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Will the Fugitive Uterus Act hurt the Republican Party?


Will Wilkinson says Republicans should be careful about getting what they wished for:

The Texas law is a ghoulishly insidious piece of legislation designed to rebuff legal challenges (and it worked!) by taking state enforcement out of the picture in favor of deputized citizens incentivized by bounties paid by violators. Texans are encouraged to file civil suits against fellow citizens they suspect of performing or facilitating an abortion. “Aiding and abetting” an abortion might include, say, handing someone the phone number of an abortion clinic in an adjacent state. If the court finds in the plaintiff’s favor, they are entitled to extract at least $10,000 from the accused, plus court costs.

There’s a lot one might say about this grotesque scheme. It’s an invitation to surveil, harass and intimidate anyone inclined to actively protect women’s reproductive autonomy. It sets citizens against each other. This is some real Stasi shit. Eyes-and-ears-are-everywhere! This is. . . not a recipe for social amity and civic health.

Of course, the titanic hypocrisy of maintaining that it’s a tyrannical imposition on “medical freedom” even for private businesses and institutions to mandate masks or vaccines while simultaneously promoting state-sanctioned bounty-hunting to enforce a regime of coerced pregnancy and childbirth is . . . crazymaking. It is hypocrisy of infinite density — a black hole of bad faith from which nary a glimmer of moral principle or intellectual honesty can escape.

And don’t get me started on the court majority’s unsigned opinion ruling that the law ought to go into effect. The basic idea really is just that there is nothing the Court can do to secure our Constitutional Rights against a dubiously constitutional laws as long as states enforce them with bounty hunters. It’s pure arbitrary insanity! It is, as Sotomayor puts it, “untenable.” She writes, “It cannot be the case that a State can evade federal judicial scrutiny by outsourcing the enforcement of unconstitutional laws to its citizenry.”


There are many reasons the Texas precedent is bad news for the GOP. It’s not just that the crusade against the wholesale slaughter of pure innocence — against the genocide of perfect porcelain microscopic baby children — is a crank Republicans have been able to turn to drive evangelicals and conservative Catholics to the polls, and they’d have to be blithering morons to break it off. Nor is it simply that the specter of post-Roe snitch-on-your-neighbor patriarchal authoritarianism is a Democratic turnout machine.

This is such a big deal because Roe makes the GOP safe for moderately conservative white women they’re already losing in droves. Expressive, grandstanding anti-abortion politics is one thing. The clear and present danger of losing control of your body and your life is another thing altogether. It creates a visceral sense of threat that cuts across party lines.

I can’t find solid data on the matter, but I think there’s little reason to believe that Republican women are considerably less likely to seek an abortion. I personally know several successful Republican (at the time) women who have terminated pregnancies. Republican women have abortions for the same reasons anybody does. Suppose you have two kids finally old enough not to need constant attention, you’re back to work full-time after a decade at home, and you’ve finally launched the small business you’ve been dreaming about. It doesn’t matter much if you lean left or right; you will very likely cherish your freedom to control your body and pursue the projects and plans that supply your life with a sense of purpose and meaning. When that freedom is at risk, many women will act politically to defend it. And not all of those women are Democrats. . . yet.

The GOP has been bleeding support from suburban white women for well over a decade. Trump’s inability to reverse this trend may well have cost him a second term and lost Republicans their Senate majority. Texas’ horrifying new law and the Supreme Court’s signal that it’s eager to toss Roe in adumpstercan only make matters worse.

As long time readers know, I have long argued that 1)the idea that Republican elites had some secret conspiracy to preserve Roe was nonsense, and 2)many pundits have exaggerated the electoral damage that overruling Roe would do to the Republican Party. Point #1 I stand behind because it’s unquestionably correct. Point #2 is more complicated, and Will might be right:

  • I don’t doubt that overruling Roe will be a net negative for the Republican Party — it is overwhelmingly popular, and the total or near-total abortion bans Republican state legislatures will pass now that its gone are generally unpopular. The problem is that abortion is a marginal issue, and various countermajoritarian mechanisms in American government insulate Republicans from getting punished their most unpopular actions. Gerrymandering is a particularly big deal here: there are multiple states where Republicans can’t be defeated for passing unpopular abortion bans because they have decided not to hold democratic elections, and the Supreme Court has said that this is perfectly OK.
  • In the deepest red states, Republicans can do whatever they want without consequences. Overruling Roe will be horrible for people in these states.
  • In states like Texas and Florida, though, it’s more complicated. Even the former isn’t that far away from a marginal shift against Republicans to make a big difference in statewide races and the Electoral College, even with the additional vote suppression measures.
  • I do think that the Stasi-like enforcement mechanisms created by Texas — which other states apparently now plan to copy — may prove to be too clever by half. If they had just waited a year, they could have passed normal abortion bans that are easier for suburban women who know they can fly to LA or Seattle if necessary to ignore. The bounty system will ensure that this remains in the news constantly with ordinary people getting dragged into court over a medical procedure that is the end result of 20% of American pregnancies. (The Wall Street Journal op-ed page lamenting that this is personal, not business, Sonny is one encouraging sign.)
  • By allowing states to jump out aggressively, Republican legislators may also be mitigating the political benefits of Alito’s bullshit-minimalist approach to overruling Roe. Media outlets are already dutifully responding with “Roe hasn’t technically been overruled” thumb-suckers, but if abortion clinics close and people are getting bankrupted for giving their neighbors phone numbers, people are going to notice. This isn’t like Afghanistan where media narratives are pretty much the whole ballgame.

It’s not the most satisfying answer but the bottom line is that this will hurt Republicans; whether it hurts them enough to really matter will depend on various contingencies. Democrats need to do what they can, and that includes telling the truth about what’s going on even if PolitiFact doesn’t like it.

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