Donald trump, 1864 Abortion Ban, Arizona
Photo credit: Illustration by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from Cracchiolo Law Library Digital Collections, Arthur De Witzleben / LOC / Wikimedia, Wellcome Images / Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0 DEED), and Michael Vadon / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

Ever since abortion became legal, the GOP has portrayed itself as unequivocally “pro-life.” This week’s Arizona Supreme Court decision has exposed that as a lie.

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It would seem that this week’s Arizona Supreme Court decision, which declared that an 1864 law banning nearly all abortions in the state is in effect once again, would (and should) have been a major triumph for Republicans and a reason for them to rejoice. After all, they are the ones always talking about “the sanctity of life” that begins right “at conception,” or, as Donald Trump did this week, declaring abortion to be an issue that “should be left to the states.”

Well, hallelujah, guys! It seems as though the court’s decision checks all the boxes. A state is making the abortion decision (instead of that pesky federal government), and nearly all life is protected from that magical moment a few days after sex when a woman may technically be pregnant, in accordance with the beliefs of people who have zero understanding of science.

So why is it that mostly Democrats are talking about this decision? And why aren’t Republicans happy? 

Because, as this example impressively shows, they didn’t really want these things. Instead, the GOP wanted to indefinitely campaign on them, as that is a great way to get evangelicals to vote for conservative candidates and give them money.

To be fair, that is a bit of an oversimplification. Republicans do want states’ rights… as long as it’s entirely on their terms.

In the case of abortion, they have realized that, especially since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it is a losing issue for them. 

And, since Arizona is a key swing state, they understand that getting most women of child-bearing age pissed off at them is probably not a winning strategy heading into the election.

Therefore, predictably, they are now trying to get out of this situation.

Or, in plain English, they want to write laws that would allow vastly more abortions to be performed in the state. So much for “the sanctity of life” that begins right “at conception.” 

And Trump, aka Mr. States’ Rights, also rowed back his own rhetoric only a couple of days after making his “Statement on Life.” Asked about whether the Arizona decision went too far, he said that it did but would be “straightened out.” 

“As you know, it’s all about states’ rights,” he added, which is hilarious considering that it is now an antique state law that is viable again because it is no longer superseded by a later federal Supreme Court decision. 

Of course, in this case, what Trump really means is that Arizona’s draconian Civil War-era abortion law (he also mentioned another one now on the books in Florida) should be changed so that more “babies” can be killed there. 

While that’s politically sensible, it also reveals a division in the GOP. 

On the one hand, there are the true believers who want to protect babies (or cell clusters they call babies). That might be scientifically questionable but at least they have principles. 

This group includes Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, who expressed that she was “deeply disappointed” in Trump for coming out against a national abortion ban. 

On the other hand, you have virtually all GOP leaders who want to take advantage of the true believers so they can get and stay in power. 

You’d think that the former group would have a problem with being used like that. But you’d be wrong. 

First of all, the latter faction rarely has to show its true colors. 

Usually, they only have to talk the talk. This time, they would also have to walk the walk, i.e., let the old law stand. Instead, they are scurrying away from a near-total abortion ban.

Take Kari Lake, a Trump super-groupie and the GOP’s Senate nominee in a state Republicans hope to win to take control of the upper chamber of Congress. 

She had previously praised the 160-year-old law, which makes sense. After all, MAGA Republicans want to take America back to a time when they thought the country was “great,” and, seeing how most of them seem to feel about minorities, 1864 seems to be as good a time as any. 

Now, Lake is making calls urging state legislators to overturn the law and replace it with a more moderate version. Of course, she (and all the others) will still claim to be pro-life… just not quite as pro-life as they pretended to be before. 

But they don’t really have to worry about their flip-flopping coming back to haunt them. 

Because, and that’s the second reason why Trump and other Republicans will get away with it, the true believers have no choice (no pun intended) but to stick with the GOP. 

They are so beholden to the former president that they will accept any indignity from him and his party. 

For example, what did Dannenfelser get for chastising Trump for abandoning the pro-life movement? A bunch of mentions on Truth Social in which he called her out… even though her organization had already proclaimed that it would “work tirelessly to defeat President Biden and extreme congressional Democrats.”

So, in the end, what is her group getting for their efforts to put Trump and other Republicans in power? A bunch of insults on a money-losing social media website. And, for true pro-lifers in Arizona, a front-row seat to watching a GOP majority pass much less stringent abortion legislation. 

Sounds like a pretty rotten deal. 


  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a writer, editor, former congressional reporter, and director of the WhoWhatWhy Mentor Apprentice Program. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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