‘Pro-Life’ or ‘Pro-Baby,’ Republicans Can’t Outrun Abortion

Photo: Sha Hanting/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images/China News Service via Getty Ima

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade over a year ago, the right celebrated. But the post–Roe world is not all they imagined it would be. Abortion rights are popular; anti-abortion conservatives, less so. The issue is mobilizing liberals everywhere: In Wisconsin, for example, voters elected Janet Protasiewicz to the state Supreme Court over her anti-abortion opponent. But the issue doesn’t just resonate with liberals. Abortion wins wherever and whenever it is on the ballot: evidence that Republican voters diverge from their own party on the issue. See Ohio, where voters just rejected a measure that would have made it more difficult to pass an abortion rights amendment this fall.

Now, to stave off further electoral losses, the GOP requires new tactics. Perhaps a new label would help? NBC News reported on Thursday that a super PAC “closely aligned” with Senator Mitch McConnell “presented poll results that suggested voters are reacting differently to commonly used terms like ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’” now that Roe is no more. “What intrigued me the most about the results was that ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ means something different now, that people see being pro-life as being against all abortions … at all levels,” said Senator Kevin Cramer.

Senator Todd Young had a suggestion: Instead of “pro-life,” he likes “pro-baby.” The phrase “was just a term of my creation to demonstrate my concern for babies,” he said. Maybe Young thinks people are stupid. Indications suggest they are not. Americans have gotten a taste of life without Roe, and they don’t like it. A new label will likely not distract them from reality. Republicans can’t outrun their abortion politics, whatever strategies they employ.

Conservatives like to play language games. In doing so they are able to obscure the facts. Gender-affirming surgery is “genital mutilation,” welfare is “government dependance,” and, of course, abortion is “murder.” The pro-life label is just as deceptive, and it functions as a shield. Behind it waits the bloody truth. After Roe, the shield slipped, and the truth came out, and voters aren’t as dumb or forgetful as Republicans might like them to be. If they believe “pro-life” Republicans want to ban all abortions, it’s with reason.

Consider the 15-week national ban, proposed by Senator Lindsey Graham as a consensus point. Abortion restrictions would certainly not stop with a 15-week ban. Many anti-abortion activists and politicians would like to go further and ban abortions after cardiac activity is supposedly detected in the fetus, well before most women know they are pregnant. Then there are the much-vaunted exceptions to the abortion restrictions already on the books in many Republican states. Exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother allow anti-abortion Republicans to applaud themselves for protecting women from harm. In practice, though, these exceptions amount to talking points. The New York Times has reported that states have granted “very few” exceptions. That’s by design. “About a quarter of states that prohibit abortions include allowances for rape and incest victims, and nearly all of those, including Mississippi, require proof of an assault from a police report or a doctor’s note,” the Times said. Most sexual-assault victims don’t report to law enforcement, which means they can’t qualify for the exception.

Over a dozen Texas women recently sued the state because it so rarely permits exceptions for complicated pregnancies. One woman told The Intercept that she had to give birth to a baby missing part of her brain and skull. She watched her daughter gasp for air, and turn purple, and bleed from her eyeballs. “I watched my baby suffer for four hours,” she said. “I told her, I am so sorry I couldn’t release you to heaven sooner … There was no mercy for her.”

A party that shows no mercy should expect to be treated in kind. Republicans have unleashed great suffering in order to force women into pregnancy. That is a material reality, and it cannot be undone with a simple turn of phrase. Women are living with the consequences of their actions, and now so must they.

‘Pro-Life’ or ‘Pro-Baby,’ Republicans Can’t Outrun Abortion