Not long ago I observed that the tidal wave of early-term abortion bans being enacted in Republican-controlled states was undermining the GOP’s national message claiming mainstream status for its party in contrast to those “extremist Democrats” who are willing to accept “infanticide,” the anti-abortion movement’s favored term for medically necessary late-term abortions. But now the enactment of the most extreme abortion ban yet by Alabama Republicans isn’t just stepping on the “infanticide” messaging; it’s dividing the GOP and the anti-choice movement in a noisy manner.
By far the noisiest dispute is over Alabama’s failure to provide an exception to the ban for victims of rape and incest:
As Trump notes, accepting rape and incest exceptions has been standard for most Republican pols dating back to Reagan, though nearly every four years the official GOP platform omits them. The reason for making these exceptions is baldly political: Banning abortion in such cases is very unpopular. Indeed, even in Alabama a 2018 poll showed 65 percent of respondents opposing a ban when the pregnancy is the product of rape or incest.
Republicans have a particularly vivid example in recent political history of the peril of not accepting a rape exception: the 2012 elections, when not one but two favored Republican Senate candidates (Missouri’s Todd Akin and Indiana’s Richard Mourdock) lost after saying stupid and offensive things to justify forcing victims of rape to carry pregnancies to term.
But in the wake of the Alabama law, the always-latent pro-life support for a rigorously logical abortion ban without such exceptions has emerged with new force, dismissing the 2012 calamity as the result of an inept presentation of the case rather than its inherent demerits, as Ruth Graham recently explained:
Alabama’s decision to omit exceptions (other than when the mother’s life is at serious risk) is partly because the law’s proponents wanted a “clean” bill to directly challenge Roe v. Wade in the court system. But it is also a reflection of the coalescing consensus in contemporary anti-abortion circles that rape and incest exceptions are morally unacceptable.
“For many traditional pro-life groups, this is now a litmus test for your seriousness about being in favor of the prenatal child,” said anti-abortion ethicist Charles Camosy, the author of a new book on the connections between abortion and issues including immigration and mass incarceration. “Lost is any sense of complexity about the actual arguments, much to the detriment of the movement both intellectually and politically.”
This quiet area of disagreement within the anti-abortion movement and the GOP never mattered much when the main divisions were between parties that accepted and rejected basic reproductive rights. But they are flaring up now, particularly after Trump, 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, RNC chair Ronna McDaniel, and even Christian right warhorse Pat Robertson all went out of their way to call the Alabama law “extreme.”
The dispute over rape exceptions won’t subside even if interest in the Alabama law recedes, since Republicans in Missouri (Todd Akin’s state) are on the brink of enacting a less-restrictive ban on early-term abortions with no exceptions other than threats to the life of the woman involved. Other states could follow in what is now looking like an anti-abortion–GOP stampede into the fever swamps.
The pushback to the pushback against the Alabama law has been emotionally fraught, as with this former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic who has crossed the barricades to the anti-abortion cause:
Morally nuanced reasoning is not the 45th president’s strength, of course. But right-wing radio-talk-show veteran Steve Deace, writing for Glenn Beck’s website, didn’t let that inhibit his jeremiad on the subject:
[A]t the time the pro-life movement is finally authoring real legislation to cast out this demonic stronghold over the culture once and for all, “I’m pro-life but” celebrity fauxservatives are lining up to let cable news bookers know they’re not as primitive as those folks who believe “thou shall not murder” is a commandment and not a mere suggestion …
God bless all those who will now seize this moment in the fight against one of the worst genocides in human history by refusing to let these “I’m pro-life but” fauxservatives get away with the most preposterous and wicked equivocations.
Deace also reflects the underlying delusion that Alabama’s action represents some great turning point in public opinion on abortion:
The tide is turning on this issue like I’ve never seen before. Do your part to make sure that continues. Don’t accept lies. Don’t accept excuses. Don’t accept cowardice.
It doesn’t help the anti-abortion movement or its major-party vehicle that the wait for SCOTUS action on their issue could be extended, particularly if it transpires that the five-justice conservative bloc on the Court is divided on how or how quickly to proceed. The divisions we are seeing thanks to the Alabama law do little but to show the rest of the world that all these people are extremists when it comes to their determination to ban the 99-plus percent of abortions that are not caused by rape or incest.