When the Republican Party finally got its chance to throw out Obamacare, it acted like a dog that had caught up with the car it was chasing and had no idea what to do next.
The GOP might find itself in a similarly absurd situation if it gets the post-Roe v. Wade world it has been pursuing – which, because of Supreme Court lineup changes and a potentially decisive case heading its way, is on the verge of becoming much more than a politically useful abstract concept.
On Thursday, Republicans were saved yet again from the fallout of their Obamacare repeal obsession when the court for the third time rejected a challenge to the health care law. But a land without Roe v. Wade is looking frighteningly real – frightening for women and the men who care about them, of course, but also for the party that seems bent on bringing it into being. If Roe were to go, expect squirming in Republican leadership ranks and, quite possibly, comeuppance for chasing the antiabortion car so relentlessly this past half-century.
Rewind to 2017. Trump was the new president. The GOP owned the House and Senate. The party had been fixating for years on the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, and using it as grist for its anti-Democrat grievance mill. Now it could finally “repeal and replace” the supposed abomination.
Women will do what they have to do
You know what happened: The Republicans considered the consequences they would bear for taking health insurance away from millions of Americans. They failed to come up with a serious plan for an Obamacare replacement. They stepped back from the line in Congress and, for now, the law still stands.
As with Obamacare in 2017, Americans generally favor the continued availability of legal and, thus, safe abortion. The Pew Research Center reports that relative to 1995, there is virtually no change in the percentage of Americans who say abortion should be legal in all or most cases: 60% in 1995, 59% in 2021.
If Republicans get their chance to ban abortion and go through with it, they will unleash political problems that might make them rue the end of Roe.
You break it, you own it – or so it would be for the party forced to take ownership of the consequences of criminalizing abortion. No one can say for sure what would happen if abortion were completely illegal in the red states or, eventually, the United States. Substantially less sex? Doubtful. Men becoming more sexually responsible? If only. More women giving up their babies for adoption? Maybe.
But history and present trends strongly indicate that many women will do what they believe they have to do. Already, increasing numbers of women with unwanted pregnancies are traveling across state lines for abortions if they live in states with dwindling clinics and severe abortion-clinic regulations.
What we can also expect in a post-Roe, post-legal-abortion world is more illegal, unsafe abortions and more women dying, or enduring permanent injury, as a result. We can expect more abandoned and neglected children, more children growing up in poverty with a disadvantaged start in life, more women and abortion practitioners jailed. All brought to you by the Republican Party.
Along with these galling consequences, the dawning of a post-Roe age would reveal more vividly Republicans’ lack of regard for the women forced to go through with unwanted pregnancies and the children they would bear as a result. As conservative thinkers such as Ross Douthat have noted, the GOP, despite touting pro-family “values,” shows little inclination to expand social services in ways that would make family formation more feasible.
Scarce are the Republicans who have stepped up to support Sen. Mitt Romney’s child-benefit plan that would make it possible for more women to stay home and care for their kids. Child care? That’s up to you to find and finance. In Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s view, “universal day care” is for communists.
Laws ripped from ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’
Then there are the political headaches that would be triggered by the overturning of Roe: the likely countermobilization of liberals and alienation of many moderates suddenly witnessing the painful realities of abortion bans, and stronger pushes in Republican ranks for a total national abortion ban and other extreme measures.
The Republicans’ incendiary antiabortion rhetoric could come back to haunt. If abortion constitutes the murdering of babies, as antiabortion language insists, and there’s no longer a Roe v. Wade getting in the way, aren’t the Republicans obliged to ban it in every instance and every place, whether through the courts or the political process?
Will Biden get in the ring?: Patients shouldn’t have to fight this hard for an abortion
Expect emboldened right-wing politicians to push more legislation that sounds like it’s been ripped from the scripts of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Abortion bans that make no exceptions for victims of rape or incest – a hallmark of the Mississippi law heading to the high court this fall. Bills like one that advanced recently in Pennsylvania that focuses not just on abortions but miscarriages, too – categorizing miscarriages as deaths and requiring health care facilities to file death certificates and get burial permits. As if the would-be mother weren’t already suffering enough, now this extra burden, served up with a sinister insinuation about her “miscarriage.”
The electoral consequences of such legislative malpractice would not be pretty for the GOP. Don’t be surprised if more than a few antiabortion word warriors do as the Obamacare demonizers did and shy away from real action if the Supreme Court clears the way to an abortion clampdown. “Saving babies,” they’ll find, isn’t as simple and thrilling in reality as it is in the rhetorical world.
A member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, Tom Krattenmaker writes on religion and values in public life. He is the author of “Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower.” Follow him on Twitter: @krattenmaker