WASHINGTON ― Congressional Republicans aren’t giving up on efforts to pass legislation sharply limiting abortion nationwide despite their party’s losses in Tuesday’s elections, which saw Democrats notching huge victories for abortion rights.
Staunchly anti-abortion lawmakers argued that the GOP needs to work even harder to persuade voters of their cause and redouble their efforts to pass a ban on abortion after 15 weeks at a minimum.
“We can’t give in to the idea that the federal Congress has no role in this matter because if it doesn’t, then the pro-life movement is basically not going to exist, I think, for the next couple of years,” Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) warned on Wednesday, calling the results “depressing.”
Ohio, a GOP-controlled state, voted on Tuesday to enshrine abortion access in its constitution ― making it the seventh state in which voters successfully protected abortion access since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. Democrats also racked up huge wins in the Kentucky governor’s race and in Virginia’s legislature, two states where abortion was a key issue.
The Ohio vote is just the latest sign that Republicans are majorly out of step with voters on abortion. California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Vermont all had either affirmed abortion access or defeated attempts to roll it back. It won’t stop there, either ― voters in Arizona, Florida and Missouri will have a say next year.
Supporters of Issue 1 in Ohio cheer at a watch party on Nov. 7 in Columbus, Ohio.
Public polling shows about two-thirds of Americans say abortion should generally be legal in the earliest stages of pregnancy, underscoring the challenge for the Republican Party, which has shown little to no sign of moderating its stance on the issue.
Top Republican lawmakers pinned the blame for Tuesday’s results on weak excitement among their base rather than on the issue of abortion. They argued that their party will fare much better next year when President Joe Biden, who is struggling with low approval ratings, is on the ballot.
“The elections last night were governor races, state legislative races ― primarily state issues. The issues [in 2024] will be inflation, the border, what’s going on in the world. A very different issue set and a very different turnout,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
“I think it’s a mistake to reach a conclusion based on one election. One side did a better job of turning out,” added Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
It is hard to make confident predictions about elections that are still a year away, especially presidential elections, but the trendline dealing with races where abortion has been on the ballot either directly or indirectly hasn’t been hard to miss.
And some Republicans were at least willing to acknowledge they face real problems that suggested a need for a change in strategy.
“The more we’re talking about abortion, the worse we’re doing,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said. “The more we’re talking about cost of living under Biden, the better we’re doing.”
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) called Tuesday’s GOP losses “embarrassing” and chided state officials for refusing to listen to what the voters want on abortion. Ohio Republicans initially tried to make it harder to change their state’s constitution, but were similarly rebuffed by voters in August.
“These states need to recognize that they need to get on board with where their constituents are, and it’s clear to me in Ohio it wasn’t. Because that’s two votes to confirm the policies they were proposing were inconsistent with a majority of people,” Tillis told reporters on Wednesday.
Even Vance, who vowed to keep up the fight against abortion, said that Republicans “have to accept we have some real public opinion and persuasion work to do.”
The problem, of course, is not simply with the language one uses about abortion. It’s the policy. Many GOP state legislatures have passed extreme abortion bans. Top 2024 GOP presidential candidates have backed a 15-week or even a six-week abortion ban, in the case of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
In Congress, Republicans are limited with what they can accomplish with the filibuster on the books. But some GOP lawmakers still want to see a law limiting abortion nationally a reality.
“It’s strange,” Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) said after Tuesday’s GOP losses. “They want to keep tripling down on a bad idea, and I don’t understand it.”