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Let the voters beware

The overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority in June handed Democrats an issue for the midterm elections and has caused some Republican candidates to abandon long-held anti-abortion stances in response. Let the voters beware, however.

A recent poll by Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y. found that 68 percent of New York residents opposed the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the right to an abortion. This includes roughly one-half of Republicans. Siena pollster Steve Greenberg said that disapproval of the overturning of Roe was seen in every age group, gender, region, race and religion.

This 68 percent disapproval rate roughly matches national polls. This is not a dramatic increase in the 65 percent approval rate for Roe in New York and the nation before it was overturned, but the significance is that Roe wasn’t a campaign issue before the Court acted and red states began passing draconian anti-abortion laws offering no recourse even in cases of rape, incest or the health of the woman. It’s a campaign issue now.

Democrat Pat Ryan’s recent narrow victory over Republican Marc Molinaro to fill a vacancy in New York’s 19th Congressional District provides an indicator of the new power of the abortion issue. Polls had Molinaro winning in the purple district throughout the campaign. What appears to have changed the dynamic was a late flurry of radio and TV ads asserting Ryan’s support of a woman’s right to choose and linking Molinaro to controversial leaders of the anti-choice Republican Party.

Republican candidates, already nervous about the post-Roe polls, surely took notice. An analysis last week by Aaron Blake of The Washington Post provides some examples.

In Minnesota, Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen responded to the claim of Democratic opponent Tim Walz that he and his running mate supported banning abortions by declaring, “No kidding, Sherlock. You’re darn right we do.” That was until a week ago, when Jensen began running an ad saying that abortion was a protected constitutional right that no governor can change, “and I’m not running to do that.”

In Arizona, Republican senatorial candidate Blake Masters declared himself to be “100 percent pro-life” and a supporter of a federal personhood law which advocates say would ban all abortions. After winning his primary, however, Masters found political religion, deleted those statements from his website, and in a new ad says he opposes only late-term abortions.

Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz has routinely equated abortion to murder. The TV personality now says there should be no criminal penalties for doctors or women related to abortion and he supports abortion in instances of rape, incest or health of the mother. New Mexico Republican candidate for governor Mark Ronchetti agrees with Dr. Oz on when abortion should be legal although he had claimed in past campaigns that “life should be protected at all stages.”

In New York, Kathy Hochul, running for her first full term as governor, has worked with the Legislature to strengthen abortion rights provisions since Roe was overturned. Her Republican opponent, Congressman Lee Zeldin, declared upon the overturning of Roe v. Wade “Today is a victory for life, for family, for the Constitution, for federalism,” which is debatable on all four points.

On the campaign trail, however, Zeldin says abortion rights are safely protected in New York, declaring “The reality is the law right now in New York, is the law in New York.” The key words in that phrase are “right now.”

Zeldin’s stance recalls that of prior anti-choice Republicans who tried to appease nervous state voters by stating that Roe v. Wade was “settled law.” It was settled until suddenly it wasn’t. Residents of New York, Massachusetts and other states with strict abortion rights protections are kidding themselves if they think those protections can’t be attacked from inside or from outside.

These and other shape-shifting Republicans bring to mind the Senate confirmation hearings of Trump Supreme Court nominees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. In reference to settled law, Gorsuch said in 2017 “What was once a hotly contested issue is no longer a hotly contested issue. We move forward.” A year later, Kavanaugh went further, stating that because Roe v. Wade had survived a Supreme Court challenge in 1992 there was now a “precedent upon precedent.” These words proved hollow when the pair joined the rest of the Court’s American Taliban in voting to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Like Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, anti-abortion Republican candidates may have changed their rhetoric to con the gullible but there is no reason to believe they have changed their extremist views. Given the opportunity by voters, they will assuredly prove exactly that.

Bill Everhart is the former editorial page editor of The Berkshire Eagle and is an occasional Eagle contributor. 

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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