Jun 9, 2024 - Politics & Policy

GOP/pro-life coalition frays amid backlash to abortion limits

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Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Republicans and anti-abortion groups worked in lockstep for decades to dismantle the nationally protected right to abortion in the U.S. — but their unity has frayed since the Supreme Court struck down abortion rights two years ago.

Why it matters: After the beating they took in 2022 midterm and state races that focused on abortion, many GOP leaders — joined by former President Trump — have embraced protecting in vitro fertilization (IVF) and leaving abortion regulations to the states.

  • Anti-abortion groups aren't happy about it.
  • "There have been a number of Republicans who have gotten soft and who have basically run for the hills," Lila Rose, founder of the anti-abortion group LiveAction, told Axios.
  • "They are listening too much to Beltway consultants and they're too worried about taking any heat," she added.

Zoom in: Groups such as hers are frustrated that more conservatives haven't seized on what they see as a chance to limit abortion nationwide, defund Planned Parenthood and impose more regulations on IVF procedures.

  • Many Republicans have struggled to find a winning message on the issue.
  • They breathed a sigh of relief when Trump said he'd rather leave abortion limits to the states than press for a national ban he said couldn't pass Congress.

Republicans trying to soften their anti-abortion stances are still being pummeled by Democrats and abortion-rights groups.

  • Those groups see the shift as an attempt to dodge responsibility for the chaos created by inconsistent abortion laws nationwide.
  • "Donald Trump cannot 'flip it and reverse it' when it comes to his record on abortion," Planned Parenthood Action said in a statement in April.

Zoom out: After an Alabama court ruling this year forced IVF programs to shutter across the state, Republicans embraced IVF as a reproductive rights issue they could get behind.

  • Staunchly conservative Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Katie Britt (R-Ala.) recently introduced legislation that would prevent states from blocking access to IVF.
  • Anti-abortion groups are upset, demanding there be more rules to prevent the discarding of fertilized eggs.
  • Cruz told Axios that being pro-life is "entirely consistent with supporting IVF and supporting federal protection of the right to IVF" — though he acknowledged "there is a difference among [pro-life] groups" on the issue.

What they're saying: "Cruz and Britt's political folly lies in their uncritical focus on supporting the fertility industry, rather than the best interests of parents, women, and children," wrote Emma Waters, a senior researcher at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

  • "There’s been a lot of rush-to-the-microphone activity since the Alabama decision," Students for Life of America's Kristi Hamrick told Axios. "I just think Republicans need to slow down."
  • Some anti-abortion groups have run ads against Republican state and federal lawmakers over their support of IVF legislation, Politico first reported. The ads' messages echo those the groups have used to attack Democrats for years.

What to watch: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) plans to force Republicans to vote on IVF legislation this week, daring them to vote in line with their recent pro-IVF message.

  • It follows Schumer's move last week that led Senate Republicans to block a bill to protect access to contraception.

The big picture: The anti-abortion mission used to be simple, Hamrick said: "Getting Republicans to the Senate, putting good [Supreme Court] justices forward — and wait."

  • Now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, right-leaning groups and lawmakers can't always agree on the next step.

Trump's announcement that he wouldn't seek a federal abortion ban sparked harsh pushback from anti-abortion groups.

  • "We are deeply disappointed in President Trump's position," Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement.
  • Live Action's Rose added: "President Trump is not a pro-life candidate."

What they're saying: "President Trump has long been consistent in supporting the rights of states to make decisions on abortion," Trump campaign spokesperson Karoline Leavitt told Axios in a statement.

  • Leavitt accused Biden and Democrats of being "radically out of touch with the majority of Americans in their support for abortion up until birth and even after birth and forcing taxpayers to fund it."
  • Biden actually has said he supports what the regulations were under Roe, which allowed states to ban abortion once a fetus is viable — generally at 24 weeks of pregnancy.
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