Republican lawmakers have been waiting for years to ban abortion. But now that his time has come, they can’t agree on what to do with him.
The latest round of this drama has just unfolded in the South Carolina Legislature, where Republicans spent two weeks debating a total ban on abortion in the state — only to come to a dead end on the details.
An outright ban didn’t seem like a particularly hard sell, at least in theory. South Carolina is a red state, with a partisan lean of R+18.6. And when the bill was introduced, most Republicans in the conservative legislature, where they outnumbered Democrats nearly 2 to 1, seemed to support the broad concept of banning abortion.
But they quickly parted ways over the details. a group of republicans introduced a bill banning abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest, and lethal fetal anomalies, but that fell through after a day of pleas and accusations on the floor of the house. A bill with a limited set of exceptions passed the House, but those exceptions were then stripped of account as soon as it landed in the state senate. Just like that, back to the starting point. As of Thursday night, Senate Republicans still couldn’t agree on what form the bill should take. After a Republican briefly obstructed the outright ban, the Senate decided to add more restrictions to the state’s six-week abortion ban, which is temporarily blocked by the state Supreme Court, and sent the bill back to the House.
This impasse reflects the broader dilemma facing Republican lawmakers now that the Supreme Court is no longer blocking them from banning abortion. The Highly Restrictive Laws Anti-Abortion Advocates Want to Pass they are forcing disorderly and public conversations about how restrictive to be. Are some exceptions, such as rape and incest, acceptable? And how should Republicans weigh the broader political backlash against abortion bans, which have reshaped the landscape of midterm elections?
So far, Republicans are bitterly divided on whether to go ahead with the kinds of laws that were passed before the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Calf. According to a FiveThirtyEight analysis of all pre-viability abortion bans, pre-existing bans rarely included exceptions for circumstances such as rape and incest. But now, more Republicans want to move away from a highly unpopular approach, prompting accusations from other party members that they are pro-life in name only.
When we examine the text of every law that prohibits abortion before 20 weeks of pregnancy that is currently in effect or is being challenged in court, we find that 17 of the 23 states with a ban before 20 weeks have no exceptions. for rape and incest. and five of the states have only partial exceptions, limiting when in pregnancy an abortion can be obtained, requiring rape and incest victims to file a police report, or both.
Now, the calculus may be changing. Gil Gatch, a Republican lawmaker from South Carolina who opposed abortion but argued for exceptions to rape and incest during the recent legislative debate, told FiveThirtyEight that, before the Dobbs ruling, bans on abortion before 20 weeks were primarily a matter of rhetoric, since Supreme Court precedent meant them. they were virtually guaranteed not to come into force. Now not so much. “It’s much more difficult, to be honest, it’s more frightening, because if we do something wrong, it’s our fault,” she said.
Republican lawmakers in South Carolina aren’t the first to split over how far abortion bans should go. in August, more than a half of Republicans in the Indiana House of Representatives voted to remove the rape and incest exceptions from the near total ban they were considering. (The law finally happened with limited exceptions of rape and incest and will take effect on September 15). the same month, the West Virginia Legislature deadlocked on his own sweeping abortion ban because Republicans couldn’t agree on penalties for doctors, leaving the legal procedure in the state. (Part of the legislature wants to return next week, but it is unclear whether the GOP has reached a consensus on the abortion bill).
Similar debates could unfold in other states such as Ohio, Iowa other Nebraska, which have conservative legislatures but no law that outright bans abortion. Some red lines have already become visible. Earlier this summer, The Republican governor of Nebraska announced that despite wanting to amend the state’s abortion laws, he would not call a special session of the legislature because there were not enough state senators willing to vote for a 12-week abortion ban.
For Republicans, the question of whether rape and incest victims should be exempt from the abortion ban has become an especially raw divide. Some abortion advocates and lawmakers think such exemptions simply don’t make sense. If abortion is morally wrong, why should an unborn fetus be killed because of the circumstances of its conception? Allowing an exclusion for rape and incest would be “turning one tragedy into two,” the state representative said. John McCravy, when he introduced the bill in the South Carolina House of Representatives. Before the Senate committee voted to remove the rape and incest exceptions from the House bill, Republican Sen. Richard Cash compared abortion to slavery. “I don’t want to be insensitive to anyone’s past, but is the human being in the womb nothing more than the woman’s property?” he said.
Some lawmakers and anti-abortion advocates see this as a kind of test, a way to see who isn’t espousing pro-life principles just for the sake of politics. “I was elected because of what my constituents want, and most of them tell me, as I believe, that life begins at conception. So no, I’m not in favor of exceptions.” Representative Melissa Oremus, another Republican from South Carolina, told FiveThirtyEight. The challenge, he said, is that even Republicans were surprised by the Supreme Court’s ruling. “We never thought we’d see Roe capsized in our day,” he said. “Now [that] you have the ability, what are you going to do about it?
That position, while ideologically consistent, is exceptionally unpopular. In poll after poll, the vast majority of Americans have said that abortion should be legal in at least some circumstances. That includes many people who are opposed to abortion most of the time. A recent survey from the Pew Research Center conducted in March found that only 37 percent of abortion opponents wanted to make the procedure completely illegal in cases of rape.
Other conservative lawmakers told me they resent the idea of turning the rape and incest exceptions into a litmus test against abortion. “I’m very conservative on this issue, but you have to acknowledge the fact that there are tragic circumstances where it’s arguably cruel, bordering on arrogance, to say that people can’t make their own decisions,” the representative said. micah casey, who proposed an amendment that would have created a narrow exception for victims of rape and incest who are minors, told FiveThirtyEight. “However, there are purists who want to paint me as not pro-life for saying that,” she added.
On the first day of debate in the South Carolina Senate, all three Republican women in the chamber said they refused to vote on the bill if it did not contain exceptions for rape and incest. “Are we just baby machines? Are you pregnant with a stillborn baby? Too. Raped at 11 by your grandfather and getting pregnant? That’s a shame,” said Republican Senator Penry Gustafson.
As they went back and forth about possible amendments, some South Carolina Republicans seemed a bit surprised by the arguments they were having. Republican State Senator Tom Davis, who ended up leading the filibuster against the bill, proposed another exception for fatal fetal anomalies, a version of which appears in five other states’ abortion bans that are currently in place or in litigation, according to our analysis, just to being accused of advocating euthanasia by several other Republicans. “We have 170 legislators, mostly white men, telling a woman that even if her doctor diagnoses her child with a birth defect that is not compatible with life outside the womb, she should carry that child to term,” he said. “Even though the child is going to be born dead! That doesn’t make any sense to me.”
The gap between Republicans feels unbridgeable, though the exceptions they argue over are actually very small. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that advocates for abortion rights, only about 1 percent of women in 2004 sought abortions for rape, and less than 1 percent sought abortions for incest. Republicans aren’t arguing, for the most part, about whether abortion should be legal; they are arguing about how to handle the small subset of cases that force an unpleasant choice between ideological purity and political reality.
But just as morality can shape politics, politics can also shape morality, and in South Carolina, several Republicans warned their colleagues that going too far on abortion could provoke massive backlash. “For those of you who feel that women are inferior, remember you were warned when you are challenged by a woman,” the state said. Senator Sandy Senn, a Republican from South Carolina. “I think it’s going to be interesting to see what happens in the November election. Because this problem is huge. Don’t you think women will vote for only one issue on something like this? Because they want”.