Republicans are starting to adjust to a fierce backlash against abortion

Republican candidates, facing a harsh reality from Kansas voters, are softening their once hardline stances against abortion as they head into the general election, acknowledging that tough bans are unpopular and the issue could be a major driver of the fall campaigns.

In swing states and even conservative corners of the country, several Republicans have shifted their rhetoric on banning abortion, again emphasizing support for exceptions. Some have visibly stopped discussing the details. Pitched battles in Republican-dominated state legislatures have erupted now that the Supreme Court has made what has long been a theoretical argument a reality.

In Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, the ardently anti-abortion Republican gubernatorial candidate, recently made a habit of saying that “the people of Pennsylvania” will “decide what abortion looks like” in the state, not the governor. In Minnesota, Scott Jensen, a family doctor who said in March he would ‘try to ban abortion’ as governor, said in a video released ahead of the Kansas vote that he supported some exceptions “If I wasn’t clear before, I want to be clear now.

Republican consultants for Senate and House campaigns said Thursday that while they still believe inflation and the economy will push voters toward the GOP, candidates are going to have to talk abortion to blunt Democratic attacks. that the party’s position is extreme. They began advising Republicans to approve bans that allow exceptions for rape or incest pregnancies or those that threaten the life of the mother. They told candidates to emphasize caring for women during and after pregnancy.

“If we’re going to ban abortion, there are things we need to do to make sure the need for abortion is reduced and women are not at risk,” said Rep. Nancy Mace, Republican of Carolina of the South, which obtained an exemption. for rape and incest under her state’s abortion law as a state representative. Now, she says, Republicans must push to expand access to gynecological and obstetric care, contraception, including emergency contraception, and even protect women’s right to leave their state to have abortions without fear of prosecution.

Messaging alone will not free the GOP from accusations that it is out of step with voters. Several Republican-led states have passed abortion bans that do not include benefits for victims of rape or incest, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and Texas. While all prohibitions allow for an exception to save the woman’s life, those in some states do not also cite the protection of her health.

On Friday, after a long debate, the Indiana House approved a ban that included exceptions for rape, incest and the life and physical health of the mother.

Republicans are also grappling with news after the Supreme Court ruling, including the story of a 10-year-old Indiana rape victim who crossed state lines to get an abortion, and headlines about women facing serious health problems under new, far – reaching restrictions or bans.

On Thursday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who recently avoided talking about abortion, suspended a Hillsborough County state attorney who refused to prosecute people who try to provide abortions banned by the new ban on abortion. 15 weeks of the state, prompting angry recriminations from Democrats. .

The recalibration for some began before voters in staunchly Republican Kansas voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday against removing abortion rights from the state constitution. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, retracting the constitutional right to process, many Republicans were slow to detail what was to follow. As they rush to enact long-promised laws, Republican-led legislatures have realized just how difficult it can be to ban abortion.

“Not just the pro-choice movement, but the pro-life movement was taken by surprise” by the Supreme Court, said Brandon Steele, a delegate from West Virginia who pushed for an abortion ban without exceptions in a special session of the legislature that ended this week with the Republican supermajority stalled. “Without having the talking points, without being told what to do, lawmakers had to start saying what they were actually going to do. You could see the confusion in the room.

“We’re finding out who’s really pro-life and who’s pro-life just to get elected, not just in West Virginia but across the country,” Steele said.

In Indiana, the special session of the state legislature to consider a ban included brutal debates over whether to include exemptions and how far those exemptions should go.

“For some, it’s very black and white: whether you’re pro-life with no exceptions or whether you’re pro-choice with no restrictions,” said State Sen. Kyle Walker, a Republican from Indiana who said that abortion should be legal during at least the first trimester of pregnancy. “When you’re in the gray area, you’re forced to reconcile in your own mind where your own limits are.”

For months, Republicans have argued that abortion rights would be a footnote in a midterm campaign driven by the worst inflation in 40 years, crime, immigration and a Democratic president whose Approval rates are mired at around 40%.

That’s still the public line, even after the Kansas referendum, where voters were faced with a single issue, not the multiplicity of factors they will consider in November.

But the reality on the electoral campaign is different. Sarah Longwell, a Republican pollster, said in her focus groups that swing voters bring up inflation and the economy when asked what issues are on their minds. But when he is invited to discuss abortion, a real passion erupts. This indicates that if Democrats can pursue a campaign to keep the issue front and center, they will find an audience, she said.

Ms Mace agreed, saying abortion was rising rapidly and Republicans needed to respond.

In Minnesota, Dr. Jensen, the Republican candidate who is expected to face Gov. Tim Walz, suggested it was interactions with voters after Roe’s fall that he said prompted him to clarify his position. on abortion.

“Once the Roe v. Wade decision was overturned, we told Minnesota and basically told everyone that we would strike up a conversation,” he said. “During this conversation, I learned that it was necessary for me to clarify my position.”

This development included adopting a family and maternity leave program, promoting an adoption tax credit of $2,500 per child, and improving access to birth control, including providing over-the-counter oral contraceptives with a ceiling price. And like Adam LaxaltGOP nominee for Nevada Senate Dr. Jensen pointed to abortion protections already in place in Minnesota to get the issue settled rather than on the ballot this year.

Mr. Walz said he would remain on the offensive and would not accept any softening of the Republican line.

“I take them at first word,” he said of Dr. Jensen and his running mate, Matt Birk, a former NFL player and anti-abortion rights advocate. “If they get the chance, they will criminalize it while we try to protect it. So that became a central theme, obviously, I think this turnaround on their part was a response to that.

The Kansas vote implies that about 65% of voters nationwide would reject backing down on abortion rights, including a majority in more than 40 of 50 states, according to a New York Times analysis.

Republicans believe their party can grab the Democrats’ mantle of moderation, in part by empathizing with pregnant women and offering exemptions to abortion bans, and casting Democrats as the extremists when it comes to is about regulating abortion. If Democrats insist on making abortion the centerpiece of their campaigns, they argue, they risk losing touch with voters in an uncertain economy.

But Republicans who moderate their views still have to contend with a base of support that remains staunchly anti-abortion. Abortion opponents said Thursday that Republican candidates shouldn’t read too much into the Kansas vote, a single-issue referendum with language criticized by voters on both sides as confusing.

“Regardless of what the consulting class tells candidates, they would be wise to recognize that the right to life community is an important constituency and an important demographic of voters,” warned Penny Nance, CEO and President of Concerned Women for America, a conservative organization that opposes abortion rights.

After the Kansas vote, Democrats stepped up their efforts to squeeze their opponents between a conservative base that wants quick action to ban all abortions and a broader electorate that wants no such thing. Representative Elaine Luria, a moderate Democrat running in a Republican-leaning district in southeastern Virginia, ran a new ad against her Republican opponent, Jen Kiggans, calling it “too extreme” on abortion. Ms Luria initially said she would campaign on her work for the district and her support for the Navy, a big force in the region, but the landscape has changed. Ms Kiggans’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

A group aligned with the Democratic Governors Association is already publicizing abortion-related remarks made by Michigan’s Tudor Dixon, who won the Republican gubernatorial nomination this week.

“If you take Tudor Dixon at her word when it comes to banning abortion, she told us exactly who she is,” the spot titled “No Exceptions” intones, with clips of Ms Dixon emphasizing her opposition to a range of abortions. -related exceptions. Ms Dixon was unambiguous about her position earlier this summer, write on twitter“My only exception is to protect the LIFE of the mother.”

In a lengthy statement that underscored her opposition to an expected Michigan ballot measure intended to protect abortion rights, Ms. Dixon also insisted that her race would be defined by jobs, schools, crime and be “able to pay for your gas and groceries”.

For Republicans, a problem could be the long trail on the issue they left during the primary season.

In May, Mr Mastriano was unequivocal in Pennsylvania as he courted Republican primary voters: “This baby deserves a right to life, whether conceived in incest or rape or whether there is ‘Other Concerns for Mom.’

Last month he said it was not up to him. “You decide the exceptions. You decide from the start. And it’s in the hands of the people,” he told Philadelphia Radio. “It’s a fact. It’s not a dodge.

Michael Smith, Travel Gabriel and Reid J. Epstein contributed report.