A week after Republicans secured a majority in the House, the party wasted no time in showing how it intends to rule — passing not one, but two anti-abortion provisions.
The first was a resolution that condemns attacks on “pro-life facilities, groups, and churches,” according to the legislation. By “pro-life facilities,” Republicans mean crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which are anti-abortion centers that try to prevent people from having an abortion, often using deceptive tactics and outright lies. If you fear you’ve missed the wave of violence against CPCs and anti-abortion houses of worship, don’t worry — you haven’t missed anything. The myth of violent attacks against abortion opponents is as self-serving as it is a clear lie. But even if it was true, where is the condemnation against the escalating violence against abortion clinics?
In its most recent annual report, the National Abortion Federation, which has tracked anti-abortion violence for 45 years, makes clear how bad it’s become for abortion providers. Since 2018, there has been a 720 percent increase in assaults against abortion providers. Since 2020, provider-reported incidents of stalking have increased by 600 percent, and clinics saw an 80 percent increase in bomb threats in 2021 compared to previous years.
In the past 18 months alone, at least five abortion clinics have been firebombed by anti-abortion extremists, including one on January 17 at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Peoria, Illinois.
The truth is, Republicans don’t want to talk about violence against abortion providers, because the graffiti on the walls of a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) pales in comparison to the 11 abortion providers who have been murdered for their work since 1977. How many CPC workers have been murdered? How many have been stalked, harassed, had threats against their lives? There’s a reason we never hear about mass violence against anti-abortion CPC workers — because it doesn’t exist.
But whether or not something exists hasn’t stopped Republicans from finding evermore creative ways to restrict and ban abortion. In addition to the condemnation of violence against abortion opponents, House Republicans also passed what they called the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act” to solve another problem that doesn’t actually exist. This propagandistic legislation would require doctors to provide care to a fetus that survived an attempted abortion, an insidious intrusion on the autonomy of doctors and patients around circumstances that are extremely rare. In a statement to The Washington Post, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said that this measure would require physicians “to administer interventions even when there is no chance of survival.”
Neither of these bills have any chance of passing the Democratically controlled Senate, and House Republicans know that. That’s likely the point: Republicans can signal to their base that they still plan to restrict and ban abortion without actually having to do it. The midterm elections made clear just how unpopular banning abortion is, even in “red” states like Kansas and Kentucky, which both roundly rejected attempts to strip the right to an abortion from their states’ constitutions.
These bills are posturing from a party that is lost at sea and has no playbook for how to move forward. Banning abortion is unpopular with the broader electorate, and they know that. But opposition to abortion has been foundational to the Republican Party for so long that it no longer knows what to do in its place. Before, under Roe v. Wade, Republicans could pass draconian and downright dangerous bills, like total abortion bans, with little fear that those bans would actually go into effect and they would have to answer for their repercussions. The party took the issue and ran with it, passing more than 500 abortion restrictions in the previous decade alone. Some of those, like Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider (TRAP) laws, which required abortion providers to adhere to unnecessary and cumbersome regulations, did go into effect, and they forced scores of abortion clinics to close their doors. But explaining to the American public what a TRAP law is and why it’s so harmful is much harder than explaining what an abortion ban is. Republicans knew this. And they knew that the most extreme anti-abortion legislation they passed, like six-week bans and even total abortion bans, as in Alabama, wouldn’t go into effect. Republicans were never forced to reckon with the totality of what they had unleashed as long as Roe stood as a bulwark.
Now that Roe is gone, Republicans find themselves in a catch-22 of their own making: they are beholden to abortion opponents who serve as their base, yet that same position is unpopular with the broader American electorate. They know that banning abortion isn’t electorally popular, but they can’t abandon opposition to abortion; it’s been one of the Republican Party’s singular lodestars for more than four decades. If they aren’t anti-abortion, who are they?
These won’t be the last pieces of anti-abortion legislation that House Republicans pass. Rep. Christopher Smith (R-New Jersey) has said he plans to introduce a 15-week abortion ban in the coming weeks. If and when he does, it will be interesting to see how House Republicans as a whole deal with a clear national abortion ban, something the U.S. electorate clearly doesn’t want, but their base craves. For now, the party gets to remain in the comfortable waters of nebulous anti-abortion legislation. Whether they sink or swim, only time will tell.
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