In theory, the likely demise of Roe v. Wade would allow states to impose sweeping new restrictions on reproductive rights. In practice, there’s no reason to assume that Republicans would see a patchwork system as their final endpoint.
In a letter to her Democratic colleagues sent this morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote, “Republicans have made clear that their goal will be to seek to criminalize abortion nationwide.” As The New York Times reported, it’s a message her party is quickly coalescing around for a reason.
Democrats rang alarm bells on Sunday about the likelihood that Republicans would try to restrict abortion nationwide, two days after an interview was published in which Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, said a ban was “possible” if his party gained control in Washington.
The Senate Republican leader, who is often cagey about his future plans, spoke to USA Today about Justice Samuel Alito’s leaked draft ruling and the future of the larger dispute. Asked if a national abortion ban was “worthy of debate,” McConnell said, “If the leaked opinion became the final opinion, legislative bodies — not only at the state level but at the federal level — certainly could legislate in that area.”
He added, “So yeah, it’s possible.”
This, naturally, raised the volume on Democratic pushback. As the Times’ report added, “On the Sunday talk shows and in other public statements, Democratic senators said Republicans would not stop at letting the states decide the issue, but would most likely push for federal restrictions. That made it paramount, they said, that the Democratic Party maintain control of the Senate as it tries to codify abortion rights into federal law.”
At this point in the process, the idea of a federal abortion ban might seem like a fanciful abstraction, especially in advance of the high court’s decision. But the practical realities of the threat are quite real.
The Washington Post reported last week, for example, that groups hoping to ban abortion have already met with their congressional allies about a possible “nationwide ban on the procedure if Republicans retake power in Washington.”
As regular readers know, the discussions have reportedly advanced to such a stage that specific GOP senators have already sketched out policy details — they’re eyeing a six-week abortion ban — and who’ll be involved in the drafting the legislative restrictions.
NBC News had a related report a couple of days later, quoting Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa conceding that GOP senators are, in fact, debating nationwide abortion restrictions.
At this point, I know what some of you are thinking. “Sure, many in the GOP might want a national abortion ban, but even if Republicans controlled Congress and the White House, the Senate filibuster still exists. It’s why the actual threat of a federal ban remains relatively low.”
And while that may offer some comfort to proponents of reproductive rights, the political dynamic may not be quite that simple.
For one thing, it’s not inconceivable that, in the coming election cycles, Republicans will put together a 60-vote majority — at which point the debate over the filibuster will be largely irrelevant. What’s more, even if the GOP majority fell a little short of the magic number, there are some Democratic opponents of abortion rights that might conceivably help Republicans with a federal policy with new restrictions on reproductive rights.
For another, while McConnell has sworn up and down that he won’t budge on reforming the Senate’s filibuster rules, we don’t know for sure whether he’ll remain his conference’s leader, and even if he does, the Kentuckian tends to follow his members’ lead.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy told Greg Sargent this morning, “When the opportunity presents itself, there’s no doubt in my mind that [a Senate Republican majority would] change the rules to pass a bill criminalizing abortion federally.”
Watch this space.