“It’s official: there will be absolutely no abortion ban legislation sent to Glenn Youngkin’s desk for the duration of his term in office.” Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Mamie Locke’s words following last Tuesday’s elections show us, once again, that the politics of abortion in a post-Roe America have fundamentally shifted the electoral landscape. Democrats have dominated in state after state, with voters across the country mobilized by the urgency of protecting reproductive rights. Despite the rising unfavorability of Pres. Joe Biden, multiple off-season and special elections and the 2022 midterms have collectively revealed that voters will not stand for abortion restrictions, making the issue a political third rail for the GOP. Still, that won’t stop them from continuing to bang their heads into the wall, leaning into this messaging for the upcoming 2024 elections. Let’s delve a little deeper into last Tuesday’s losses to uncover why this is, to put it mildly, a terrible idea.
In Ohio, voters turned out to support two crucial state questions, pertaining to abortion and cannabis (issues Rick Santorum curiously described as “very sexy”). The first, Issue 1, would enshrine the right to abortion access into the red state’s Constitution, thereby creating significant barriers for Republicans seeking to ban or limit the medical procedure in Ohio. Second, voters considered the hotly-debated legalization of recreational cannabis. These issues drew millions of voters to the polls in an off-season election, with a substantial majority– 57% in both cases– favoring the expansion of rights for Ohioans through these measures.
In Kentucky, Democratic incumbent Governor Andy Beshear triumphed over his challenger while maintaining his impressively-progressive principles. Even in the red state, Beshear was unwavering in his commitment to protecting LGBTQ+ youth and reproductive rights. Earlier this year, he unapologetically vetoed anti-trans legislation, ensuring minors could continue to use the bathrooms of their choice, and have access to life-saving gender-affirming care. Beshear strategically centered his campaign on reproductive rights, portraying his opponent, David Cameron, as an extremist. Through this approach, he successfully mobilized voters across Kentucky around these critical issues.
Even in Pennsylvania, the winning candidate was able to secure a seat on the State Supreme Court by centering their campaign on reproductive rights. The nation has been experiencing a profound reckoning on abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and nowhere has this divide been more pronounced than in our own backyard: Virginia.
Last week, every seat in the General Assembly was up for grabs, and pundits of all political stripes echoed a common sentiment: keep an eye on Virginia as a harbinger for 2024. Democrats swept, keeping the state Senate and flipping the House to regain full control of the formerly divided General Assembly. The catalyst for their success? Glenn Youngkin and state republicans coalesced around a 15-week abortion ban, even daring to suggest that should be the federal limit. With Virginia being the last state in the South to implement new restrictions following the fall of Roe, voters were incensed: they had a good idea of the reality of abortion bans after watching the events of the last year and a half. Stories of 10 year old rape survivors fleeing their state to receive care, those in danger of infection, sepsis, and death being told to wait in the hospital parking lot “until they’re bleeding out” to comport with restrictions, and women arrested after seeking abortion care, are only some examples. This is not an issue of “messaging” or “spin,” these are deeply unpopular policies with barbaric and inhumane consequences, and the voters of Virginia understand that. Youngkin tried to assert that his 15-week proposal would have exceptions for “rape, incest, and life of the mother,” but these exceptions are not so simple. Regularly, those seeking care in states with exceptions like this will still be denied because they cannot legally prove the rape or incest occurred, or their non-viable pregnancy hasn’t deteriorated to the point where their actual life is at risk, just their health. Tricky wording like this obfuscates the reality: that without real protections for this type of medical care, people will die.
That’s why it’s so encouraging that voters in Virginia were able to see through the smokescreen created by Youngkin and the GOP, and that’s why these policies will never deal a winning hand for the Republicans. Still, despite the serious defeat dealt during the elections, Republicans have doubled down: RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel went on NBC’s “Meet the Press” the following day to encourage Republicans to campaign more aggressively on the issue leading into 2024’s elections. McDaniel went so far as to encourage seeking a national consensus on banning abortion (with exceptions) at around 15-weeks. It appears that, after decades of advocating to “return the issue to the states,” pro-lifers have made an about-face, now calling for federal legislation and significant government intervention in personal medical decisions. The Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America Foundation has responded similarly, encouraging the GOP to “flip the script,” and to paint Democrats as the real extremists rather than the party that is deputizing private citizens to report on abortion providers and recipients in multiple states.
Perhaps the most telling response to the election losses has been that of Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America. She said, “[…] this is a culture change that needs to happen. I’m thinking two decades out. I’m not necessarily just focused on the next election.” Her vision for a ‘culture change’ spanning twenty years reflects a refusal of anti-abortionists to confront the reality that their policy proposals are out of touch with the majority of Americans. Personally, I encourage them to continue digging their heels in. As we look ahead, it’s clear that the challenge facing these proponents of extremist restrictions is not merely one of “messaging.” Their issue lies in the disconnect between their positions and the values held by a growing number of voters.
In the end, the outcome of Virginia’s elections serves as a cautionary tale for those who persist in advocating for policies that run counter to evolving perspectives on reproductive rights. In observing this unfolding drama, it becomes apparent the GOP’s challenge is reconciling with a public that increasingly rejects their stance on abortion. The next two decades may in fact witness a cultural shift, but whether it aligns with the GOP’s vision remains to be seen– only time will tell.
The opinions expressed within this piece represent the views of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jefferson Independent.