Republicans are celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade as a win for the anti-abortion movement that was decades in the making.
After a draft version of the opinion was leaked to Politico in May, Republicans expressed optimism, but largely withheld expressions of triumph. They didn’t hold back on Friday, reveling in the immediate shift that began taking place after the decision, as red states invoked laws to further restrict abortion and as congressional Republicans began planning new anti-abortion policies.
“What an historic day this is and what a great victory for life. And it’s not just a victory for life. It’s a victory for millions of people who have been part of this pro-life movement for decades, who have gone to state legislatures, who have gotten involved in the political process, who prayed … The decades of work [are] celebrated today,” House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) said during a press conference on Friday.
For most Republicans, the decision presented an opportunity to tout their party’s ability to deliver on long-running campaign promises as they head into the midterms. But for Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) — who supported the confirmations of some of the conservative justices who joined the opinion based on the assumption that they wouldn’t overturn Roe — it was a moment of reckoning.
“This decision is inconsistent with what Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh said in their testimony and their meetings with me, where they both were insistent on the importance of supporting long-standing precedents that the country has relied upon,” Collins said in a statement.
Most Republican lawmakers didn’t share Collins’s frustrations, and have made clear that the end of Roe is a launching pad for the anti-abortion movement, not an endgame. For months, they’ve been outlining a longer-term goal of imposing new restrictions on abortion nationally if they retake control of Congress.
How far they actually go could be limited by public opinion: Gallup’s tracking poll has found 85 percent of voters think abortion should be legal in some or all circumstances. Former President Donald Trump reportedly predicted that the decision could ultimately hurt Republicans politically, especially among suburban women who helped propel him into office in 2016.
For now, however, those fears aren’t stopping red states and national Republicans.
Red states immediately started moving to further restrict abortion
At least 13 states have “trigger laws” that were designed to outlaw abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe. Some of them activated those laws in the immediate aftermath of the decision on Friday.
Within minutes of the Supreme Court’s decision, Missouri’s Republican attorney general issued an opinion that “triggers” parts of a 2019 law to effectively end abortion in the state. That law bans abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy unless there is a critical medical reason, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or human trafficking. It also explicitly bans abortions for fetuses that might have Down syndrome and requires minors to notify their parents or guardians before getting an abortion in most cases.
Texas has yet to trigger its own law, though that will likely happen in about a month. But Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton warned Friday that prosecutors could start seeking criminal charges against abortion providers immediately based on old state abortion bans that were enacted before Roe and that were never repealed by the legislature. The few remaining abortion providers and funds in the state consequently announced that they would be shutting down for fear of legal repercussions.
“Although these statutes were unenforceable while Roe was on the books, they are still Texas law,” Paxton wrote. “Under these pre-Roe statutes, abortion providers could be criminally liable for providing abortions starting today.”
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, also announced Friday that he had enlisted state lawmakers to craft legislation that would ban most abortions after 15 to 20 weeks of pregnancy with exceptions for when the pregnant person’s life is endangered and in cases of rape and incest. He told the Washington Post that his preference would be a 15-week cutoff, but that 20 weeks might be a feasible compromise in the split state legislature.
“The truth is, Virginians want fewer abortions, not more abortions. We can build a bipartisan consensus on protecting the life of unborn children, especially when they begin to feel pain in the womb, and importantly supporting mothers and families who choose life,” he said in a statement.
Republicans are already calling for a nationwide abortion ban
Republicans have also started to build a foundation to further restrict abortion access in the US, especially if they retake control of Congress.
“Having been given this second chance for Life, we must not rest and must not relent until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the land,” former Vice President Mike Pence tweeted Friday.
House Republican leaders — including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Republican Study Committee chair Jim Banks, and Judiciary ranking member Jim Jordan — are already lining up to support legislation that would impose a nationwide ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, CNN reported.
That ban could pass the House if Republicans recapture the majority in this year’s midterm elections, as they are widely expected to, but it probably wouldn’t win support from a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, even if the GOP regains control of the chamber. It is possible that Republicans could choose to eliminate the filibuster to pass the ban, but so long as a Democrat remains in the White House, they would veto any such legislation.
Republicans have also indicated that they plan to reintroduce the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act” if they recapture the House majority. That bill would put in place requirements for the care of infants born after failed, late-term abortions and could send doctors to prison if they fail to comply. Reproductive rights and physician groups have previously opposed the legislation on the basis that it could criminalize doctors and is duplicative of existing laws that already support infants in these very rare cases.
And those plans appear to be only the beginning of their ambitions.
“In the days and weeks following this decision, we must work to continue to reject extreme policies that seek to allow late-term abortions and taxpayer dollars to fund these elective procedures,” McCarthy said in a statement Friday. “As we celebrate today’s decision, we recognize the decades of advocacy from the pro-life movement and we acknowledge much work remains to protect the most vulnerable among us.”