Why Some GOP Candidates Are Changing Their Tune on Abortion

Abortion protestors on red background

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And how Democrats are seizing the moment.

The fight over reproductive rights has invigorated a wave of female voters — and given Democrats a boost. That’s led some GOP hopefuls to change their tunes when it comes to abortion restrictions. We’re taking a closer look at how candidates on the left and right are shifting their strategies.

How voters have reacted post-Roe

Women across the country, but especially those in red and purple states, have become freshly engaged in local races since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. From Kansas to Wisconsin, there are far more women than men registering as new voters, the Guardian reports. According to an analysis conducted by the Washington Post, Pennsylvania saw a spike in women registering as Democratic voters post-Roe. (Before the ruling, 46 percent of newly registered women signed up as Democrats. That jumped to 62 percent afterward.) 

“They will ban abortions if the wrong people are elected,” a 22-year-old Pennsylvania woman, who didn’t vote in the 2020 election but has decided to cast her ballot this fall, tells the Post. “Before it was a threat. Now it’s actually happening.”

That same urgency is what led Kansas last month to reject an effort to restrict abortion rights throughout the state. And polling shows that female voters who had strayed from the left after the 2020 election are now being drawn back to the party. 

A “wake-up call” for Republicans

The GOP remains favored to retake the House, but strategists say that voters’ focus on abortion might cut into the party’s advantage. 

“The vote earlier this summer in Kansas is a wake-up call to Republicans that not only are the most extreme abortion restrictions non-starters with voters but the whole issue has flipped as a Democratic motivation to head to the polls,” Republican strategist Barrett Marson tells the Guardian.

Republicans are softening their stance

Conservative candidates — including some hardline anti-abortion politicians — across the U.S. are changing the way they talk about reproductive rights throughout their campaigns. Colorado state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, who’s running for a House seat, used to promote the “Sanctity of Life” on her campaign website, but has since scrubbed any mention of abortion. 

Minnesota gubernatorial nominee Scott Jensen has also changed tack. He said in an interview in March that “there is no reason for us to be having abortions going out.” In July, however, he released a video saying he supports abortions in cases of rape, incest, or when a woman’s life is threatened. 

Blake Masters, a Republican nominee for Senate in Arizona, had previously written on his website that he was “100 percent pro-life.” That’s been wiped, along with a call for a “federal personhood law” recognizing that “unborn babies are human beings that may not be killed.” He’s now calling for a ban on late-term and “partial-birth abortions”, a political term that refers to the dilation and extraction procedure, and which have been banned on a federal level since 2003.

Dissent in the ranks

It’s important to note that this Republican U-turn is far from universal. An email from Sen. Lindsey Graham’s office last night signaled that he’s planning to announce a new bill on national abortion restrictions today.

Though it’s described as applying to “late-term” procedures, the bill’s expected to call for a ban from 15 weeks — which is early in the second trimester. It’s a stricter version of a previous bill, which was also titled “Protecting pain-capable unborn children from late-term abortions act.” The original measure proposed restricting abortion access for women after 20 weeks of pregnancy, bar in a few special circumstances.

Democrats are seizing the moment

Meanwhile, the left is looking to capitalize on some formerly staunch Republicans’ wavering stance on abortion, and have poured money into attack ads that highlight candidates’ antiabortion positions, the Post reports. 

“It doesn’t matter how fast Republicans run to erase their toxic, unpopular, and dangerous positions — Democrats will make sure voters know exactly the threat that Republicans pose to our freedoms,” a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign, said in a statement last month.

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Arizona), who’s running against Masters, told the Post his conservative opponent is in for a “rude awakening” if he thinks he can “disguise just how out of touch and dangerous his abortion stance is.”

Planned Parenthood, in a video scrutinizing Masters’ move to the middle, noted that he’s already made his views on abortion quite clear — and we all have the receipts.