What the Ohio rape case teaches us about post-Roe abortion politics
For opponents of abortion, the lack of details about the case and its apparent convenience were reasons to dismiss it. After all, here is an example of the kind of dire situation in which most Americans would say abortion should be available, just as concerns about the availability of the procedure to deal with such situations were questioned. So a number of conservative politicians expressed skepticism about the story – or went further, saying it was fake news.
It was not. But history has highlighted two alarming patterns in the new, post-Roe vs. Wade world of abortion politics. The first is an ongoing effort to minimize the need for legal abortion. The second is that the political utility of expressing opposition to abortion has not evaporated; instead, the utility simply moved further to the right.
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The latter was predictable in at least one way. With deer being overturned, states are now free to legally restrict abortion, meaning Republican lawmakers in red states like Indiana are moving quickly to determine how they plan to do so. This meant maneuvering not to have abortion made illegal, but rather to determine how strict the bans should be. For GOP politicians and activists, the political struggle has shifted to the right, which means standing out from the pack by appealing to conservatives may require outflanking the opposition by moving closer to the extreme.
Consider the reaction to the Ohio case from Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita (R). He appeared Wednesday night on Fox News to discuss the case. Host Jesse Watters was trying to take credit for the arrest of a suspect in the rape case, as if Columbus law enforcement was waiting for Watters’ efforts to doubt the story (as he had done so earlier in the week) before moving in. Rokita, a conservative former congresswoman, appears to have shared Watters’ desire to turn the situation into a personal victory.
His office would investigate the situation, he promised Watters and Fox viewers, and press charges if necessary. Not against the rapist. Against the Indiana doctor who spoke to the Indianapolis Star about the case.
“We’re gathering the evidence as we speak, and we’re going to fight all the way, including reviewing his license,” Rokita said, saying the doctor may have violated abuse disclosure laws.
The victim “was politicized, politicized for the gain of killing more babies, okay?” he added later. ” It was the goal. And that abortion activist” – that is, the doctor – “is there in the foreground. Lame media, fake news is right behind. He said the Indianapolis Star was fake news…although their story was accurate.
This response — appearing on the right-wing favorite cable news network to assure viewers that some criminality would be found to punish abortion supporters — is the kind of thing proponents of the procedure once feared. deer was overthrown. Rokita politicizes the incident as surely as anyone else, to take a more right-wing stance than her state’s current abortion restrictions. Does the law say a child can have an abortion? Well, rest assured that Rokita will try to find a way to impose punishment on those involved, if possible.
In his response to the crime, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (right) exhibited the first pattern mentioned above: he attempted to downplay the idea that his state’s laws blocking abortion were too strict.
“With each passing day, the more likely it is to be a fabrication,” he said of the case in a media interview earlier this week. “I’m not saying it couldn’t have happened. What I’m telling you is that there’s not a shred of evidence. And shame on the Indianapolis newspaper that published this single-source thing that has an obvious ax to grind.
The Columbus Dispatch reported that there were 52 incidents in which children under 15 got abortions in the state in 2020, an average of one per week. Why was it so important for Yost to portray this as extremely unlikely? To get ahead of the local police, to whom he could presumably have appealed information about their investigation? Partly, certainly, because it is politically useful for Yost — up for re-election this year — to demonstrate his loyalty to the Republican base. And that means expressing skepticism that there are regular occurrences in which the types of abortion that most Americans consider important to protect under the law are actually being performed.
Last month, the Public Religion Research Institute asked Americans what they thought of a battery of possible abortion laws. Among the restrictions they introduced were one limiting legal abortion only to the life of the mother, one extending it slightly to include cases of rape and incest, and one prohibiting crossing the borders of the state to obtain a legal abortion.
Only about half of Republicans opposed a law in which the only exception allowed would be to save the life of the mother. Just over a third opposed a law restricting access to only include preservation of the mother’s life or pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Most Republicans, however, opposed legislation that would make it illegal for women in an abortion-banning state to seek a legal procedure elsewhere.
This is of course what happened in the case of this young girl from Ohio. Her doctor was concerned about the legality of aborting the pregnancy that followed her rape. So she contacted the Indiana doctor, where there was no doubt about the legality — at least until the state’s Republican legislature determines what new limits it plans to impose.
After deer was overturned, some abortion opponents suggested there was an opportunity for Republicans to demonstrate a new commitment to caring for mothers and their children. A handful of National Republican politicians have been making noise about legislation that could help do just that. But the Ohio incident makes it clear that at the state level, where these fights have now shifted, political maneuvering often pushes Republicans not in the middle but more to the right.