For the seventh consecutive time, Republicans have lost a fight over a ballot measure to limit abortion rights. A popular definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Is the GOP losing its collective mind on abortion? It’s spending too much effort on the losing issue of abortion rights and not enough effort on actually reducing abortions.
Last week Republicans lost an election to change how amendments are added to the Ohio constitution. Currently, only a simple majority of the voters is necessary to amend the constitution. Republicans wanted to increase the necessary majority to 60% to thereby make constitutional amendments more difficult to adopt. Ohio voters rejected the GOP’s measure by a vote of 57% to 43% in favor.
Everyone knew Ohio’s election on how to amend its constitution was really about abortion. This November Ohioans will vote on whether to amend their constitution to include provisions protecting abortion rights. By retaining the requirement of only a simple majority vote to amend their constitution, pro-choice Ohioans have practically guaranteed themselves victory on the actual abortion rights vote this fall.
And this election is the seventh consecutive state constitutional amendment election in which the voters have either adopted provisions protecting (and even expanding) abortion rights or have rejected measures to eliminate abortion rights. It matters not whether the elections were held in red states (Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Ohio), blue states (California, Vermont), or purple Michigan. The results have ALWAYS been the same: The Democratic pro-choicers win; the Republican pro-lifers lose.
Moreover, this pattern provides a blueprint by which Democrats across the country can increase their vote totals in the upcoming 2024 presidential election. In 2003 and 2004 Republicans under the leadership Karl Rove, President George W. Bush’s chief political strategist, got more Republican voters to go to the polls to vote in Rove-inspired elections to amend state constitutions to explicitly ban gay marriage, which a majority of Americans then opposed. This tactic may well have helped President Bush win re-election in the ultra-close 2004 contest (the only one since 1988 in which the Republican presidential nominee won a majority of the popular vote). But now the Democrats can turn the GOP playbook on its head by pushing for more statewide constitutional amendment elections to strengthen abortion rights. Given that every major public opinion poll shows that the 2024 election is likely to be extremely close, this tactic, which will certainly get more Democrats to the polls, may well spell the difference between victory and defeat for the Democratic Party.
There are two reasons why this tactic offers so much hope for Democrats and so much peril for Republicans: First, every public opinion poll shows that Americans, by overwhelming majorities, support unlimited abortion rights during the first trimester of pregnancy, which is when about 90% of all abortions are performed. Second, the GOP to date has failed to develop strategies and tactics to cope with the fact that however morally correct the pro-life stance may be, it is nonetheless a political loser.
Given the political realities of abortion as a winning issue for Democrats, the Republicans can best cope by minimizing the importance of the abortion issue, and they can accomplish this by minimizing the perceived need for abortion in the first place. As I’ve indicated in previous columns, the GOP must take a far more expansive view of what it means to be “pro life.” It must work for the development and implementation of more effective sex education and birth control policies, and thereby reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies which might otherwise prompt abortions. Moreover, the GOP must champion more research, development, and implementation of policies to simultaneously enhance the quality and availability of prenatal and neonatal care for mothers and their babies, while reducing the costs. To minimize the desire for abortions will minimize the number of abortions, reduce the importance of abortion rights as an issue in American politics, and save the Republican Party from future defeats on the abortion issue. Besides the aforementioned policies should, if properly implemented, greatly improve the life and health of millions of women and children both before and after birth. And that result is far, far, more important than the electoral fate of either the Democrats or the Republicans.
Bottom line for the Republicans: Improve both your mental health and your electoral prospects by shifting your pro-life efforts away from the issue of abortion rights, and more to the issues of how to actually reduce the number of abortions while improving the health and lives of all women and children, born or unborn. On the issue of abortion rights, you’ll always lose. On issues which actually reduce abortion while enhancing the quality of lives for women and children, everybody wins.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton from 1987 until 2023. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.