A protester in Ohio in 2022.SOPA Images/Getty
Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.Once again, American voters in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision that last year nullified a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion have told the Republican Party what they think of its crusade to restrict reproductive freedom: Get lost.
On Tuesday, abortion won. In Ohio, 57 percent of the Buckeyes who went to the polls, in an election that saw supercharged turnout, supported a measure to amend the state constitution to guarantee individuals the “right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions.” (Ohio is the seventh state, including Kansas and Kentucky, to vote in favor of abortion access since Dobbs.) Democratic candidates who championed reproductive rights, including incumbent Gov. Andy Beshear in Kentucky, prevailed. In Virginia, the issue helped Democrats retain the state Senate and gain control of the House of Delegates—a tremendous political blow to Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
So what’s the GOP response to this continuous beat-down it is suffering on this front? Minority rule.
After it was clear that a whopping majority of Ohio citizens, despite it being a red state, favored allowing women to make their own choices, the Ohio House speaker, Jason Stephens, a Republican, declared, “I remain steadfastly committed to protecting life, and that commitment is unwavering. The legislature has multiple paths that we will explore to continue to protect innocent life. This is not the end of the conversation.”
In other words: We don’t care what the vast majority of Ohioans want on this deeply personal matter; we will find a way to impose our position—a minority-held view—on everyone.
This is a rather anti-democratic stance. But it’s been at the heart of GOP policy on abortion for decades. While polling on this issue tends to show that Americans hold conflicting beliefs on the subject, the numbers continuously have demonstrated that a majority does not want to ban or severely limit abortion. That is why conservatives and the religious right decades ago adopted a strategy of ending abortion through court decisions.
In the 1970s, the newly-born religious right backed Ronald Reagan and helped elect him president in 1980. In turn, Reagan embraced the movement and the anti-abortion cause. Still, he took few concrete steps to actually stop abortions. He and his crew focused instead on economic matters (tax cuts and deregulation!) and national security, and neglected contentious social issues that might not have majority support. This led leaders of the right to conclude that the abortion battle was best waged in the courts, and they concentrated on seeding the judiciary and the Supreme Court with conservatives who could render decisions that ran counter to public opinion. That effort eventually yielded the Dobbs decision.
Dobbs sparked anger and outrage: Five unelected justices—three of whom were appointed by a president who lost the popular vote—overturned Roe v. Wade and declared abortion was not a protected right under the Constitution. (Talk about judicial activism!) Somehow this decision, decried as an anti-democratic action, encouraged some within the Republican Party and the conservative movement to move toward a more extremist position: barring all abortions without exception. That is close to the view held by the top GOP official in the land: House Speaker Mike Johnson. He has called abortion a “holocaust,” comparing the argument in favor of reproductive rights to Hitler’s philosophy, and he sponsored legislation to ban all abortions after six weeks with no exceptions for rape and incest.
With popular opinion clear on preserving abortion rights, Republicans and anti-abortion advocates obviously still have the opportunity to try to persuade their fellow Americans to change their minds. But many seem intent on dismissing the majority sentiment. Rick Santorum, the former GOP senator and far-right cultural warrior (who likened homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia), showed us how that’s done when he appeared on Newsmax on Tuesday night to discuss the Ohio results. “You put very sexy things like abortion and marijuana on the ballot, and a lot of young people come out to vote,” he groused. “It was a secret sauce for disaster in Ohio. I don’t know what they were thinking. Thank goodness that most of the states in this country don’t allow you to put everything on the ballot because pure democracies are not the way to run a country.”
this Newsmax copium is actually hitting pretty good pic.twitter.com/7UpFEar53Y
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 8, 2023
Vox populi is not good for the anti-abortion right. The same is true for many Republican policies. This gap between their desired legislation and actual voters feeds a popular talking point on the right: The US is a republic, not a democracy. Speaker Johnson often repeats this mantra in interviews and podcasts; he is fond of quipping that democracy is two wolves and a lamb deciding what’s for dinner. Couple that with his views that America is a “completely amoral society” and that only those who have a “biblical worldview”—meaning they are fundamentalist Christians who believe the Bible is literally true—are worthy candidates for political office, and his math is clear: A righteous (and self-righteous) minority must do what it can to force its truth on the rest.
As election night was turning into a disaster for Republicans and abortion foes, a panel on Fox News accused Democrats of being demagogues on abortion, with host Sean Hannity complaining, “Democrats are trying to scare women into thinking Republicans don’t want abortion legal under any circumstances.”
Fox News’ Sean Hannity: “Democrats are trying to scare women into thinking Republicans don’t want abortion legal under any circumstances.” pic.twitter.com/VDc7xcJWqe
— The Recount (@therecount) November 8, 2023
But many Republicans have indeed passed and proposed measures to prohibit most, if not all, abortions. This is not a question of demagoguery, but democracy.
Ohio Speaker Stephens did not explain what he has in mind to subvert the overwhelming Ohio vote for abortion rights. But he made it obvious that he and his conservative comrades will cook up anti-democratic work-arounds in an attempt to circumvent the popular desire for preserving women’s freedom. It’s a strategy befitting Gilead, and Republicans are fine with that.