By Jonathon Van Maren
Commentators continue to debate why the GOP lost the midterm elections (although they did narrowly win the House of Representatives, staving off Biden’s promise to codify Roe), and particularly the role of abortion to specific races. I wrote my own analysis on the pro-life referendum losses for First Things, which you can read here, if you’re interested. While I don’t think that Dobbs had an outsize influence on many races, I’d like to second the sentiments of The Babylon Bee—if trading a red wave for a red trickle was the price of Roe, I’d take that bargain every time. From their satirical column titled “Babies Alive Because of Dobbs Ruling Apologize To Republicans For Disappointing Midterms”:
The thousands of babies alive today because of the Dobbs ruling have apologized to Republicans for contributing to their lackluster midterm results.
“We are so sorry that our not being murdered may have cost Republicans a few seats in the House,” said the babies in a joint statement. “We know it can’t make up for it, but perhaps ten thousand children escaping a violent death will somehow ease the blow.”
While the Dobbs decision was expected to hurt Republicans, the babies born because of the ruling did admit to being caught off guard by voters. “We get it, we do cry a lot,” said the babies. “We just had no idea that people would turn out in droves to vote Democrat, purely out of anger that no one got to crush our skulls. While that seems totally insane, what do we know – we’re just helpless babies.”
Ross Douthat made a similar point in the New York Times, where he began by noting that the pro-life pessimists are partially correct—when “Americans are conflicted about abortion, a majority is more pro-choice than pro-life, the pro-choice side owns almost all the important cultural megaphones, and voters generally dislike sudden unsettlements of social issues.” That is true, and pro-lifers must strategize around it. But what is also true is that voters are comfortable re-electing politicians who pass strict pro-life laws:
However, when abortion wasn’t directly on the ballot, many of those same voters showed no inclination to punish politicians who backed abortion restrictions. Any pro-choice swing to the Democrats was probably a matter of a couple of points in the overall vote for the House of Representatives; meanwhile, Republican governors who signed “heartbeat” legislation in Texas, Georgia and Ohio easily won reelection, and there was no dramatic backlash in red states that now restrict abortion.
In other words, Republicans in 2022 traded a larger margin in the House and maybe a Senate seat or two for a generational goal, the end of Roe v. Wade. And more than that, they demonstrated that many voters who might vote pro-choice on an up-down ballot will also accept, for the time being, pro-life legislation in their states.
For a movement that’s clearly a moral minority, that’s an opportunity, not a death knell. Yes, blue and most purple states will remain pro-choice in almost any imaginable version of the 2020s, and some red states as well. But the fact that abortion is illegal with exceptions in 13 states, while heartbeat laws survived a key political test in Georgia and Ohio, is hardly an abstract or Pyrrhic victory.
My colleagues at The Upshot recently reported on data indicating that these restrictions prevented about 10,000 abortions across the first two months following the Dobbs decision. Pro-life scholar Michael New has suggested that the true figure is higher, based in part on abortion and birthrate data from Texas following the passage of its heartbeat law in 2021. But even just the lower figure adds up to 60,000 fewer abortions in a post-Dobbs year, thousands of babies across the bloc of pro-life states who will live because Roe was overturned.
Douthat is right. The pro-life movement has been working to overturn Roe v. Wade for nearly a half-century. An underwhelming midterm result is a pretty miniscule price to pay in exchange.