measure that would have allowed the legislature to ban abortion.
“It feels like you’re playing with real bullets right now,” Republican Rep. Tom Davis told The Associated Press.
The Supreme Court ruling paved the way for severe restrictions or bans on abortion in nearly half of the states. Nine states currently have laws banning abortion at conception, and three more — Tennessee, Idaho and Texas — are set to go into effect Aug. 25. Three states – Georgia, South Carolina and Ohio – have laws prohibiting abortion when fetal heart activity is detected, at around six weeks. Florida law prohibits abortion at 15 weeks and Arizona will from September 24.
Some experts say Republicans’ inconsistency on how to move forward underscores how new the debate is — and how unprepared the party was for it.
“Historically, GOP candidates and policymakers have been in a politically convenient position when it comes to being ‘pro-life,'” Joshua Wilson, a professor of political science at the University of Denver, told the AP in an email.
Until Roe was overthrown, Republican-controlled states could introduce legislation to dismantle abortion access, knowing that federal courts bound by law at the time would block the most aggressive regulations. That and the issue’s lesser prominence among Democratic and moderate voters, Wilson noted, “were bound safeguards against political backlash.”
The defeated Kansas ballot measure surprised supporters on both sides, not only because it was defeated by a 20-percentage-point margin, but also because turnout surged, driven by voters who weren’t participating. in the Republican primary. The prioritization of abortion and women’s rights is growing among abortion rights supporters, and Democrats are looking to leverage this shift by campaigning on the issue and pushing for ballot measures in other countries. other states.
Polls show that the most extreme anti-abortion laws are at odds with the American public and even most Republicans.
The July AP-NORC poll showed Republicans are broadly opposed to abortion “for any reason” and 15 weeks pregnant. But just 16% of Republicans say abortion should generally be “unlawful in all cases.”
Most Republicans said their state should generally allow a pregnant person to obtain a legal abortion if the child were to be born with a life-threatening illness (61%), if the person became pregnant through a rape or incest (77%) or if the person’s health is seriously threatened (85%).
A majority of Republicans — 56% — also said their state should generally allow abortion at six weeks gestation.
GOP politicians could begin to come under pressure to please the more conservative anti-abortion opponents in their base — they want a total ban on abortion — and the moderate or independent voter, who is more accepting of abortion in the early stages of pregnancy and in extenuating circumstances.
This has led to some candidates moving from hardline stances in their primaries to more diffuse rhetoric ahead of their general elections in purple states. In Arizona, Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who said in the primary that “abortion is the ultimate sin” and that abortion pills should be banned, addressed the Legislature when she was asked about the details of the abortion policy after her victory.
When running to be the Georgia Republican candidate for the US Senate, Herschel Walker was unequivocal in his support for an outright ban on abortion with no exceptions. Now that he’s the running mate in a close general election, he’s more circumspect. When asked clearly if he would vote for an outright ban in a Republican-controlled Senate, Walker hesitated.
“It’s an ‘if,'” Walker said, telling reporters he wouldn’t accept such a hypothetical scenario “at this time.”
Back in Wisconsin, Evers, who is up for re-election this year, has consistently vetoed anti-abortion legislation introduced in recent years by the Republican legislature. Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels, who won the Republican primary last week, said during his campaign that the state’s 1849 law was “an exact mirror” of his position; he does not support exceptions for rape or incest.
The July AP-NORC poll showed 55% of moderate and liberal Republicans said abortion in general should be legal in all or most cases and 39% said abortion should be illegal in most cases. cases. Only 5% said abortion should be illegal in all cases.
But even among conservative Republicans, only 24% say abortion should be illegal in any case; 60% of conservative Republicans said abortion should be illegal in most cases.
The topic is increasingly front and center in ads for Democratic candidates for the U.S. House and Senate this summer, while it’s reduced in ads for Republican candidates, according to analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project. Democrats portray Republicans as extreme on abortion, hoping to see the issue win voters in the midterm elections.
“If we want to be relevant in the debate, there must be negotiations. If we draw a hard line, we could be on the outside looking into legislative chambers and Congress,” Republican strategist Jason Roe said.
Susan B. Anthony, Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser, said Roe’s reversal democratizes the abortion regulatory process and that it’s up to each state to come to a consensus “where it’s very likely that true believers on both sides will not get what they want,” she said.
Still, for Dannenfelser, “every law passed is a win for the pro-life movement because for almost 50 years we had nothing,” she said. “It’s more than we had, and that’s how I see it.”
Fingerhut reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Bill Barrow in Athens, Georgia; Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina; Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix; and Tom Davies in Indianapolis contributed to this report.
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