A record number of Americans support abortion rights and they voted like it in Tuesday’s crucial midterm elections: The much-hyped potential “red wave” turned out to be more like a trickle, a bunch of anti-abortion candidates lost, and voters chose abortion rights in all five state ballot measures.
Anti-abortion groups have taken a breath and now solemnly understand that their position is deeply unpopular, with a full two-thirds of Americans supporting legal abortion in all or most cases, and they are pivoting to advocating for things that actually help people, like universal healthcare, a higher minimum wage, and affordable childcare. Lol just kidding!
“We have a popular position. The biggest problem we have is a lack of leadership at the top,” Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America president Marjorie Dannenfelser said on a press call Wednesday.
Dannenfelser was talking specifically about her side losing crucial ballot measures in Michigan and Kentucky and said party leaders and committees didn’t devote enough resources to the fight. She called out Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) by name for not doing more to support the Kentucky anti-abortion measure, which underperformed Republican Sen. Rand Paul’s vote share by double digits.
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SBA Pro-Life is the same group that actually threatened candidates for not publicly supporting the nationwide ban on abortion after 15 weeks, introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). And Dannenfelser insisted Wednesday that Republican candidates lost because—wait for it—they avoided talking more specifically about their plans to ban abortion. She cited Dr. Mehmet Oz’s loss to John Fetterman as the poster child for this behavior:
The group, which spent more than $78 million on the midterms, held up Senate candidate Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania as a prime example of what they called “the ostrich strategy.”
“We broke our backs to help him win, but he did a very poor job saying what he would do for the people of Pennsylvania on the pro-life front,” she complained, citing Oz’s refusal to answer whether he would vote for a federal ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. He and other Republicans lost, she added, because they “hoped the issue would go away,” which turned out to be “political malpractice.”
Abortion was the second-most important issue in exit polls nationwide and the number-one issue in Pennsylvania specifically, but sure Marge. Fetterman beat Oz by more than 4 points, and it stands to reason the margin would be even bigger if Oz had publicly supported a national abortion ban.
A different anti-abortion group looked at the results in Wisconsin—where voters re-elected Gov. Tony Evers (D) and prevented the state house from getting a veto-proof supermajority—and did not deduce that their position is a lost cause, but rather that they simply need to target young voters next time.
“We had a historic amount of young people turning out to vote, and abortion was a driving factor for those young people,” Gracie Skogman, spokesperson for Wisconsin Right to Life, told Politico. “Unfortunately, for the pro-life movement, they don’t share our position on life.”
Notably, not everyone in the space is quite so delusional. Now that anti-abortion ballot measures have been defeated by voters in Kentucky this week and Kansas in August, one leader did recognize that these measures are a risk for their side. Politico wrote: “Anti-abortion groups did not seem eager to put the issue to more statewide popular votes, with Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins calling it a ‘risky tool, often used to pump up voter anxiety to get out the vote.’”
Fortunately for them, and unfortunately for people who value bodily autonomy, only 17 states permit such citizen-led ballot initiatives, because conservative state lawmakers don’t want popular things to pass.