Whether abortion was the main factor or only an important factor in the GOP 2022 election cycle failures seems unclear. What does seem clear, however, is that the GOP would do well to move toward the middle on the issue.
In fact, by moving to the middle the Republicans might freeze the Democrats in an extreme, pro-choice, bad for politics position, because Democrats are, of course, preternaturally unable to do anything except oppose what Republicans support. (I assume all agree that the chance of the two sides joining hands on abortion is like a calculus problem – it approaches zero). It would be nice, for once, for it to be the Democrats pinned and wriggling on the wall.
I recently spoke with a pro-choice GOP activist about a potential Missouri state constitutional amendment on abortion. We came up with the following:
Abortion shall be legal in Missouri
during the first trimester of pregnancy, and
in all cases of rape and incest, and
for the urgent health of the mother, and
no woman shall be prosecuted for getting an abortion.
I then conducted an informal, bipartisan, anonymous, written survey in which I asked 17 friends and acquaintances whether they would vote for this language. It came out 16 yes and 1 no.
Let us count the language’s advantages. First, most people recognize that we are going to have abortions in this country, either in the front room or the back room, and the first trimester seems as fair a trade-off as either side will ever get. Second, parts about rape and incest, urgent health care, and no prosecution of women give the language raw, emotional appeal. Third, the language is simple, and in the voting booth simple matters more than all the advertising and all the howling in all the world.
Let us now imagine how GOPers more interested in winning elections than in ideological purity might handle having this amendment on the ballot in the 2024 cycle. Preliminarily, the party insiders would need to give up on the absolutist, pro-life true believers, that is, those who assert that at the instant of conception the zygote is a person and killing persons is sin against God, and if a bunch of women die while getting back room abortions that is the price we pay. This will be hard, just as it would be hard for Democrat insiders, were they considering this compromise, to give up on their own absolutist, pro-choice true believers, that is, those who approve ripping a full term baby part way out of the womb and then sticking the business end of a screwdriver in its spinal cord to kill it. Nevertheless, if the GOP insiders would let go of the hard-core pro-lifers, we can imagine a back room effort to take the proposed language to the candidates, develop a consensus, and then on one big day, with great aplomb, have all the candidates announce their support of the compromise. The Dems would be politically trapped, and the GOP would sweep to victory.
Perhaps, also, many of the Republican politicians who have solemnly opposed abortion for decades might change their minds if it occurred to them that changing their minds would help them win election.
No one knows what percentage of women in this country have had an abortion, but my nose, and Google, suggest it is well over 10%. Similarly, I estimate well over half of us have personal knowledge of a loved one having had an abortion. Commonality must not be conflated with morality, and derisively calling a first trimester baby a tadpole ignores the transcendence of what is going on in the womb, but “Come on, Man,” abortion has at least some moral ambiguity.
Whichever side first proposes a compromise will have the advantage. Why not the GOP?
Further, if this idea works and the GOP gains seats, there is at least some chance for better law and policy than that put forth by the woke left. I say that notwithstanding that the Missouri GOP has the governorship and huge majorities in the House and Senate and still can’t pass broad school choice or repeal the state income tax.
Let us not be overly Pollyannaish
Iwanna Twainbee is the nom du plume of Bevis Schock, St. Louis civil rights attorney