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Republicans aim to paint all Democrats as radicals when it comes to abortion


What do Republicans do if they finally get what they want on abortion? The party has campaigned to overturn Roe v. Wade for decades. The Supreme Court now seems very close to doing that, and that throws the field open for potential legislation. Senate Democrats already plan to vote to make abortion rights into law, which is very unlikely to pass but reflects their position. Some Republicans have talked about state or even national abortion bans, which would be very unpopular. NPR senior political editor and correspondent, Domenico Montanaro is tracking the Republican approach. Domenico, good morning.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Is this a goal that was easier for Republicans to advocate than to actually deal with if they accomplish it?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, abortion is one of those issues where surveys tell us there's a lot of common ground. But, you know, it's been an issue, I think, like you're alluding to here, that's been the culture war issue for Republicans in firing up their base for the better part of the past 50 years. You know, there's a real open question now about what the Republican Party does nationally if the Supreme Court does go ahead and overturn Roe v. Wade, which made abortion legal in this country.

About two-thirds of people say in survey after survey that they want Roe to be upheld and for abortion to be legal in this country but with restrictions. And that's where Republicans are trying to deflect to - away from, you know, the idea that Roe v. Wade would be overturned - and push Democrats on restrictions instead. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had this to say on the Senate floor yesterday.


MITCH MCCONNELL: Today's Democratic Party is profoundly out of step with the American people on this issue. Their extreme position ignores modern science and public opinion. Leader Schumer wants the Senate to vote again on a Democratic bill that would effectively legalize abortion on demand through all nine months.

INSKEEP: Let's check that. There is a bill. Democrats plan to vote on it. It's a bill they've voted on before. Would it actually be abortion on demand for nine months?

MONTANARO: Right. The Women's Health Protection Act, this is called. This Democratic bill, you know, doesn't really say - does not really say that it would allow abortion in the third trimester in all or even most cases. What the bill says is that after viability, which is about 23 to 24 weeks, that a pregnant person would be allowed to get an abortion if there's a, quote, "good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider," that the, quote, "pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant person's life or health."

Now, what health means exactly isn't spelled out, and that's something conservatives have really dug in on. But it's pretty much what's in the Roe decision, which says that states can, quote, "proscribe," which means forbid, quote, "abortion, except where necessary, if in appropriate medical judgment for the preservation of the life or health of the mother."

We should also note that 9 in 10 abortions take place in the first 12 weeks. More than half are by pill. And yet what gets most of the attention is what we're talking about here, which is an extreme example of something that's exceedingly rare. And the energy right now, we should note, is on the right with Republican-led states, what they're doing in trying to implement more restrictions. That's what's before the court. And the leaked court draft opinion shows a conservative majority would overturn Roe, which, as we noted, would be unpopular.

INSKEEP: Senator McConnell was asked about this in recent days, and he said it's possible that Republicans would try to pass a national ban on abortion if they got a majority in the Senate, although he also said he wasn't going to be removing the filibuster to do that. Why would he say that?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, the only thing that McConnell really cares about is winning the Senate. You know, 51 seats is his top priority. He's making a base play, but he's really threatening Democrats with just how far he might go if he has the power in the Senate as a way to warn Democrats of not going too far and getting rid of the filibuster. So it's a bit of a game of chicken. You know, and if Roe's overturned, the fight really would most likely be state-by-state, with very different laws depending on which party's in charge.

INSKEEP: What would Republicans rather be talking about?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, right now, Republicans had been on a glide path to the majority in the House and possibly the Senate. So this presents a lot of volatility. They'd rather, frankly, be talking about inflation, an area where they had an advantage on. Abortion - far less clear. And Republicans are really trying to paint Democrats as extreme, not just on policy but on activism and really trying to shift the conversation.

INSKEEP: Domenico, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

MONTANARO: Hey, you're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.