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Republican officials press Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade

In 2020, Republicans insisted the Supreme Court wouldn't overturn Roe v. Wade. In 2021, Republicans are begging the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Image: Pro-life and pro-choice activists during the March for Life in front of the Supreme Court on Jan. 19, 2018.
Pro-life and pro-choice activists during the March for Life in front of the Supreme Court on Jan. 19, 2018.Alex Wong / Getty Images file

Last fall, in the wake of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's passing, and as Republicans scrambled to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the high court, Democrats told voters the future of reproductive rights was on the line in the 2020 elections.

And Republicans, realizing that they're on the wrong side of public opinion, furiously pretended otherwise.

In one of the presidential debates, for example, after Joe Biden said the Roe v. Wade precedent was on the ballot, Donald Trump immediately pushed back. "Why is it on the ballot?" the Republican asked. "Why is it on the ballot? It's not on the ballot."

The same day, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) insisted the likelihood of Roe v. Wade being overturned "is very minimal." She added, "I don't see that happening." Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) used similar rhetoric during his re-election campaign.

As we discussed at the time, the misleading rhetoric at least made tactical sense: the more voters realized how much damage an even-more-conservative Supreme Court was likely to do, the more Republican officials and candidates risked an electoral backlash. It's precisely why so many in the GOP simply pretended that reproductive rights weren't on the line, Roe's future was sound, and Americans could count on the status quo remaining in place.

At least, that was the official Republican line before Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation. Now that the Supreme Court has a six-member conservative majority, and with the justices poised to hear a Mississippi case involving banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, the party's posture seems awfully different.

Lawyers for the state of Mississippi urged the Supreme Court on [July 22] to overturn Roe v. Wade, taking a more aggressive approach than the one they presented when they asked the court to hear the case a year ago. The case for overturning the two main decisions that legalized abortion in the U.S. — Roe v. Wade in 1973 and a later case, 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey — is overwhelming, the state said. "The conclusion that abortion is a constitutional right has no basis in text, structure, history, or tradition," it said.

Late last week, 12 sitting Republican governors also filed a brief with the Supreme Court, asking the justices to overturn Roe.

The same day, 228 Republican members of Congress -- from the House and Senate -- also pressed the Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 precedent.

Among the signatories were Iowa's Joni Ernst and North Carolina's Thom Tillis -- both of whom downplayed the possibility of this happening while running for re-election.

A cynic might wonder if maybe, just maybe, when Republicans scrambled last fall to tell voters the Barrett confirmation fight had nothing to do with abortion and reproductive rights, they weren't being completely honest with the public.