But if this was a proud moment for the GOP, you wouldn’t know it by its response. As The Post’s Dan Diamond noted, virtually no Republicans were publicly celebrating the Texas ruling on Friday night — as opposed to the many Democrats decrying it. And that continued through the weekend, according to Legistorm’s compendium of lawmaker tweets and press releases; it records only one GOP press release in favor. One of the few Republicans to weigh in by early Monday, Rep. Nancy Mace (S.C.), actually urged the FDA to disregard the Texas ruling.
So what gives? It seems perhaps the clearest example to date of how the GOP is the proverbial dog who caught the car on abortion rights and isn’t quite sure what to do about it.
Support for abortion rights in general has trended upward since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, with Republicans seeming to pay a price at the ballot box in the 2022 midterms. Positions favoring abortion rights won when the issues were put directly to voters, including in red states.
But even in that context, the abortion pill would seem to be an unusually dicey issue for the Republican Party:
- A Reuters poll last month tested precisely this issue, asking whether people would support federal courts overturning access to mifepristone. Just 27 percent expressed support, while 7 in 10 Americans opposed such a ruling.
- A month earlier, the same poll asked whether medication abortion should remain legal in the United States. Americans agreed it should, 65 percent to 21 percent, with even 49 percent of Republicans agreeing.
- The numbers echo other polling on whether people should be allowed to receive the pill via the mail. A Public Religion Research Institute poll in February showed people opposed banning that by 72 percent to 26 percent. The same poll last year found that 56 percent of Republicans also opposed such a ban.
- A Marquette University Law School poll last year found Americans opposed a ban on women getting prescriptions for the pill from out-of-state providers by 76 percent to 23 percent.
These last two questions, it bears emphasizing, weren’t even about whether the pill should simply be available — just whether people should be able to get it via the mail and from out-of-state providers (i.e. potentially if abortion is banned in their state). But the totality of the data indicates that this is a more lopsided issue than abortion rights generally. Around 7 in 10 Americans support access, and even relatively easy access, to the abortion pill, and that includes as many as half of Republicans.
There are some caveats here.
The biggest one is that people don’t seem to know much about medication abortion. One recent poll showed that only 31 percent said they had heard of mifepristone, despite estimates finding it accounts for more than half of abortions. Another suggests many people wrongly equate it with Plan B, or emergency contraception that can be taken within 72 hours of intercourse to prevent pregnancy. That poll showed 36 percent of people wrongly believed they were the same thing, which could inflate support.
As I noted last year, it wouldn’t seem to make much sense for half of Republicans to support easy access to a pill that induces abortions, given that most of the party generally opposes abortion rights. But all of these polls described the pill as leading to abortions, and support for access is still very high. It also seems plausible that Americans are more supportive of medication abortion, which is less invasive and can be used through 10 weeks of pregnancy, than surgical abortion, which can be performed later.
It all reinforces something we’ve seen in other data: the fact that more absolutist, hard-line opposition to abortion rights is very low and has been on the decline.
And that’s a problem for the GOP when it comes to the Texas judge’s ruling. Not only does the ruling attempt to block access to the pill, but it’s the first time we’ve seen a judge suspend a medication long approved by the FDA — the pill was first approved in 2000 — over objections from the agency and the drug’s manufacturer. It’s a striking ruling that, if implemented, would eliminate the most prominent method used for legal abortion in this country.
On one level, it’s everything the GOP might have hoped for to go along with the Supreme Court overturning the long-held constitutional right to an abortion. “This victory in court brings us one step closer to protecting the sanctity of life and the safety of mothers,” Rep. August Pfluger (R-Tex.) said.
But on another level, the GOP knows that the overturning of Roe v. Wade has saddled it with a political liability. It can now make good on something that worked great to motivate its base as a theoretical possibility but that is considerably less of a benefit now that it can actually effectuate such unpopular changes.
And the fact that very few Republicans are hailing the decision speaks volumes.