Dec 13, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court's abortion pill case creates GOP heartburn

Rep. Mike Lawler. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images.

House Republicans in swing districts are bristling at the Supreme Court's decision on Wednesday to hear a case on restricting access to the abortion pill mifepristone.

Why it matters: The Supreme Court's decision last year to overturn Roe v. Wade helped propelled Democrats to a better-than-expected midterm showing, and Republicans fear a repeat could play out in 2024.

  • "I suspect they'll rule in favor of prohibitions which is a mistake," said one vulnerable House Republican. "The Court is tone deaf."

What they're saying: Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), one of 15 House Republicans who represent congressional districts President Biden won in 2020, said in a statement, "I do not support any efforts to establish a national ban on abortion ... The Supreme Court needs to stand down."

  • Lawler told Axios the Court "should leave it to the states and the FDA to make these decisions. If it's legal in a certain state, they shouldn't be saying you can't utilize that type of medicine."
  • "I have consistently said that this is certainly ... [something] that shouldn't be limited," said Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.). "Quite frankly I would be concerned that the courts overly impose their will."
  • Rep. John Duarte (R-Calif.) acknowledged "it could" cause political blowback on the GOP, though he said he's "here to make sure we're not using federal law to limit abortion access in terms of legislation" and not as focused on the Supreme Court.

Between the lines: A GOP strategist told Axios that they "don't really view it as a larger issue than abortion and Dobbs," but GOP candidates "must clearly articulate their position on the issue."

  • "They cannot allow Democrats to do that for them," the strategist said. "It's the same issue set. With the same messaging solution. Don't run away from talking about it."

The other side: Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), a member of Democratic leadership, told Axios the issue could be "potentially huge" in 2024.

  • "I mean, I understand [Republicans] have their honestly held beliefs, but it's political dynamite. It really is."
  • Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Courtney Rice told Axios: "You better believe the fight to protect reproductive freedoms will be front and center, motivating voters in battleground districts across the country next year."

The details: The Supreme Court will consider a Court of Appeals decision in August rolling back FDA rules on how mifepristone can be dispensed and how far into a pregnancy it can be taken.

  • There have already been skirmishes over curtailing access to mifepristone in the House this year, with moderate GOP members rebelling over language restricting mifepristone access in a bill funding the FDA.
  • The Supreme Court's term usually ends in late June, which will be right in the middle of the campaign season.
  • Medication abortions account for more than half of all abortions in the U.S.

What we're watching: Democrats are rushing to get abortion-related constitutional amendments on the ballot in states across the country to boost grassroots energy and turnout in 2024.

  • At least eight states with nearly two dozen competitive House districts between them could have congressional races coinciding with abortion-related ballot initiatives, as Axios previously reported.

Axios' Victoria Knight contributed reporting to this story.

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