- Friday, April 12, 2024

During the 2016 campaign for president, Donald Trump tried to steer clear of the third-rail issue of abortion. But when broaching the subject, he vowed to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 law that codified abortion rights. He won.

But 2024 is a different bird. The Supreme Court vacated Roe v. Wade, and 21 states moved quickly to restrict abortion access, with one bolting back to an 1864 law that outlaws nearly all abortions.

Here’s the problem for the GOP: For many Americans, abortion has become one of the top issues of the race, and Republicans are on the wrong side — not only for this election, but for history.

Over the last few decades, Americans have moved left. Same-sex marriage? Fine. Legalize marijuana? Sure. And abortion? Far more Americans accept it as the status quo.

But the high court’s 2022 Dobbs decision that ruled abortion is not a protected right under the Constitution has changed everything.

Before that ruling, a majority of Americans mostly thought abortion should be legal but with significant restrictions — the truly centrist position. After the ruling, Gallup polls “suggest that almost 10% of Americans on net switched from an anti-abortion position to a position favoring abortion access,” The New York Times reported on Wednesday.

What’s more, a Wall Street Journal poll last month found that abortion is the singular issue this time around, standing out from the border crisis, soaring inflation, and the cost of foreign wars as the one major issue on which most voters trust President Biden more than Mr. Trump.

The former president is clearly aware of the new landscape. Last week, Mr. Trump released a video declaring that states should be allowed to set their own laws, running away from a federal ban on abortion, a pledge he made in 2016. In case you’ve forgotten, Mr. Trump sent a letter to anti-abortion leaders in 2016 in which he committed to signing legislation that would have criminalized abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for instances in which the life of the mother is at risk or cases involving rape or incest.

Mr. Trump’s move to the center may be too little, too late. A slew of elections across the country have shown that Americans view abortion as a top issue and could well determine the outcome in November. 

For instance, Democratic candidate Marilyn Lands last month flipped a GOP seat in a district that voted for Mr. Trump in 2020 when she won a special election for a state House seat in Alabama after making in vitro fertilization and abortion access central to her campaign.

“As we saw last year in Ohio and previously in Michigan, California, Kentucky, Vermont, Kansas and Montana, in every state where abortion has been on the ballot, the American people overwhelmingly vote to protect reproductive freedom,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said last month.

Mr. Biden, too, knows that abortion will be a key issue in November, and he’s going all out to be seen as the only candidate who will guarantee access to abortion for women.

“The fact remains that the only way to ensure the right to choose for a woman in every state is for Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade into federal law. Only — only Congress can pass that law, which Mr. Biden — if it were to get to his desk, he would indeed sign it,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said.

As if to fully illustrate how Republicans are truly seeking to take America back to the old days, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the state must adhere to a 160-year-old law barring all abortions “except those necessary to save a woman’s life.” Republicans rejoiced. 

For the GOP, it may already be too late. Many Republican candidates have taken extreme positions on abortion that are out of step with most Americans in the modern world. They did so to follow Mr. Trump, but unlike the former president, they won’t be able to pivot so easily to a completely different stance.

With just more than 200 days until ballots are cast, the GOP is poised for colossal losses across the board — and Mr. Trump is almost surely headed for his second consecutive defeat. 

But they made their own bed. It’s time to lie in it.

• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at josephcurl@gmail.com and on X @josephcurl.

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