Forget Abortion—Democrats Should Be Messaging About Birth Control
I’m aware that Democrats often get annoyed when Never Trump conservatives like me give them political advice. But with only four months until the midterms, Republicans are still in thrall to their wacky fringe. Not only is keeping the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Kevin McCarthy, and Lauren Boebert away from the levers of power safer for the country, we can always hope that a few more years in the electoral wilderness will bring at least some Republicans to their senses and help turn the GOP back into a rational, reasonable political party capable of sober government.
So here is a piece of advice for Democrats that, might—if they can muster the discipline to follow it—pull their chestnuts out of the fire and help them hold onto the House: Don’t talk about abortion.
Abortion is a terrible campaign issue. There’s too much moral ambiguity and talking about it only serves to highlight the contradiction. For instance: Many people who consider themselves pro-life are in favor of exceptions which allow abortion. The majority of Americans are reluctantly in favor of abortion access—but want limits on abortion. And even many who consider themselves very pro-choice consider abortion an unfortunate necessity rather than a positive good.
For Democrats who are passionately pro-choice, here is a hard truth: You are not going to turn the scores of millions of voters who find the topic uncomfortable into militant pro-choice activists no matter how passionate you are.
Because that is your passion, not theirs.
When it comes to the art of politics, one of the differences between Republicans and Democrats is this: Republicans figure out what motivates voters and then campaign on that. Democrats usually campaign on what they think is important and then spend their time trying to convince voters that they should care about it, too.
This isn’t a value judgment. It’s just objectively true. Remember when Barack Obama claimed that rural Americans were clinging to their guns and religion? While Democrats were complaining that these people were not acting in their economic self-interest, Republicans were making ads about guns and religion.
So if Democrats want to have any chance of surviving November, they need to stop trying to educate and start trying to motivate. Luckily for them, Republicans and the Supreme Court have just handed them what may be the biggest stick in the last half century of American politics.
So here is a second piece of political advice: Do talk about birth control.
In fact, talk about nothing but birth control and how Republicans want to ban it. You can start with Justice Thomas’s concurring opinion in Dobbs which points out that Griswold v. Connecticut—the 1965 case that made it illegal for states to regulate contraception—relied on the same reasoning as Roe and should now be struck down as well.
Do you think it’s going to be difficult for Democrats to make the case that the Republican party wants to go full Handmaid’s Tale and ban contraception as well as abortion?
Fortunately, Republicans have made the case for you. Despite Justice Samuel Alito’s claim that the Dobbs ruling won’t affect the right to contraception, it already has. A number of contraception methods, including the IUD and the pill, sometimes technically induce “abortions”—albeit in the first few minutes or hours following conception. And lots of pro-life groups have made exactly this argument.
Here’s what Pro-Life Wisconsin has to say:
Most if not all birth control drugs and devices including the intrauterine device (IUD), Depo Provera, the Patch, and the Pill can act to terminate a pregnancy . . . This mechanism of action is termed a pre-implantation chemical abortion.
If a state legislature—or even one particularly zealous prosecutor—decides that IUDs or the pill might run afoul of the ban on abortion, how many doctors will be prescribing the pill or implanting IUDs?
And some members of the Supreme Court may be just as far down the rabbit hole as Pro-Life Wisconsin. During his confirmation hearing, Justice Brett Kavanaugh was asked why he had wanted to find in favor of a Catholic group that objected to being required to provide contraception services as part of its employee insurance plan. Kavanaugh responded, “They said filling out the form would make them complicit in the provision of the abortion-inducing drugs that they were, as a religious matter, objected to.”
Or how about this bill, recently introduced by Republicans in Louisiana, that would legally define human life as beginning at fertilization. At the very least, this would make using birth control pills the legal equivalent of storing cyanide in a nursery school play room.
This is all legally and medically complicated stuff. And if Democrats want to hold onto the House in November, their goal should be to make Republicans talk about it. All. The. Time. Democratic candidates can answer every question with “Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare—what worries me even more is Republicans are now coming to take away birth control, too.” And then sit back while Republicans tie themselves into knots discussing endometrial linings as they try to appease swing voters without alienating their base.
In June 2020, Republicans made a conscious decision to build a national campaign around three words: “Defund the police.” As a consequence, Republicans came within five seats of winning the House. Very few Democratic candidates were in favor of defunding the police, but that didn’t matter. They were still forced to talk about it and walk a difficult, often unconvincing, tightrope between infuriating progressives and looking like dangerous lunatics.
And if you think “Democrats want to eliminate the police!” got traction, try putting a few million dollars into “Republicans want to ban birth control!”