Faced with a stark reality check from Kansas voters, Republican candidates are softening their previously relentless anti-abortion stances as they advance toward the general election, realizing that strict bans are unpopular and the issue may be a major driver in fall campaigns.
In swing states and even in conservative corners of the country, many Republicans have shifted their talk about abortion bans, newly emphasizing support for exceptions. Some notably stopped discussing details at all. Fierce battles have broken out in the Republican-dominated state legislatures now that the Supreme Court has made what had long been a theoretical argument a reality.
In Pennsylvania, Doug Mastariano, the staunchly anti-abortion Republican nominee for governor, recently used to say that “the people of Pennsylvania” will “decide what abortion” looks like in the state, not the governor. In Minnesota, Scott Jensen, a family physician who said in March that “Try Banning Abortion“As governor, He said in a video It was released before the Kansas vote that it supported some exceptions: “If I wasn’t clear before, I want to be clear now.”
Republican advisers to the House and Senate campaigns said Thursday that while they still believe inflation and the economy will drive voters to the GOP, candidates will have to talk about abortion to reduce Democratic attacks that the party’s position is extreme. They have begun advising Republicans to support a ban that allows exceptions for pregnancy from rape, incest, or those endangering a mother’s life. They asked candidates to focus on the care of women during and after pregnancy.
“If we’re going to ban abortion, there are things we have to do to make sure the need for abortion is reduced, and women are not put at risk,” said Representative Nancy Mays, R-South Carolina, who received the exemption. for rape and incest in the abortion law in her state as a state representative. Now, she says, Republicans need to lobby to expand access to obstetrical and gynecological care, contraceptives, including emergency contraception, and even protect the right of women to leave their states for an abortion without fear of prosecution.
Letters alone cannot free the GOP from the news drumbeat after the Supreme Court ruling, including the story of a 10-year-old rape victim who crossed state lines to receive an abortion, and headlines about the women who have faced Serious health problems Under new restrictions or bans far-reaching.
On Thursday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who had recently avoided talking about abortion, suspended a state attorney from Hillsborough County who refused to prosecute people trying to have abortions prohibited by law. New state ban for 15 weeksWhich led to angry accusations from Democrats.
For some, the recalibration began before voters in Kansas voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday against removing abortion rights from the state constitution. Since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, retracting the constitutional right to the procedure, many Republicans have been slow to say what happens next. As they rush to enact long-promised laws, Republican-led legislatures have learned how difficult it is to ban abortion.
Brandon Steele, the West Virginia delegate who pushed for an abortion ban without exception, said in a special session of the legislature that ended this week with the vast majority of Republicans in an awkward position. “Without talking points, without telling you what to do, lawmakers had to start saying what they were actually going to do. You can see the confusion in the room.”
“We are finding out who is really pro-life and who is really pro-life only to be elected, not just in West Virginia but across the country,” Mr. Steele said.
In Indiana, a special session of the state legislature to consider a near-total abortion ban had fiercely debated whether and how far those exemptions should go.
More coverage of the abortion vote in Kansas
“For some, it’s very black and white: if you’re pro-life without exception or if you’re pro-choice without restriction,” said state Senator Kyle Walker, an Indiana Republican. The first three months of pregnancy. “When you’re in the gray area, you’re forced to come to terms with your mind where your own limits are.”
For months, Republicans have insisted that abortion rights will be a footnote in a midterm campaign driven by the worst inflation in 40 years, crime, immigration and a Democratic president whose approval ratings have fallen below 40 percent.
That’s still the general line, even after the Kansas referendum, where voters were faced with one issue, not the multiplicity of factors they would consider in November.
But the reality on the campaign trail is different. Republican pollster Sarah Longwill said in her focus groups that swing voters are stirring up inflation and the economy when asked what issues they have in mind. But when you are asked to discuss an abortion, the real passion erupts. This suggests that if Democrats can campaign to keep the issue front and center, she said, they will find an audience.
Ms. Mays agreed, saying abortion is rising fast and Republicans must respond.
In Minnesota, Dr. Jensen, the Republican candidate expected to take over as Governor Tim Walz, noted that interactions with voters after Roe’s fall, he said, prompted him to clarify his position. Attitude towards abortion.
“Once Roe v. Wade was overturned, we told Minnesota, and we told everyone we were going to have a conversation,” he said. “During that conversation, I learned of the need to clarify my position.”
This detail included adopting a family and maternity leave program, promoting a $2,500 tax credit per child, and improving access to contraceptives, including providing over-the-counter oral contraceptives with a price cap. and like Adam LaxaltGOP candidate for the Nevada Senate, Dr. Jensen referred to Abortion protection He’s already in Minnesota to cast it as a foregone conclusion and not on the ballot this year.
Mr Walz said he would remain on the offensive, and would not accept any dilution of the Republican line.
“I take them at their first word,” he said of Dr. Jensen and fellow racer Matt Burke, a former NFL player and abortion rights advocate. If given the opportunity, they will criminalize it while we try to protect it. So it became a central topic, obviously, I think the coup on their part was in response to that.”
The Kansas vote indicates that about 65 percent of voters nationwide would refuse to roll back abortion rights, including majorities in more than 40 of the 50 states, according to a New York Times analysis.
Republicans believe their party can snatch the mantle of moderation from Democrats, in part by expressing sympathy for pregnant women and offering waivers to abortion bans, and by portraying Democrats as extremists when it comes to regulating abortion. If Democrats insist on making abortion the focus of their campaigns, they say, they risk falling out of contact with voters in an uncertain economy.
But moderate Republicans have to contend with a core support base that remains staunchly anti-abortion. Abortion opponents said Thursday that Republican candidates should not read too much into the Kansas vote, a single-issue referendum with language that voters on both sides have criticized as confusing.
Penny Nance, CEO and president of Concerned Women for America, a conservative organization that opposes abortion rights, warned.
After the Kansas vote, Democrats ramped up their efforts to pressure their opponents between a conservative base eager for quick action to ban all abortions and a broader electorate that doesn’t want such a thing. Representative Eileen Luria, a moderate Democrat operating in a Republican-leaning district of southeastern Virginia, A new ad has been released against her Republican opponent, Jane Keegans, and painted her as “too extreme” about abortion. Ms. Luria initially said she would campaign on her work for the region and her support for the Navy, a major force in the region, but the landscape has changed. Ms. Keggans’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
A group allied to the Democratic Governors Association is already publicizing the abortion-related remarks made by Theodore Dixon of Michigan, who won the Republican nomination for governor this week.
“If you take Theodore Dixon’s words when it comes to the abortion ban, she told us exactly who she is,” macula, titled No Exceptions, features clips of Ms. Dixon highlighting her opposition to a range of exceptions related to abortion. Mrs. Dixon was clear about her position earlier this summer. Writing on Twitter“The only exception is to protect the life of the mother.”
In a lengthy statement highlighting her opposition to an expected Michigan ballot measure aimed at protecting abortion rights, Ms. Dixon also insisted that her race would be determined by jobs, schools, crime and “the affordability of gas and groceries.”
For Republicans, one problem may be the overall impact of the issue they left during the primary season.
In May, Mr. Mastriano was clear in Pennsylvania as he courted Republican primary voters: “This child deserves the right to life whether it has been conceived in incest or rape or the mother has concerns otherwise.”
Last month, he said it wasn’t up to him. “You have to decide the exceptions. You decide which early. That’s in people’s hands,” he said on Philadelphia Radio Talk. This is no evasion.”
Mitch SmithAnd the Gabriel’s Journey And the Red J Epstein Contribute to the preparation of reports.