Opinion: A winning strategy for the GOP on abortion

Editor’s Note: Carrie Sheffield is the author of “Motorhome Prophecies: A Journey of Healing and Forgiveness. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.

A recent report found that the number of abortions increased between 2022 and 2023, the first full calendar year since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. It’s an unfortunate sign that America has been unsuccessful at reducing the number of abortions.

Polling shows large numbers of Americans still oppose overturning Roe, and even some red states have been voting to protect access to abortion.

Carrie Sheffield - Barry Morgenstein
Carrie Sheffield - Barry Morgenstein

Yet in some areas, the pro-life position on the issue has widespread support — and could have more. Gallup polling found 64% of Americans support some restrictions on abortion, with just 34% saying “abortions should be legal under any circumstances.” Polling from the Pew Research Center found only 19% of Americans say abortion in the third trimester should be legal in all cases.

As a pro-life Republican, I believe there’s a winning strategy on abortion for the GOP to embrace, one that pushes for a goal both sides of the aisle can support: making abortion rarer. The first step is working together to prevent unwanted pregnancies. After all, preventing pregnancies rather than terminating them is less risky for women and far more cost-effective — a win for everyone.

A crucial way to do so is to increase access to contraceptives, which is why it’s important that former President Donald Trump made clear on Tuesday in a Truth Social post that he supports access to contraceptives after some misinterpreted an interview he gave this week.

Asked whether he would consider restrictions on birth control, he said that he was developing further details about his formal policy position and would be putting out a statement soon.

But it would also help if the Joe Biden of 2024 listened to the Biden of 2006.

“I do not view abortion as a choice and a right. I think it’s always a tragedy. And I think that it should be rare and safe,” Biden said in a 2006 interview with Texas Monthly that CNN found and resurfaced in 2019. “I think we should be focusing on how to limit the number of abortions. And [we] ought to be able to have a common ground and consensus as to do[ing] that. I think the vast majority of the American people think that can be done.”

Altogether, abortions are up 11% since 2020 to the highest number measured in the United States in more than a decade. An estimated 1,037,000 abortions occurred in 2023, but effective adoption of birth control measures could mean there’s a significant reduction going forward.

Access to free birth control reduces abortion rates, researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine reported. Martha Bailey, an economics professor at the University of California Los Angeles, led a study that also found that expanding access to birth control reduces abortion.

Greater numbers of younger people embraced permanent contraception like tubal ligation and vasectomies after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturning Roe, according to a study published by JAMA Health Forum. Yet about half of women who get abortions report they weren’t even using contraception during the month of their impregnation.

The GOP should build on the work Republican women are undertaking to expand access to over-the-counter contraceptives, including through the Orally Taken Contraception Act of 2023. The bill, introduced last year by nine female Republican House members, “expands access to over-the-counter contraceptives by increasing regulatory clarity to promote competition, and provides women with options for preventative health care,” according to a statement put out by the sponsors.

It is unfortunately the case that some in the pro-life community, particularly Catholics, oppose birth control. I respectfully disagree, and I’m not alone. Even 83% of US Catholics want the church to allow the use of contraception, Pew reported. I hope that more of those who oppose abortion will come to see providing contraception as crucial to the cause of reducing abortions.

Democrats, meanwhile, shouldn’t exaggerate the Dobbs decision as paving the way for banning contraception. The Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut recognized open access to birth control back in 1965. And the Dobbs majority ruling explicitly mentions Griswold, saying, “The Court emphasizes that this decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right. Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.” Justice Clarence Thomas in his Dobbs concurrence did say that Griswold should be reconsidered. However, it’s a moot point because he was the only justice out of nine to raise the issue.

There are legitimate freedom of religion concerns over whether religious groups can be forced to pay for birth control for their employees, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor and Hobby Lobby. But exempting private organizations from paying for birth control is far different from universal or government restriction on access to birth control itself.

Sadly, long gone are the days of former President Bill Clinton, who popularized the call to make abortions “safe, legal and rare.” Now, some on the left support measures that would allow for late-term abortions and refuse to give a cutoff date for the procedure.

A bipartisan focus on prevention could go a long way toward bridging divides. Helping women — and men — prevent unwanted pregnancies is a strong message that should be embraced by both Republicans and Democrats. It’s good for politics, but most importantly, it’s good for women and their families.

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