Republicans Finally Caught the Car
The Back-Alley Reversal of Roe Just Made the GOP Unsafe for Right-leaning Women
Texas has banned abortion, more or less. Terminating a pregnancy is now categorically forbidden in the Lone Star State except in the brief period before the embryo develops something that resembles a heart that twitches in a manner deemed by some analogous to a heartbeat. That’s in the neighborhood of six weeks, well before many women even suspect that they are pregnant. There is no exception for rape or incest.
The Republican bill was signed into law in May but did not go into effect until Wednesday, when the Supreme Court officially declined to act on an emergency petition filed by Texas abortion clinics. By allowing Texas to invade its citizens’ privacy, deny them authority over their own bodies, and strip them of the freedom to plan and control the course of their lives, SCOTUS has effectively reversed Roe v. Wade.
As Sonia Sotomayor wisely put it, “… the Act is a breathtaking act of defiance—of the Constitution, of this Court’s precedents, and of the rights of women seeking abortions throughout Texas.” The precedent bodes rather ill for the future of freedom for American women as the Court prepares to hear a direct challenge to Roe.
Is this actually good news for the GOP electorally? I don’t think so and I’ll tell you why. Let’s vent a little first, though.
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.”
Indeed! Because you know that the conservative majority would not affirm this principle in general. There is zero chance that Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett and Thomas would offer the same deferential treatment to a formally identical California law designed to frustrate citizens’ 2nd Amendment rights by incentivizing civil lawsuits against anyone who gives away or sells or in any way aids or abets the possession or ownership of a firearm. If that had been the Constitutional liberty in question, you know that the majority would be all “Whoa, whoa, whoa hoss! Slow your roll! I dunno who you’re supposed to sue if your rights are infringed here, either. But an established right is pretty clearly about to get violated on terms that defy heaps of precedent, so let’s stop and think this thing through, okay?”
Conservatives who approve of the outcome here know full well that the majority would have said exactly what the dissenting minority said if a right they valued had been at stake. Which is to say, conservatives know that their cherished SCOTUS majority is legislating from the bench in a transparently ideological, partisan way — and without even a pretense of principled deliberation. Chief Justice Roberts knows it. As his sober dissent makes clear, the majority’s refusal to pull back and carefully consider the legality and implications of Texas’ scheme of vigilante deputization makes a mockery of balls-and-strikes neutrality and prudent judicial restraint. I think he’s mortified by the damage his fellow conservatives have just done to the court’s already battered legitimacy by so carelessly outing themselves as hypocritical, opportunistic, partisan hacks.
There’s plenty to mad about. But I want to return to the electoral upshot of a law that straightforwardly effectively nullifies Roe in Texas. This bill, and the Court’s winking acquiescence to its procedural tomfoolery, strikes me as a shining example of an act of ideological overreach that could lead to devastating electoral backlash. Maybe Texas Republicans think that they’ve rigged the state’s electoral system so thoroughly that it’s effectively backlash-proof. But I think they ought to be worried. And there are plenty of signs that Republicans are worried.
Yes, it’s almost as if they know that Roe is the religious right’s galvanizing, mobilizing white whale and that actually sinking deep the harpoon and hauling it in for slaughter is a serious strategic blunder.
Here in California, mum’s the word from Larry Elder, the Republican recall replacement fave. You might think Republicans would want to crow about their apparent triumph, but you’d be very wrong. As Diamond Dave Weigel notes:
Larry Elder didn’t really want to talk about it.
“This is not anything that’s on my priority list,” the Republican candidate for governor told reporters Wednesday, when asked about the Texas case. “[Democrats] have two-thirds supermajorities in the Assembly, two-thirds supermajorities in the Senate. There is zero possibility those majorities become pro-life like Larry Elder.”
It’s easy to understand why Elder would rather talk about anything else and why Gavin Newsom, in contrast, couldn’t be more thrilled with the cudgel he’s been handed.
“What the Supreme Court didn’t do last night is jaw-dropping,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) on a call with Democratic activists Wednesday night, referring to the court's refusal to that point to step in. He pointed ahead to a lawsuit over a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi, which many Republicans have endorsed as a way of curtailing Roe.
“All that’s on the ballot,” Newsom said. “Don’t think for a second that Larry Elder wouldn’t join those Republican governors and sign those amicus briefs.”
“Rather than shouting victory from the rooftops, Republicans are putting out these carefully calibrated statements,” said Kristin Ford, a communications vice president at NARAL Pro-Choice America. “They know the risk of political backlash.”
This dynamic isn’t peculiar to hyper-liberal California. Weigel notes that in Virginia, a razor’s edge blue-leaning swing-state, the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial candidate, Terry McAuliffe, is already using the Texas law to hammer his Republican opponent.
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 a dumpster can only make matters worse.
Before the Republican Party became fully deranged by bigoted, nihilistic, reality-challenged lust for lib-owning domination, it knew not to catch the car. But the post-Trump GOP is barking mad and just caught itself a foaming mouthful of rolling Pirelli. If it’s too crazed to let go, it’s going to get run over.