Following the November 2023 elections, Utah Republican Sen Mitt Romney admitted: “The more we talk about abortion, the worse we’re doing.”
The idiom “the dog that caught the car” often comes up when discussing conservatives’ aspiration-turned-reality of dismantling the constitutional right to abortion in the 2022 Dobbs decision. “We caught the car, it doesn’t sell,” Ariel Hill-Davis, co-founder of Republican Women for Progress, told The Independent. “Almost no Republicans are out there touting [Dobbs ] as a victory.”
Republican voters made it clear they don’t actually want to see a federal abortion ban. Even in deep-red states, reproductive rights have won at the ballot box since Roe was overturned. Yet it looks increasingly likely that Trump will be the GOP candidate this year — and his repeated boasts about the Dobbs decision put congressional Republicans who want to hold onto their jobs in a tricky spot. What does one do in such a situation? Perhaps quietly start deleting references to being anti-abortion off their websites.
Texas Republican Rep. Monica De La Cruz recently deleted mentions of her pro-life stance on her website, The Daily Beast reported earlier this month. “Monica believes in finding common ground on this issue. This includes protecting sensible exceptions for women in heartbreaking situations and improving access to prenatal care,” her campaign manager Andrew Baughman told The Independent in a statement.
She’s not alone. The Independent found three other Congressional Republicans who removed all vestiges of their once-vocal pro-life stance, eliminating terms like “abortion” or “pro-life” or “protecting the unborn” from their re-election campaign websites.
Take Ohio Rep. Troy Balderson, for example. In 2022, his campaign website listed a “Faith and Values” section, under which read: “As a Christian, Troy believes life begins at conception and is 100% pro-life, and it’s why Ohio Right to Life PAC has endorsed his campaign.” But his 2024 website makes no reference to his stance at all; the entire section was deleted. His 2022 official House website also read: “As a principled conservative, Troy supports protecting life”— but that sentence no longer appears on his current page.
Balderson did, however, boast about his Susan B Anthony Pro-Life America’s A+ scorecard rating this month on Twitter/X.
The Independent reached out to Balderson’s campaign and office for comment and received no immediate reply.
Hill-Davis — the Republican Women for Progress co-founder — speculated as to why there could be a discrepancy between what is posted on social media and what is posted on campaign websites. She said “there might be a play there in terms of getting to virtue-signal” on Twitter/X about “being pro-life and then just kind of playing it or hiding it a little bit more when people try to see whether they like you as a candidate overall.” She believes that people visiting a candidate’s website tend to be “voters who are potentially more seriously evaluating candidates,” like those choosing between a few possibilities during a primary race or more “centrist or more independent-leaning people” in the general election. Meanwhile, Twitter/X followers are probably already convinced — and perhaps looking for hardline stances to share.
The 2024 campaign website for Congresswoman Lori Chavez-DeRemer also no longer mentions the anti-abortion stance that was listed on her previous website. Chavez-DeRemer’s site said in 2022 that she “won’t stand” for “abortion on demand.” The claim was prominently displayed.
Yet in January 2023, Chavez-DeRemer stated that she did not support a national abortion ban. “I promised Oregonians that I’d be transparent, even when I know we might not agree, and that’s exactly what I’ll continue to do. I welcome my constituents’ feedback and look forward to continuing our discussion on life issues,” she said in a statement.
She emphasized this same position last June, when she told an Axios reporter: “The Dobbs decision made clear that it’s an issue that should be decided by at the state level, and Oregonians recently rejected efforts to limit taxpayer-funded abortion overwhelmingly.” Following this statement, anti-abortion groups who once counted her as an ally lambasted her shift in position, with one calling her a “sellout.”
Now, given her reluctance to mention her stance online, she appears to be avoiding discussing the issue altogether. The Independent reached out to her office and her campaign for comment. Neither replied.
Similarly, Congressman Blake Moore’s 2020 website referred to him as being “pro-life” and his 2022 site said he has stood up to Democrats “promoting abortions up to birth” (a popular Republican claim, although no Democrats have ever promoted or supported the idea of abortions up to birth). When The Independent checked his site in January 2024, those references had disappeared.
After The Independent reached out to Moore’s campaign, the website changed again. His team said they had now added a section to his website that reads: “Proudly Pro-Life.” The Independent asked why the section had been removed previously, and his campaign claimed that it was because they were waiting until the Ways and Means Committee marked up the Supporting Pregnant and Parenting Women and Families Act. That legislation was marked up on January 11 — yet when The Independent checked his website on January 23, those pro-life references were notably absent.
Moore’s official House of Representatives website, however, calls him “pro-life”. When asked whether it would be fair to say that Moore is “strongly anti-abortion,” his campaign replied that it would instead be fair to say that Moore is “strongly pro-life”. His campaign didn’t reply after being asked how the two differed to Moore. That “seems like a really weird distinction,” Hill-Davis said.
Republicans who previously campaigned on a pro-life position are “in a tough spot,” said Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California and expert on the history of abortion. “On the one hand, their positions are unpopular, but on the other hand, the elimination of abortion rights hasn’t really erased these passionate single-issue voters who still want the Republican Party to take a strong anti-abortion stance.”
Hill-Davis said most are avoiding the Dobbs decision as much as possible for two reasons. For one thing, Republicans know that overturning Roe “took away something that they used to gin up the base”. For another, banning abortion is not popular “with key demographics that the party needs to make inroads with in order to remain competitive in general elections.” Even Trump has admitted that the Roe reversal “probably cost us politically.”
Five states in 2022 passed legislation that amounted to protecting the right to abortion. Most notably, voters in Kansas — a state that twice voted for Trump — rejected a ballot measure in August 2022 that would have banned abortion. The Kansas vote, Democratic strategist Christy Setzer said, “should be a big red warning sign for Republicans, especially in swing districts…that this isn’t something that they should be campaigning on.”
Perhaps Rep. Balderson’s website omission was a response to his state’s voters. Ohioans voted in November 2023 to enshrine a right to reproductive freedom in the state.
These deletions may have also been tied to calls from Republican operatives to change the party’s messaging on the issue. In November 2023,NBC News reported that the National Republican Senatorial Committee was urging the GOP to reject a national abortion ban and to only back restrictions on late-term abortions instead.
Some Republicans responded by proposing a 10- or 15-week ban plus exceptions, rather than a full ban on the medical procedure. But this also appears to be a losing argument with voters.
Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, for example, advocated for a 15-week abortion ban ahead of the November 2023 election. He attempted to portray this as a sensible compromise with liberals.
But that idea didn’t work. Republicans lost control of the legislature, essentially forcing the governor to toss his plan.
Youngkin isn’t the only one now looking for points of agreement with Democrats on reproductive rights. South Carolina Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace has called for the need to find “middle ground” with Democrats on the issue, calling a 15-to-20-week abortion ban with exceptions the “sweet spot.”
Hill-Davis explained that this approach might appeal to some voters because “you suddenly start sounding reasonable,” but in reality, most people don’t know exactly what an ambiguous week marker means and how it would affect a pregnancy.
Enacting a ban on a random week of gestation to make your policy sound more digestible can have deleterious effects on families — as seen in the case of Kate Cox. The Dallas woman discovered at 20 weeks that she was carrying a fetus with a fatal condition. After a legal back-and-forth, Cox was ultimately forced to seek out-of-state care after she was denied an emergency abortion in Texas.
Christina Reynolds, senior vice president of communications at Democratic political action committee Emily’s List, said that while Republicans’ “comments are wishy-washy, their agenda isn’t.” That agenda, she said, “is incredibly unpopular with voters.” Reynolds added that Republicans need to “fundamentally change” their abortion stance because “voters understand who got us here, and they understand who is actively trying to take us further” in the anti-abortion direction.
A lack of consensus across the party will inherently prevent Republicans from being able to avoid being questioned over the issue, Ziegler — the law professor — said. Their stance is not obviously clear from their party status. “As some Republicans are trying to de-emphasize their positions on abortion, others are playing up their positions even more in passing even more sweeping bans, because that makes sense for them politically,” she added — like in the Kate Cox case.
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz has still not broken his silence over the issue; meanwhile, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins openly called the Dobbs decision “terrible.”
Perhaps this fraying in the party is due to the lack of a blueprint provided by Trump. His own position is completely unclear: He has bragged about the Roe reversal and the part he took in allowing it to happen; slammed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on his state’s harsh six-week abortion ban; and has publicly admitted that he doesn’t “frankly care” whether abortion bans should be decided on the state or federal level.
If Trump is the “presumed head of the party” and has a wishy-washy abortion stance, it leaves Republicans “guessing as to where they should be benchmarking their position,” Hill-Davis said. So they will likely avoid making a “committed stance” rather than risk misaligning with him in the near future.
The GOP’s lack of consistency on the issue runs up against the Democrats’ united pro-choice front, and could prove an electoral Achilles’ heel. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have been campaigning on restoring reproductive rights at numerous events. At a rally in January 2024, Harris touched upon the ripple effects that the Dobbs decision had set into motion, calling Roe “a fundamental right” that had been “ripped away.”
Hill-Davis said that reproductive rights as a ballot issue is unlikely to prompt voters to switch parties, but it could attract new voters worried about the erosion of personal freedoms to the Democrats.
Reynolds agreed, especially when it comes to younger demographics: “Younger voters are less concerned with partisan partisanship and more concerned with specific issues. This is one that matters to them.”