Republicans are facing an unusual problem — the downside of getting what they want.
The topic is abortion. And the most recent example is a ruling from a federal judge at the end of last week invalidating the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of the widely-used abortion pill mifepristone. The FDA approved the drug more than two decades ago.
It was, at one level, another victory for the anti-abortion campaigners who won their biggest triumph in decades last June when the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, voiding the right to abortion that had stood for almost 50 years.
But now there are real dangers of a voter backlash, raising the possibility of a pyrrhic victory — one in which conservative positions are upheld, but at enormous political cost.
On Monday, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) suggested that the Biden administration should ignore the judge’s ruling, apparently on the basis that there have been other court rulings in the opposite direction. The matter could end up before the Supreme Court.
“I agree with ignoring it at this point,” Mace said on CNN. “There are other lawsuits that are happening right now and other states as well over this issue.”
Meanwhile, Democrats are seeking to keep the spotlight on the ruling. Their outrage may be genuine but they clearly see political advantage in keeping the topic to the fore.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) argued during a CNN interview on Sunday that President Biden should refuse to enforce the ruling.
“The interesting thing when it comes to a ruling is that it relies on enforcement. And it is up to the Biden administration…to choose whether or not to enforce a ruling,” the New York congresswoman asserted.
On Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced that his state had secured up to 2 million pills of misoprostol, the other major drug that can be used in so-called “medication abortions”
“Yet another extremist judge is stripping women of their freedom — this time by blocking access to a pill that provides safe medication abortions,” Newsom wrote on Twitter. California, he added, would “not stand idly by.”
It’s easy to see why Democrats believe they have the political wind at their back on abortion — and why younger, female Republicans like Mace are concerned.
An Ipsos poll in February indicated that 65 percent of Americans believe medication abortion should remain legal. Even 49 percent of Republicans backed that position, which was also supported by 67 percent of independents and 84 percent of Democrats.
Meanwhile, the list of Democratic victories in elections where abortion was a central issue is growing longer.
Last week, liberals racked up a victory in a hugely expensive race for a seat on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court.
Janet Protasiewicz, who ran as a staunch defender of abortion rights, defeated conservative Dan Kelly, giving the court a liberal edge for the first time in well over a decade.
Last November, on the same day as the midterm elections, five states had abortion-related measures on the ballot. The liberal side prevailed in every one of them, including in two strongly conservative states, Kentucky and Montana.
Abortion politics clearly played a significant role in the GOP’s disappointing performance in the midterms themselves, held less than five months after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v Wade.
When voters were asked about the most important issue at those elections, abortion came in second, behind only inflation, according to the main national exit poll.
Twenty-seven percent of voters cited the topic as the single most important in determining their vote — and those voters backed the Democrats by a roughly three-to-one margin.
Some Republicans who favor a more moderate position on the issue are looking on with alarm.
“It’s stunning, because the majority of people want to have some control over their bodies and their reproductive rights —and to allow other people to make those decisions for themselves,” said Susan Bevan, a former national co-chairwoman of the now-defunct Republican Majority for Choice, a group that advocated for pro-abortion-rights positions within the GOP.
Bevan expressed further dismay at a push by Republican lawmakers in Florida to ban almost all abortions at six weeks — though there would be exceptions in cases of rape and incest up to 15 weeks. The proposal is backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who would be the prime rival to former President Trump if he enters the presidential race.
“It’s not only outrageous but it’s incredibly dangerous, health-wise, for women who need abortions for health reasons that are often not evident until late in the process,” Bevan said of the proposal.
To be sure, virtually no-one expects the anti-abortion movement to take its foot off the gas while it is winning in the courts. The complications arise in the political arena.
“Ironically they are getting exactly what they wanted from the courts, but it turns out that it is not very popular with a lot of the electorate,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.
“They are in a little bit of a box because they are not going to back away from these positions very easily,” Zelizer added. “It could cost them at the polls and it could clearly mobilize a lot of voters who might not otherwise vote.”
It’s not only moderates or liberals or academics making that argument either.
Right-wing firebrand Ann Coulter took to Twitter Monday to urge DeSantis to shift away from the proposed six-week abortion ban in his state.
“Huge mistake! Please don’t do it,” Coulter wrote.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage