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GOP's 2024 Abortion Dilemma: Go Bold or Go Home?

3D ultrasound of an unborn baby (Adobe stock photo)

For Republicans, the pro-life issue has become a political albatross since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade and Democrats know it. 

"Across the country, voters are rejecting extremists' plan to ban abortion," Vice President Kamala Harris said in a video released by The White House soon after 2023 Election Night. "It proves that not only is it bad policy, it is bad politics." 

In 2022, voters approved pro-choice ballot measures across six states. Last month, Ohio kept the undefeated streak alive and more damage could be on schedule in 2024 when another 6 states may have pro-choice measures on the ballot. 

"I think of all the stuff that has happened to the pro-life cause, they have been caught flat-footed on these referenda and they have been losing the referenda," one GOP Presidential Candidate recently said on the debate stage. 

The key to these past Democrat victories on abortion has been turnout. In this year's Ohio election, exit polls show liberals made up 34% of the vote, up from just 21% in 2020. College-Educated White Women, who voted overwhelmingly for the pro-choice measure in Ohio, made up 20% of the vote this year, up from 16% in 2020. In short, the GOP needs a new strategy. 

"Republicans' best opportunity is trying to get voters to focus on something else," says Nathan Gonzales, Editor of Inside Elections. "If the 2024 elections are about access to abortion, Democrats are going to crush it." 

Then there's the money. A memo released by the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List details how in Ohio, "pro-abortion forces spent a staggering $66.7 million – outspending pro-life forces by a 2:1 margin."  

But beyond money what will the party change? At this point, no consensus strategy can be found. Republican Senator J.D. Vance says the GOP needs to make clear that exceptions to abortion should be in future bills and ballot measures. He wrote on social media, "We need people to see us as the pro-life party, not just the anti-abortion party."

Pro-life groups believe the messaging should focus on the moral contrast between the two factions. "What you have to do when you're running against an extreme Democratic candidate who believes in abortion up until birth paid for by taxpayers, you have to provide a contrast to that that is effective and that is attractive," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. 

The general feeling is that for the GOP to do better politically on this, the answer is to be bolder. 

"Moderation inspires no one," Virginia Congressman Bob Good said. "Moderation means lack of inspiration. Moderation means lack of turnout. Moderation means you lose elections...at the state level and the federal level, we need to redouble our efforts and be more effective in messaging but be bold on the issue with humility and compassion at the same time." 

What that specifically looks like for now is anyone's guess, and the clock is ticking.  

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