A Pyrrhic Victory

I never thought I would view Justice Alito’s deeply dishonest opinion in Dobbs as a gift, but I’ve come to that conclusion. 

Whatever one’s position on abortion, it is impossible to ignore the political effect of that Supreme Court decision. Some (male) strategists insist that Democrats’ continued emphasis on the issue is risky or misplaced, but I respectfully disagree. Absent the presence of some other massively salient issue, GOP candidates now look a whole lot like the dog that caught the car. (Furthermore, two of the most salient issues these days are gun control and democracy–both of which also favor Team Blue.)

As Michelle Goldberg recently wrote in the New York Times, 

Having made the criminalization of abortion a central axis of their political project for decades, Republicans have no obvious way out of their electoral predicament. A decisive majority of Americans — 64 percent, according to a recent Public Religion Research Institute survey — believe that abortion should be legal in most cases. A decisive majority of Republicans — 63 percent, according to the same survey — believe that it should not. When abortion bans were merely theoretical, anti-abortion passion was often a boon to Republicans, powering the grass-roots organizing of the religious right. Now that the end of Roe has awakened a previously complacent pro-choice majority, anti-abortion passion has become a liability, but the Republican Party can’t jettison it without tearing itself apart.

Back in September of 2021, I wrote:

This year, the Supreme Court will review Mississippi’s ban on virtually all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. A Court created by Donald Trump is likely to overrule–or eviscerate–Roe v. Wade. If it does so, Republicans may come to rue the day.

Without Roe, the single-issue anti-choice voters that have been a mainstay of the GOP will be considerably less motivated. Pro-choice voters, however, will be newly energized–and polling suggests they significantly  outnumber “pro-life” activists.

The de-nationalization of Roe wouldn’t just mobilize pro-choice voters who’ve relied on Roe to protect their rights. It would redirect liberal and pro-choice energies from national to state-level political action. And that could be a huge game-changer….

As I have repeatedly noted, the current dominance of the Republican Party doesn’t reflect  American majority sentiments–far from it. GOP membership has been shrinking steadily; some 24% of voters self-identify as Republican (and thanks to vaccine resistance, those numbers are dwindling…) GOP gerrymandering and vote suppression tactics are artifacts of state-level control. With Roe gone, purple states–including Texas–will more quickly turn blue.

If Roe goes, the game changes. File under: be careful what you wish for.

In her Times column, Goldberg enumerated the the multiple, continuing GOP assaults on abortion rights at both the state and federal levels, including but not limited to the following:

In the last Congress, 167 House Republicans co-sponsored the Life at Conception Act, conferring full personhood rights on fertilized eggs. In state after state, lawmakers are doing just what the R.N.C. suggested and using every means at their disposal to force people to continue unwanted or unviable pregnancies. Idaho, where almost all abortions are illegal, just passed an “abortion trafficking” law that would make helping a minor leave the state to get an abortion without parental consent punishable by five years in prison. The Texas Senate just passed a bill that, among other things, is intended to force prosecutors in left-leaning cities to pursue abortion law violations. South Carolina Republicans have proposed a law defining abortion as murder, making it punishable by the death penalty.

Goldberg’s column preceded the decision by the Trump-appointed federal judge in Texas, suspending FDA approval of mifepristone, one of the two drugs commonly used for medication abortions, despite its demonstrated safety over the past 20 years–a decision certain to raise the stakes–and the immediacy– of the abortion debate.

I agree with Goldberg that Republicans “are adopting a self-soothing tactic sometimes seen on the left”–blaming messaging. They insist they’re losing elections because they’ve failed to communicate clearly, not because their position is unpopular.

“When you’re losing by 10 points, there is a messaging issue,” the Republican Party chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel, said on Fox News, explaining the loss in Wisconsin.

But you can’t message away forced birth. Republicans’ political problem is twofold. Their supporters take the party’s position on abortion seriously, and now, post-Roe, so does everyone else.

As Alex Shepard wrote in The New Republic, the problem Republicans face is both simple and unsolvable, because an idealized middle ground that would be palatable to the diehards in the GOP base simply doesn’t exist.

In Dobbs, Justice Alito gave the Republicans something they had long claimed to want–a complete victory on an issue that the GOP had used for fifty years to motivate its base and generate turnout.

Sometimes, victories are pyrrhic.


  1. I fail to understand why abortions don’t fall under public health with HIPPA – an act between a woman and her healthcare provider. Period.

    Why does it have to be a political issue?

    Maybe I’m just an idealist, but I don’t think the government we established for our society should tell a woman what she needs to do or not do at the doctor’s. If the woman and her doctor agree on what’s best, let that decision be made. If a girl under 18 is involved, then the law should be involved because sex with an 18-year-old is illegal.

  2. As long as the Republicans continue to overreach on abortion, the Democrats will benefit. But eventually the GOP will get its act together and moderate its position to something like a 15 week limit with exceptions (a highly popular position) and then it will be Democrats overreaching, demanding that there will be no gestational limits whatsoever and public funding of abortions…both very unpopular positions.

    We’re seeing the democratic process play out on abortion. It’s a messy process but also cathartic. Most western democracies have decided the abortion issue through their legislatures – not through courts – and most have decided the issue by adopting reasonable gestational limits from 12-15 weeks. (About 93% of abortions take place in that window.) I celebrate the fact that the issue is being decided in the states, through the democratic process, instead of by judges adopting policy positions through the guise of constitutional intetpretation.

  3. Hey prolifers!
    What do you call a dead fetus at 28 weeks? Is that a miscarriage or abortion when it’s removed? That is somewhat how my late nephew came into the world. He was at 7 Months gestation but dead at birth. Did my SIL have an abortion or a miscarriage? What law makes her carry that fetus to term if the fetus is dead? No heartbeat, nothing there? How close to death must the fetus carrier get before her life is saved and the dead fetus removed? What if she was living in Indiana when it happens? Or Texas?

    I just want someone to answer that question. This happened 30 years ago but for some reason, Indiana took the baby legally and we had a burial mass and coffin. Is that okay with you pro-lifers? This was my brother’s second child and he died before he took his first breath. He was very much wanted, that baby. It traumatized my brother and sister in law for life. They did have another son about a year later now, a grandson too.

    So which is it? A miscarriage or abortion? Will my sister in law go to hell for having a baby die in her womb? Come on, answer me.

  4. Republicans militarized anti-government sentiment with the word ”overreach. Then they overreached.

  5. AgingLGirl What a traumatic experience your brother and sister-in-law endured. Of course the anti-choice zealots would never answer your query. They would simply dismiss it as irrelevant. I hope Sheila is correct and that Dobbs and the ridiculous Kazmaryk ruling on mifepristone finally gets pro-choice voters to the polls and votes the zealots out of office.

  6. Yeah, Jan thank you, but voting isn’t going to get that drug available next week unless we do something this week. I don’t understand how one judge, one man can make a drug unavailable in one fell swoop! Our judicial system is wrong to allow that. He does not make the laws in this country. Up until Friday, I’d never heard of that guy. I hope he gets crabs.

    This whole mess makes me wonder if the FDA can sue that judge. Pharma companies spend millions getting a drug through the FDA trials and now what? Some TX activist judge can come along and make it illegal?

  7. “South Carolina Republicans have proposed a law defining abortion as murder, making it punishable by the death penalty.” Strong pro-life stance. You can’t make this stuff up!

  8. I am glad you mentioned the Republican stand on gun rights. It is another position that has gotten so extreme that there is no hope of getting to a position of moderation without loosing a good part of their voter base. I hope we get to the point where enough people wake up to the danger of unlimited gun rights before the country dissolves into anarchy.

    NPR ran a story the other day that the country has gotten to the point that half the population has had an immediate family member effected by gun violence. That includes everything from being shot for various reasons, to being threatened, to being in a situation where gunfire has been involved. I can attest to being part of that 50%. This is something that get little talk or coverage and like abortion pre-Roe v Wade, needs to have the some light from the public health sector. However, I think the CDC is still restricted on exploring the effects of loose gun ownership laws on public health for obvious political reasons. It would look bad.

  9. Everyone should immediately stop calling anti-abortionists “pro life”. It should be clear to the world by now. You aren’t pro life if you support the death penalty. They are pro birth. After that, it’s a crapshoot.

    Does anyone remember the results of a Fetal Personhood resolution voted on by the good people of Mississippi? The fact that it was resoundingly defeated was a lesson the GOP took to heart. They’ll never ask their constituents again. They’ll just do it legislatively. They don’t care what anyone thinks. They’re the morality police.

  10. This topic breaks my heart. For the sake of women everywhere, get out and vote Republicans out of office EVERYWHERE. If those women’s spouses have any respect for their wives, they must do the same.

    Guns is another hill on which the GOP will die. Ironic. Nothing defines the Republican stance on our society and democracy more than these two subjects. Republicans have now, without a doubt, proven themselves to be complicit in misogyny, murder and the utter disrespect for the gender that brought their corrupt asses into this world in the first place. They would rather keep taking the money from the gun lobbies and makers than do something to stop assault weapons from slaughtering children and adults. We’ve hammered all the examples on this blog for years, but yet nothing changes except when Republicans feel empowered, it all gets worse.

    This damned fool in Texas is just the beginning from the Trump-appointed judges. McConnell is still finding ways to convince evil Senators (Josh Hawley) to block any of Biden’s appointments to the Federal bench – you know, as the Constitution allows.

    EVERYTHING REPUBLICANS TOUCH DIES. That now includes our children, our women and the Constitution. Well done, voters. You really know how to pick ’em.

  11. The GOP must have outrage as their primary political strategy. Whether it’s race, abortion, gun rights or the current red herrings of trans rights and all that might entail, the GOP has no plans for the improvement of the welfare of Americans. Their only goal is power and everything about their rhetoric is designed to maintain a grip on that power. The question is, should we ever move beyond the current issues that the GOP keeps at a boil, what will the next strategy be?

  12. Todd, the reason abortion ever became an issue was not because abortion was “evil,” or even seen as particularly negative by the right, but because it seemed, and with hindsight was, a powerful way to draw the religious right into the GOP’s pockets.
    So many good comments!
    Paul seemed to sum it up correctly, the GOP has no interest in anything but power, and the money it provides!

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