VAny politicians in the Republican Party should be deeply shocked that voters in the reliably conservative state of Kansas have now defended their state’s far-reaching abortion rights with such a clear majority. They shouldn’t be surprised, however. Because the result of the referendum reflects quite exactly what pollsters have found again and again for many years: There is no majority in the population of the United States for abortion bans of the kind that many Republican politicians have been clamoring for for a long time.
Unlike a referendum, good opinion polls also provide an indication of the motives. So far, the findings of the pollsters do not indicate that too many supporters of the Republicans want to campaign for an even more liberal abortion law. But there are also many citizens in the conservative half of America who do not want to upset the status quo. In Kansas, that now means a Supreme Court ruling has stood that the basic rights enshrined in the state’s constitution include a right to an abortion.
An island in the Midwest
Ironically, this state in the so-called Bible Belt with a large evangelical congregation and a Catholic archbishop celebrated by anti-abortionists, with overwhelming Republican majorities in both chambers of parliament and a 15 percentage point lead of Donald Trump over Joe Biden in the 2020 election now forms a kind island in the Midwest. Women from neighboring states like Oklahoma or Nebraska will not have to travel to a left-liberal coastal state to have an abortion.
The Kansas case has many peculiarities: The very broad interpretation of the constitution by the state Supreme Court meant that only an amendment to the constitution would allow Parliament to substantially restrict the right to abortion. The language proposed by anti-abortion advocates was very complicated, and conservative spokesmen will use it as an excuse to gloss over defeat. But the Republican Party needs to realize that while their Kulturkampf is mobilizing many Americans, it is also frightening many voters who are actually open to the Republican worldview.
Acknowledging that, however, would require a U-turn from most of the leading Republicans, which is difficult to imagine given the apodictic arguments of the pro-lifers. The pressure for this should not be great enough for the time being. Because another referendum with immediate legal consequences like the one in Kansas is not “threatening” the Republicans at the moment, and in general elections, abortion has so far been decisive for hardly any Americans in the right-wing camp. That could change after the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to abortion and thus left the regulation to the fifty states. In times of inflation and fears of war, however, this should be a manageable phenomenon.
Rather, abortion law in the (nominatively) United States is likely to remain patchy, confusing and volatile for the long term. An agreement on a uniform federal regulation would only be conceivable if both parties disarmed ideologically. But for this to happen, the Republican Party, of all people, which is largely proud of populism, would have to admit a misjudgment: it does not speak for a “silent majority”, but has been singing the song of a noisy minority for decades.
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