abortion rights

Republicans Need to Answer for Women’s Suffering

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

This is what passes for good news in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade: An Ohio grand jury decided Thursday not to indict a woman on felony charges after she miscarried in her home toilet in September, at nearly 22 weeks of pregnancy. A nurse had reported Brittany Watts, who is Black, for “abuse of a corpse” over how she’d handled the fetal remains, despite medical experts having determined her fetus wasn’t viable.

The relief for Watts — in a case no woman should have to endure in the first place — came after The New Yorker reported that Yeniifer Alvarez-Estrada Glick, a 27-year-old immigrant from Mexico, had died from life-threatening pregnancy complications two weeks after the Dobbs decision. Medical experts told the magazine that, due to Texas’s near-total ban on abortions, Alvarez was never offered the therapeutic abortion that would have saved her life. In December, another Texas woman, Kate Cox, had to flee the state for an emergency abortion after her fetus was diagnosed with a fatal anomaly. The list of similarly harrowing cases since Dobbs is long: A 10-year-old rape survivor had to flee Ohio for an abortion in Indiana; a Louisiana woman whose fetus was missing part of its skull had to travel 1,400 miles to New York for an abortion; another pregnant Texas woman had to bring her own foul discharge to the hospital to prove an infection was killing her; and nine women are suing Tennessee over an abortion ban that put their lives in danger.

Republican candidates should not be able to step onto a debate stage, or into any interview or town hall, without having to address these real-life consequences of their war on abortion rights. Yet moderators are repeatedly giving them a pass. The three leading Republican presidential candidates were all on prime-time TV Wednesday: Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis in a debate on CNN, and Donald Trump in a Fox News town hall. Yet Haley and DeSantis only received two questions on abortion. Moderator Dana Bash asked Haley whether she agrees with DeSantis that Trump is not “pro-life” enough, using the anti-abortion movement’s preferred framing, and then Jake Tapper asked DeSantis whether he believes Haley is “sufficiently pro-life.” These broad, toothless questions were an invitation for the candidates to make their rehearsed pitches, frame the issue as they pleased, and avoid any uncomfortable discussion of what they think about women bleeding out in hair-salon bathrooms as a consequence of their policies.

Meanwhile, over on Fox News, Trump gleefully took credit for Roe being overturned. “I did it,” he said. “I’m proud to have done it … We did something that was a miracle.” Of course, the Fox anchors weren’t going to catalogue for Trump how many women have been maimed and traumatized by his proudest accomplishment. But the moment gifted the Biden campaign an opportunity to hammer Trump on the horrors he is so proud of having enabled. Instead, Biden dropped a seven-word quote tweet alongside the clip of Trump’s remarks. “Just like he said,” Biden wrote, “he did it.”

This lack of energy is baffling. Despite Trump’s escalating legal troubles, Biden has no reason to be overconfident about his reelection prospects. The president’s support among young voters, who were critical to his election in 2020, appears to be sliding, and he’s facing backlash over his support for Israel’s war on Gaza. Abortion rights are possibly the best shot Biden has of generating any kind of passion among his base right now, and yet he’s tiptoeing around the issue as if he can coast to victory on it without ever having to directly engage. This isn’t particularly surprising for a Catholic president who’d been ambivalent on abortion rights for decades before supporting them, but in this political moment, he can’t afford to be so tepid and cowardly.

We’re now at the top of a high-stakes presidential-election year. Voters have already made clear to Republicans that overturning Roe was a dire mistake: It cost the GOP the midterm elections in a year they were expected to sweep both the House and the Senate, and in every state that has put the issue to a popular vote, the people have overwhelmingly chosen to protect abortion rights. While Republicans try to reframe the abortion debate around arbitrary gestational cutoffs cloaked in the language of reasonable compromise, the women affected by abortion bans are quite literally fighting for their lives in the courts. Biden should be talking urgently and specifically about women like Watts and Alvarez; he should force their cases to the center of the abortion debate. There is no excuse for any politician claiming to support women’s rights to let the conversation skirt around the infuriating, preventable stories of suffering their opponents have wrought.

Republicans Need to Answer for Women’s Suffering