WASHINGTON (The Hill) — Republicans are plotting out their messaging strategy in case the Supreme Court overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade decision authorizing abortion rights. The GOP strategy is to lead with science-based arguments and portray those in favor of abortion rights as extremists.
The Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative caucus in the House, sent a messaging memo last week that advised members to communicate the message that “the Left holds the extremist position” on abortion. “Today’s Left believes in a position even more extreme than Roe: taxpayer-funded abortion, on-demand, until birth,” said the memo, first reported by National Review.
“The Left disregards the health and safety of women and makes false claims that the pro-life movement does nothing for mothers,” it added, citing a rise in emergency room visits related to chemical abortion pills over the last few decades. It also put a focus on advances in science and understanding of fetal viability since 1973. “Share what we know about the humanity of unborn babies. Roe was based on outdated science.”
The Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade when it considers the constitutionality of a Mississippi law prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. It is doing so even though Supreme Court precedent prohibits states from banning abortions before viability, which is generally considered to be around 23 to 24 weeks into pregnancy.
If the landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion is overturned, much of the most consequential legislative and policy movement will happen in states with Republican control that will have new authority to restrict abortion procedures. It also has the potential to shake up the midterm elections, when Republicans hope to win back majorities in the House and Senate.
Pro-abortion rights advocates warn that restricting access will disproportionally impact low-income women and put them at risk of seeking unsafe, unsanctioned abortions. A dozen states have “trigger” laws that would ban abortions if Roe is overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights.
“In many states, like Maryland, it will make no practical difference if Roe is overturned this June, since overturning Roe won’t ban abortions—it will just allow regulation at the state level, where it should be,” said Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), an anesthesiologist and a co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus. “In other states, where abortion will have some limits, you will see women finally having real choices, as pregnancy centers and other support services will grow to help women in crisis pregnancies choose life with the community help they need.”
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, spoke to GOP House members at a Republican Study Committee lunch last week about being prepared to lead on the issue, The Daily Wire reported. The press will turn to national Republicans to get their perspective if Roe is overturned, she said, and their constituents will also turn to them to get more information about abortion laws and alternate options in their states.
Members of the Susan B. Anthony List’s federal affairs team are also working directly with members of Congress to ensure “maximum preparedness” for a post-Roe environment. “We’ve been engaged in a decades-long education battle to make Americans aware about this reality, because that doesn’t jive with the majority of Americans,” said Mallory Carroll, vice president of communications for the group.
Polls consistently find that Americans think the Supreme Court should not overturn Roe v. Wade. A 2021 Gallup poll found that 58% of Americans said that the ruling should stay in place. But Americans’ answers get more nuanced when they are asked about the specifics of when abortion should be allowed. A recent Wall Street Journal poll found that 48% of voters supported restrictions on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with 43% opposed.
“The action is going to be immediately focused in the states, but I think it would behoove federal lawmakers to have their own policy agenda in mind for what they plan to advocate for at the federal level,” Carroll said.
Anti-abortion legislation is extremely unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled House and Senate this year, and President Biden would likely veto any anti-abortion bill that came to his desk. But Republicans have teed up a number of messaging bills on abortion that could come up if the GOP takes back the House in 2022. Such bills could set the stage for major changes if Republicans win control of Congress and the White House in a few years.
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, that could open the door for Congress to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks. Another proposed bill would require that a child who survives an attempted abortion receive the same standard of care as any other child.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), another co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, has a bill called the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act that would make permanent the restrictions on federal money funding abortions that are usually tacked on to annual appropriations bills each year with the Hyde amendment.
Republicans are keeping the focus on the issue in various ways. Last week, dozens of House Republicans signed a letter led by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, demanding that the House change its vendor for member-issued credit cards after Citigroup said it would pay travel costs for employees seeking abortions.
“The Dobbs case presents the best opportunity in decades to finally correct the tragedy of Roe and return this fateful policy decision to the states where it always belonged,” Johnson said in a statement. “House Republicans will continue to fight for the sanctity of human life, defend the defenseless, and hold the Biden Administration accountable for any attempt to impede the policy decisions of pro-life states.”
Republican women will likely be key to the party’s messaging strategy if Roe is overturned. In a House hearing last year, Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Fla.) shared a story about how “she would not be here” if her mother followed a doctor’s advice to have an abortion. She was the GOP answer to three Democratic women—Reps. Cori Bush (Mo.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), and Barbara Lee (Calif.)—sharing their own personal stories about getting abortions.