Opinion

Kellyanne Conway Has Some Weak Advice for Her Party

It is beyond obvious at this point that abortion is the Achilles’ heel of the Republican Party. The prospect of a national abortion ban almost certainly helped Democrats stave off a red wave in the 2022 midterm elections, and assisted them the following year in both statewide and state legislative races in Virginia and Kentucky. The prospect of abortion bans has also pushed voters in states such as Ohio and Michigan to approve sweeping affirmations of reproductive freedom in their respective state constitutions. And abortion looms over the 2024 race, as well; Democrats will spend countless millions to tell Americans that a vote for Trump, or any Republican on the ballot, is a vote for a national abortion ban.

Republican strategists are well aware that abortion is an albatross around the party’s neck. Their advice? Find new language.

“If it took 50 years to overturn Roe v. Wade, it’s going to take more than 50 minutes, 50 hours or 50 weeks to explain to people what that means, and more importantly, what it doesn’t mean, and to move hearts and minds,” said Kellyanne Conway, a former adviser to Donald Trump, at Politico’s Health Care Summit on Wednesday. During the conversation, she advised Republican candidates to focus on “concession” and “consensus” and to turn the conversation toward exceptions. She also urged Republicans to avoid ballot initiatives on abortion, for fear that they could mobilize voters against them.

I have no doubt that Republicans will take this advice; they are desperate to neutralize the issue. But the Republican abortion problem isn’t an issue of language, it’s an issue of material reality. The reason voters are turned off by the Republican position on abortion has less to do with language and more to do with the actual consequences of putting tight restrictions on reproductive rights. Countless Americans have direct experience with difficult and complicated pregnancies; countless Americans have direct experience with abortion care; and countless Americans are rightfully horrified by the stories of injury and cruelty coming out of anti-abortion states.

No amount of rhetorical moderation on abortion will diminish the impact of stories like that of K Monica Kelly, who had to travel from Tennessee to Florida to end a potentially life-threatening pregnancy, thanks to Tennessee’s strict post-Dobbs abortion ban. Nor will it obscure the extent to which the most conservative Republicans are gunning for other reproductive health services, from hormonal birth control to in vitro fertilization.

It is too much to say that Republicans cannot save themselves from the political consequences of their assault on abortion rights, but if they do, it won’t be because they find another way to try to put lipstick on a pig.

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