The Republican Party has a problem: Individual freedom for women to choose how they handle their reproductive health is wildly popular with voters.
In last November’s midterms—the first general election since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade—supporters of reproductive rights won every abortion-related state ballot measure, even in red states. Concerns over abortion rights helped propel Democratic candidates to victory in race after race. With 13 states banning nearly all abortions since June, dissatisfaction with Republican abortion policies is soaring high among US adults, and 60 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
So what is the Grand Old Party to do? Their answer, in several states, is to attempt to curb voters’ power on this front (and others) by taking aim at the roles of elected officials.
In Georgia and Texas, state legislatures are advancing bills that create a process to boot elected prosecutors from office if they decline to enforce a state law—as nearly 100 prosecutors across the country pledged to do after the Supreme Court eliminated the right to abortion last June. The Georgia effort would create a commission that could remove or discipline prosecutors who demonstrate a “willful and persistent failure to perform his or her duties.” According to the Houston Chronicle, the Texas package of bills would allowing district court juries to remove prosecutors who set a policy of not enforcing a particular law—such as the state’s criminal abortion ban.
The bills involve issues beyond abortion, taking aim at the progressive prosecutors who have recently won elections in big Texas cities on promises not to charge certain low-level crimes, such as minor drug possession. But tellingly, they’ve drawn support from anti-abortion activist groups. Prosecutors who decline to file charges in abortion-related cases “undercut the gains we have made,” Rebecca Parma, legislative director for Texas Right to Life, recently testified, according to the Chronicle.
Meanwhile in Ohio, where a law banning abortion after six weeks is currently blocked by a court challenge, reproductive rights groups submitted language last month for a state constitutional amendment guaranteeing access to abortion, which is expected to go before voters in November. Republicans lawmakers who want to make it harder for that amendment to pass have been pushing a different amendment that would raise the threshold of passage for state constitutional amendments from a simple majority to 60 percent supermajority. That proposal had appeared to die last December, amid protests and dissent among lawmakers. But the issue was renewed in a hearing last week, where its sponsor, state Rep. Brian Stewart, argued that constitutional amendments “should be able to earn the widespread support that a 60 percent margin will require.”
There’s a complication, though: For the higher vote threshold to apply to the abortion amendment, voters would first need to approve the supermajority amendment in a special election this summer. And here, Republican have shot themselves in the foot. Three months ago, as part of an elections bill that will require photo ID at the polls, they eliminated August special elections—arguing that those were too costly and drew low voter turnout. So now Republicans in Ohio are also pushing a bill to revive the August special elections, specifically to undermine the abortion amendment. “If we save 30,000 lives as a result of spending $20 million, I think that’s a great thing,” Ohio Senate president Matt Huffman said last Thursday, according to the Ohio Capitol Journal.
“The hypocrisy here has no bounds,” Democratic state Rep. Alison Russo, the Ohio House minority leader, told the Capitol Journal. “Really what this is about is silencing the voice of voters and shutting down direct democracy.”