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With proposed abortion bans, GOP eyes criminal charges for doctors

GOP candidates were told to say that the party does not "want to throw doctors ... in jail." And yet, Republican proposals keep saying the opposite.


It was on Monday, May 2, when the public got its first look at Justice Samuel Alito’s draft ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, letting the world know that the Supreme Court would soon overturn Roe v. Wade. It was the following morning when the National Republican Senatorial Committee distributed talking points to the party’s incumbents and candidates.

As regular readers may recall, the rhetorical suggestions were defensive, not celebratory. Party leaders seemed to realize that most of the country wanted to leave the Roe precedent intact, so the National Republican Senatorial Committee advised incumbents and candidates to tell voters, among other things, “Republicans DO NOT want to throw doctors ... in jail.”

The rhetorical strategy made sense: Many Americans would be repulsed by the idea of Republican policies leading to the prosecution of physicians. The problem, of course, was that GOP measures were already eyeing possible felony charges against doctors who help terminate unwanted pregnancies.

The push hasn’t gone away. Sen. Lindsey Graham unveiled a national abortion ban yesterday, and USA Today took note of a key provision of the South Carolina Republican’s proposal.

His bill also includes criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions, including up to five years in prison.

To be sure, this isn’t altogether new. Politico reported months ago, for example — before the Dobbs ruling was issued — that Republicans in state legislatures have “already enacted mandatory minimum sentences that would go into effect if Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion is handed down.” Those policies include the prospect of felony charges against physicians.

After the Dobbs decision came down, and red states scrambled to curtail reproductive rights, more doctors in more states faced the prospect of criminal charges.

In Indiana, meanwhile, where a physician treated a pregnant 10-year-old who couldn’t get a legal abortion in her home state of Ohio, Indiana’s Republican attorney general launched an investigation into the OB-GYN soon after.

It’s likely that GOP pollsters have found that mainstream voters simply aren’t comfortable with the idea of physicians ending up in handcuffs because of the Republican Party’s culture war agenda.

And yet, these proposals keep proliferating anyway, at the state and federal level.