Idaho GOP rejects exception for life of the mother in party platform on abortion

AP Photo/Paul Beaty

There’s buzz about this on social media, never mind that it represents a minority position among Republicans nationally. A “no exceptions” rule is also unlikely to become law in Idaho, whose abortion ban currently makes exceptions for rape and incest.

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So what is the state GOP there doing, cutting a de facto campaign commercial for Democrats across the country by making “no exceptions” its official stance?

On Saturday, party delegates approved changes to the party’s “American family” platform regarding abortion. The change states “We affirm that abortion is murder from the moment of fertilization. All children should be protected regardless of the circumstances of conception, including persons conceived in rape and incest.”…

Some delegates shared stories or concerns about ectopic pregnancies, which are non-viable pregnancies that endanger the mother, and suggested adding an exemption for abortion if the life of the mother is in “lethal danger.” A motion for amendment including that exception failed in a 412-164 vote…

Scott Herndon, who unseated Sen. Jim Woodward in District 1 and will be on the November ballot for a Senate seat, vocally opposed adding the exemption. Herndon argued that both lives, meaning fetus and mother, are of equal value in that situation.

What we’re seeing here is a “one-way ratchet” mentality at work among Republicans. Having just triumphed in the 50-year war to overturn Roe, they decline to make concessions to the enemy after the fact no matter how minor, and popular, those concessions might be. The same dynamic is at work in red states that had “trigger laws” on the books that automatically banned abortion if and when Roe was overturned. Those laws were passed largely as symbolic gestures, possibly in the belief that they would never actually be implemented. Now that Roe has fallen and they’ve taken effect, however, it’s unthinkable that any Republican-controlled state legislature will step back from a total ban — even if the great majority of the state’s residents oppose it.

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In theory, in a democracy, most states’ rules on abortion would gradually converge on the position favored by most Americans, i.e. making abortion legal early in a pregnancy, restricting it thereafter, and allowing exceptions for health, rape, and incest. In practice, hyperpolarized blue and red states will adopt unpopular absolutist versions of their respective base’s preferences lest they be accused of backsliding by activists.

The Idaho GOP did approve excluding miscarriages from criminal penalties in its platform, a small mercy to national Republican leaders who’ll spend the day groaning over their dumb unforced error. They’re already nervous about the backlash to the horrific case in which a pregnant 10-year-old was forced to leave Ohio for an abortion because the state makes no exceptions for rape.

“Oh, God no,” one prominent Republican strategist said, after members of his party suggested the victim should have carried the pregnancy to term. “Very bad,” said another. Or as one anti-abortion rights Indiana Republican strategist put it, “I’m not touching this story with a 10-foot-pole wrapped in a blanket wrapped in a whatever.”…

“These are the kind of things that are going to breathe life into the Democrats’ hopes of maintaining some sort of coalition,” said John Thomas, a Republican strategist who works on House campaigns across the country. “I don’t think this is the dominant issue as we’re going into November, but these kinds of unforced errors are lifelines for the Democrats.”…

Sean Walsh, a Republican strategist who worked in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses, said the Indiana case will not only turn off moderate Republicans but will serve as a “motivator to get younger voters to vote — who usually are spotty in casting ballots.”

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A few days ago Ohio’s attorney general posted an “explainer” about the state’s ban hinting that a doctor could have lawfully performed an abortion on the girl there under the state’s exception for medical emergencies. But his analysis is questionable. For one thing, per the statute, the mother’s medical emergency must involve a “condition” that complicates her pregnancy, and it’s unclear that being 10 years old qualifies as a “condition.”

For another thing, it’s reasonable for doctors to assume that they should err on the side of not aborting when dealing with edge cases under the new legal regime. Ohio just banned abortions after six weeks; in that political climate, only a fool would take the risk of reading the statute on exceptions broadly and expecting prosecutors to be generous and understanding.

According to a new Fox News poll, Ohio and the Idaho GOP are badly out of step with popular opinion:

In the first trimester, 87 percent would allow an exception for rape and 88 percent would allow an exception if the mother’s life is in danger. “If the mother’s life is at risk, at least half support abortion up to the second or third trimesters (Democrats 81%, GOP 52%, independents 64%),” Fox notes.

As you can also see from that graph, majorities of Americans do oppose second- and third-trimester abortions for reasons of financial hardship or if the pregnancy is unwanted. That’s something for the GOP to build on, but the “one-way ratchet” effect has them obsessing over unpopular zero-tolerance measures instead. It’s a mistake.

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David Strom 4:30 PM | May 28, 2024
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