Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) hasn’t touched it. Neither has Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) or Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.)
It’s been four days since a federal judge in Texas invalidated the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of mifepristone, and top Republicans have largely been silent on the issue.
Even former President Trump, who appointed Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, hasn’t weighed in on what was potentially the most significant victory for the anti-abortion movement since the Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to an abortion last year.
The Texas decision, which the Justice Department has appealed, could have far-reaching implications for access to abortion nationwide, as well as the authority of the entire FDA. It could restrict access to one of the two FDA-approved abortion drugs in every state, even ones where abortion is legal.
But you wouldn’t know that from the muted GOP responses.
It highlights a political bind facing Republicans, who are reaping legal wins after years of pushing to restrict abortions, but paying the price among a general electorate that largely favors legal abortion access.
“The Republican party is playing with fire. They have put their right-wing politics ahead of the health and well-being of American women,” said former Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards, who now co-chairs a Democratic super PAC.
According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted just before the ruling in Texas, 53 percent of respondents said medication abortion should be legal in their state.
Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, pointed to last week’s Wisconsin Supreme Court race, where liberal candidate Janet Protasiewicz ran on protecting abortion rights and defeated staunch conservative and abortion opponent Dan Kelly.
“They can’t be eager to repeat last week’s double double digit walloping” of Kelly, she said.
Former Vice President Pence has been the only likely 2024 presidential candidate to praise the ruling. Pence issued a statement saying “life won” and that the ruling “fixed a 20 year wrong.”
In Congress, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) has been the lone GOP senator to respond, calling the ruling “a victory for pregnant mothers [and] their unborn children.”
Democrats and the Biden administration, meanwhile, were quick to condemn the ruling and offer legislation to protect access to abortion pills.
Reps. Pat Ryan (D-N.Y.) and Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas) reintroduced the Protecting Reproductive Freedom Act on Monday, which would reaffirm the FDA’s approval authority for abortion medication over state laws. It would also protect doctors’ ability to provide abortion medication through telehealth.
The Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade was a major victory for Republicans and the anti-abortion movement. But it also galvanized the opposition and ever since, Republicans have struggled with how to message abortion.
GOP Rep. Nancy Mace (S.C.) told CNN that abortion is “an issue that Republicans have been largely on the wrong side of” and joined some Democrats calling for the FDA to ignore the ruling.
In Florida, state Republicans are on the verge of passing a six-week abortion ban, and DeSantis will likely sign it. The state currently bans abortion after 15 weeks, but DeSantis has faced criticism from anti-abortion conservatives for not going far enough.
Signing a six week ban would give him a boost among the GOP base, but could hurt him if he becomes the Republican presidential candidate and faces moderate voters in a general election.
Leading anti-abortion groups are pressing Republicans to be more forceful and want any potential GOP presidential candidate to commit to backing nationwide abortion restrictions.
Marilyn Musgrave, vice president of government affairs at Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and a former House lawmaker, said she was encouraged to see Pence’s statement praising the ruling in Texas and hopes others will join him.
“Many Republicans handled this issue very badly in the last election. They got beat up and they didn’t fight back,” Musgrave said.
She added that Democrats and the abortion rights movement “always do really well in the language war when they talk about pro choice” because there’s not enough pushback.
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said she doesn’t see the Texas ruling as a specific litmus test, but her group is looking for a “bold defender of life candidates who will stand up and champion this ruling.”
“We continue to say, you know, Republican candidates who refuse to speak about abortion to do so at their own peril,” Hawkins said.