Seeing danger, some in GOP leery of Texas abortion law

  • Leen Garza participates in a protest against the six-week abortion ban at the Capitol in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021. Dozens of people protested the abortion restriction law that went into effect Wednesday. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP) Jay Janner

  • The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, D.C. AP file Photo

Published: 9/3/2021 5:07:12 PM

RICHMOND, Va. — Almost instantly after most abortions were banned in Texas, Democrats were decrying the new law as unconstitutional, an assault on women’s health that must be challenged. But the reaction from many Republicans on the other side hasn’t been nearly as emphatic.

Though some in the GOP are celebrating the moment as a long-sought win for the anti-abortion rights movement, others are minimizing the meaning of the Supreme Court’s Wednesday midnight decision that allowed the bill to take effect. A few are even slamming the court and the law.

Or dodging.

“I’m pro-life,” said Republican Glenn Youngkin, a GOP candidate for governor in increasingly Democratic Virginia, where the only open governor’s race in the nation is coming up in November. When pressed on the Texas law by a reporter, he quickly noted that he supports exceptions in cases of rape, incest and where the mother’s life is in danger — exceptions notably not included in the new law.

The mixed reactions illustrate the political risks for the GOP as their anti-abortion allies begin actually achieving goals they have long sought. Americans are hardly of one mind on the issue, and loudly defending the nation’s toughest curbs — in Virginia or political battlegrounds like Georgia, Arizona or Florida — in next year’s midterm elections won’t be hazard-free.

“It is going to be a very motivating issue for women who haven’t typically been single-issue pro-choice voters,” said Republican pollster Christine Matthews. That includes suburban women and independents in swing House districts and competitive governor’s races who in past elections didn’t believe Roe v. Wade was truly under threat, Matthews said.

The new Texas law represents the most significant threat yet to the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision establishing the right to an abortion. Surveys suggest that ruling still has broad support — 69% of voters in last year’s elections said Roe v. Wade should be left as is, compared with just 29% saying it should be overturned, according to AP VoteCast, a poll of the electorate.

Democrats and abortion-rights advocates, who have sometimes been frustrated by voters taking access for granted, vowed Thursday to use the moment to wake people up. They promised to go after not just GOP candidates and office holders who support the Texas measure and others like it but also corporations that support them. Some reignited calls to end Senate filibuster rules to give abortion access a better chance at passage in Congress.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would soon vote on codifying Roe v. Wade into law, though chances in the Senate are all but nil.

Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe already has been making abortion a key issue. He points to secretly recorded video in which Youngkin tells a woman posing as an abortion opponent that he supports defunding Planned Parenthood but can’t talk about it publicly because “as a campaign topic, sadly, that in fact won’t win my independent votes that I have to get.”

On Thursday McAuliffe warned that if Youngkin wins and Republicans take over the state House ”there’s a good chance that we could see Virginia go the way of Texas.”

The Texas law prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks and often before women know they’re pregnant. Rather than be enforced by government authorities, the law gives citizens the right to file civil suits and collect damages against anyone aiding an abortion.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, tweeted that she wanted her office to compare her state’s laws with the new Texas one “to make sure we have the strongest pro-life laws on the books in SD.”

But such views were hardly universal in her party.

In South Carolina, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster this year signed a restriction requiring doctors to perform ultrasounds checking for cardiac activity and prohibiting abortion if it’s found.


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