The case of a Texas woman who sought a court-approved abortion but ended up leaving the state to undergo the procedure is reigniting political arguments that have roiled elections for more than two years, putting Democrats on the offensive and illustrating the continuing lack of a unified party on the part of the Republicans. clear policy response or strategy on how to talk about the issue.
Texas woman Kate Cox, a Dallas-area mother of two, has become the living embodiment of what Democrats say remains one of their strongest arguments heading into the 2024 elections: that Republicans They will ban all abortions. Ms. Cox was more than 20 weeks pregnant with a fetus that had a fatal genetic abnormality known as trisomy 18, and lawyers and doctors argued that carrying the pregnancy to term risked her health and her future fertility.
Her lawsuit was one of the first attempts by an individual woman to challenge the enforcement of abortion bans imposed by Republican states after Roe v. Wade was revoked a year and a half ago. Hours before the Texas Supreme Court ruled against granting Ms. Cox a medical exemption to the state's abortion bans, she had decided to travel to receive the procedure in a state where it remained legal.
From senior officials in President Biden's campaign to candidates in battleground states, Democrats seized on Ms. Cox's plight as a warning to voters next year, highlighting her plight as they have done with the heartbreaking and deeply personal stories of other women and girls since Roe. was annulled.
Rep. Colin Allred, the Texas Democrat running to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz, called the ruling emblematic of the type of abortion bans Republicans would enact across the country.
“This is not an unintended consequence of these extreme policies; this is exactly what people like Ted Cruz wanted and a fairly predictable outcome of their policies,” Allred said. “Unfortunately, Kate's story won't be the last we hear like this.”
Biden's campaign offered an even simpler message on the case: blame Trump. Campaign aides connected the case directly to Trump's legacy as president, noting that he named three of the Supreme Court justices who cast decisive votes in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, the ruling that overturned Roe in 2022.
“This is happening right here in the United States of America, and it is happening because of Donald Trump,” Julie Chávez Rodríguez, Biden's campaign manager, said in a call with reporters. “As the chaos and cruelty created by Trump's work to overturn Roe v. Wade continues to get worse across the country, stories like Kate Cox's in Texas have become all too common.”
The party's quick embrace of Ms. Cox underscores how Democrats plan to put abortion rights at the center of their political campaigns next year, as part of an effort to replicate their 2022 midterms playbook. and transform the 2024 elections into another referendum on the right to abortion.
His attacks were largely met with silence from Republicans.
At a town hall hosted by CNN in Des Moines on Tuesday night, Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, avoided giving a direct answer to a question about whether women in Cox's position should be forced to carry their babies to term. DeSantis noted that a six-week abortion ban he signed in Florida this year contained exceptions in the case of a fatal fetal anomaly or to save the woman's life.
“I understand that these things get a lot of attention from the press. But that is a very small percentage that those exceptions cover,” she added. “There are many other situations where we have the opportunity to realize really good human potential and we have worked to protect as many lives as we could in Florida.”
Republican strategists working for the party's Senate campaign committee and other candidates have urged their politicians to declare their support for “reasonable limits” on late-term abortions with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother, part of an effort to create a more popular answer on the topic. While most Americans support abortion rights, they also support restrictions later in pregnancy, particularly as women move into the second trimester.
However, as Cox's situation shows, the confusing medical realities of pregnancy can challenge those poll-tested positions. Ms. Cox was denied exactly the kind of medical exception that many Republicans now support. In Congress, Republicans have been trying to enact a federal ban on abortions after 20 weeks (a marker Cox had passed during her pregnancy) for about a decade.
“It used to be a good political idea to talk about post-abortion,” said Mary Ziegler, a law professor and abortion historian at the University of California, Davis. “The statements simply don't come across in the same way when abortion bans are actually enforced and when patients themselves are speaking up.”
Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and Republican presidential candidate, deflected when asked if she would support rulings similar to the Texas Supreme Court's that block an individual woman's decisions on the matter. Ms. Haley has positioned herself as seeking “consensus” on the issue, arguing that she is “unreservedly pro-life” and that decisions about whether or not to undergo the procedure are deeply personal.
“You have to show compassion and humanize the situation,” Ms. Haley said, speaking afterward at a packed public meeting at a ski area in Manchester, New Jersey. “We don't want any woman to sit there and have to deal with a rare disease.” situation and having to give birth to a baby in those types of circumstances, just like we don't want women to abort at 37, 38, 39 weeks.”
That kind of response is unlikely to satisfy the socially conservative flank of the party's base. Tensions between anti-abortion activists and establishment Republicans, who are more willing to compromise on the issue for political gain, flared as the party debated Ms Cox's case.
“The pro-life movement has moved from compassion for the child to cruelty toward the mother (and child),” Ann Coulter, the conservative commentator, posted on social media. “Trisomy 18 is not a condition compatible with life.”
Rick Santorum, the socially conservative former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, responded with a photo of his daughter Bella. “Meet my daughter incompatible with life,” he wrote. “Every child deserves a chance to live, not to be brutally dismembered for not being perfect.”
Ardent anti-abortion advocates like Santorum argue that just as the law would not allow the killing of a terminally ill adult, it should prohibit the abortion of a fetus with a fatal diagnosis, like Cox's.
“There are two patients involved, and subjecting one of them to a brutal abortion will never be the compassionate response,” said Katie Daniel, state policy director for SBA Pro-Life America, an anti-abortion political organization. “Texas law protects mothers who need life-saving care in a medical emergency, which a doctor can provide without deliberately taking the patient's life and without involving the court.”
The argument that abortion is akin to murder, a core belief of the anti-abortion movement, is harder to make when it is no longer hypothetical. As conservative states began enforcing bans that virtually ban abortion entirely, pregnant women have become some of Democrats' strongest messengers.
In Ohio, the story of a girl who was raped at age 9 and had to travel to Indiana to terminate her pregnancy at age 10 became a national controversy after Republicans publicly questioned the veracity of the story. And in Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, spent nearly $2 million on eye-popping ads for his re-election campaign featuring Hadley Duvall, a young woman who said she was raped by her stepfather as a child.
Eric Hyers, Beshear's campaign manager, said those ads had the greatest impact among older men who live in more rural and conservative parts of the state.
“A lot of people have never had to think about this in the terms that Hadley was describing,” Hyers said. “This is the road map for how Democrats should talk about this in tough states like Kentucky and specifically how extreme these laws and bans are.”
Across the country, activists have been pushing to introduce ballot measures that would enshrine abortion rights in state constitutions. Many Democrats believe such referendums could help energize their voters, increasing turnout in Arizona, Florida and other crucial states. In Florida, abortion rights supporters said they were close to collecting the necessary number of signatures to put an amendment to the state constitution to a vote.
Some Democrats say such measures are not enough, particularly for women in conservative states like Texas, where legislation had already almost completely banned abortion even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe.
“It is absolutely unacceptable that women have to ask permission to receive life-saving medical care,” said Ashley All, who helped lead a campaign for an abortion rights ballot measure in Kansas and is urging Democrats to push legislation that codifies the right to abortion in federal law. “The fact that we're not making some kind of national effort to fix that problem is frustrating.”
Nicolas Nehamas and Jazmín Ulloa contributed reports.
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