After Dobbs, Republicans Wrestle With What It Means to Be Anti-Abortion

Mr. Jennings said he thought restricting abortion access after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with some exceptions, was smart politics, a proposal that candidates could endorse for the states.

But when Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina put forward that position in the form of a federal ban before the midterms, the proposal earned a backlash among some Republicans who viewed it, and its timing, as politically foolhardy.

Still, in the final weeks of the midterms, many Republicans embraced a central message: a 15-week limit with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother. They sought to push Democrats to define their own limits on gestational age in order to frame them, at times misleadingly, as “extremists” who support “abortion until birth” if they refused.

Nearly all Democrats support federal legislation that would reinstate a version of the standard set by Roe: permitting abortion until fetal viability, roughly 23 weeks, and after that point only if the pregnancy poses a risk to the mother’s health. Less than 1 percent of abortions occur after 21 weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Robert Blizzard, a veteran Republican pollster, noted that several Republican candidates who generally opposed abortion rights won major statewide races in places including Florida, Georgia and Iowa. But elsewhere, for candidates without clearly defined personal brands, he said, “voters can use the abortion issue as a test of how compassionate they are, and how pragmatic they are, in order to solve problems and get things done.”

“There were some candidates we had running, specifically in statewide races, that just could never get past the favorability” issue with independent voters, he added.

Mr. Blizzard emphasized that it was impossible to know what issues would motivate voters in the 2024 general election. But there is little doubt, he said, that Democrats will continue to use the abortion issue against Republicans — and that in the midterms they often did so effectively.

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