Leave Abortion to the States? No, Say Anti-Choice Activists Demanding National Ban

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins (Image from Mar. 18, 2020 appearance on CBN)

Now that Roe v Wade has been trashed by the hard-right Supreme Court majority created by former President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans, anti-choice activists are no longer promoting the fiction that their goal in overturning Roe was to return the question of abortion to the states.

The Family Research Council is one of the anti-choice groups demanding a federal abortion ban, and this week FRC slammed Republicans who are sticking with the idea that abortion is an issue the Constitution leaves to the states.

In a commentary published Wednesday on FRC’s The Washington Stand, editorial director Suzanne Bowdey slammed the “cowardice” of Republicans who stick with the states’ rights argument. She quoted Students for Life’s Kristan Hawkins saying, “If you don’t understand killing children is a federal issue, you shouldn’t be running for public office.” Bowdey took a hard line against compromise, quoting her FRC colleague Mary Szoch saying, “You can kill a baby, or you can’t. There is no middle ground.”

On the same day, The Washington Stand reported that FRC President Tony Perkins recently met with Trump after “a Trump campaign spokesman told the Washington Post that Trump believes abortion ‘should be decided at the state level.’” According to Perkins, Trump assured him and other anti-choice leaders that the former president would continue to advance their agenda if he returns to the White House. Days later, Perkins notes, Trump claimed that Democrats support “executing babies after birth.”

Such false and inflammatory claims are meant to distort the real policy debates and shift attention from how few Americans embrace the anti-choice movement’s end goal of criminalizing abortion everywhere from the moment of conception.

The Washington Stand quoted Perkins complaining that Republicans who are reluctant to push abortion restrictions in Congress are “concerned about the political fallout.” They have reason to be concerned. “Abortion Access Keeps Winning Elections,” noted a New York Times article published Thursday.

The Pew Research Center recently reported that a solid majority of Americans—62 percent—believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases—and that includes 40 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Only 36 percent of the public believes abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. A recent NPR survey found similar numbers, saying 61 percent mostly support abortion rights, which NPR said is “at or near record highs” from surveys over the past 20 years.

Right-wing activists like Gary Bauer and media outlets like the Washington Examiner have tried to spin Pew’s research to their advantage, highlighting that some people who support abortion rights also support some restrictions on the procedure. But there’s no question that the extreme bans being enacted in GOP-run states, and demanded by religious-right leaders nationally, are opposed by most Americans and by many Republicans. NPR reported, for example, that a majority of Republicans support allowing an abortion at any time during pregnancy in cases of rape or incest, a far cry from “no exceptions” abortion bans like Kentucky’s.

Anti-choice activists are certainly counting on right-wing judges to help them further restrict access to safe and legal abortion. In his amicus brief filed in the Dobbs case, anti-LGBTQ activist Robert George argued that fertilized eggs should be treated as persons under the 14th Amendment from the moment of conception, which he said would require that states treat abortions as homicide.

Meanwhile, the National Abortion Federation released a report this week documenting an “alarming increase in major incidents like arson, clinic invasion, and death threats” against abortion providers since the Supreme Court overturned Roe.

The aggressive assault on reproductive freedom and women’s health by Republican legislators and governors is a direct result of the right wing’s ideological takeover of the Supreme Court that Trump’s justices cemented. It is essential that President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats nominate and confirm as many fair-minded and freedom-supporting judges as possible while they have the power to do so. And it is essential to make sure that the next president’s Supreme Court picks do not further strengthen the hard right’s ability to impose its extreme and unpopular policies on the rest of us.

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