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Byron Donalds
Rep. Byron Donalds accompanied by other members of congress, speaks to the media. Andrew Harnik/AP

Republicans Say They’re Giving Up On a National Abortion Ban — For Now

With the GOP struggling at the polls over abortion concerns, Republicans have no intention of passing a national abortion ban next year if they have unified control of government. At least, that’s what they’re saying.

Rep. Byron Donalds accompanied by other members of congress, speaks to the media. Andrew Harnik/AP

As congressional Republicans hope and plan for unified control of government next year, there’s one issue that isn’t making an appearance on their to-do list: a national abortion ban.

At least, it’s nowhere to be found yet.

Two years after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and let states decide their abortion policies, GOP lawmakers say they’re happy to leave it there — for now. As their Democratic opponents accuse them of undermining women’s rights on the campaign trail, Republicans are making a concerted effort to avoid discussing any federal abortion restrictions.

When asked if Congress should consider legislation to limit abortion next year, Rep. Byron Donalds — a Florida Republican who’s in close communication with former President Donald Trump — told NOTUS it isn’t top of mind.

“No, I think we have to be focused on what is ailing our country,” Donalds said. “Right now, that is massive inflation, open borders, bloated government and overspending. We have to get our Department of State back where it needs to be. Tony Blinken has been a disaster. We’ve got to get focused on the things that Washington is supposed to do.”

“If you read the Dobbs decision,” Donalds added, “it’s clear that abortion is now a state issue, to be regulated by the states, not the federal government.”

In interviews with NOTUS, other House Republicans said they don’t have a clear enough consensus to pass a federal abortion ban, such as limits after 20 weeks gestation. Others said the “culture” isn’t ready for a national law. And still others argued it makes the most sense, politically, to leave the issue to the states.

Their comments stand in stark contrast with their past efforts to regulate abortion on the federal level. While GOP lawmakers still agree on blocking government funds from being used for abortions, they aren’t rallying around the more ambitious abortion ban policies they once touted.

In 2018, Senate Republicans were almost completely united in supporting a bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with then-President Trump’s backing. House Republicans have also nearly unanimously voted for bans before, in multiple years, including 2017, 2015 and 2013.

So what about next year?

“I’m not going to get into that,” said Rep. Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican who opposes abortion and previously chaired the ultra-right House Freedom Caucus. “We’ve got a long way to go.”

Appropriations Chairman Tom Cole of Oklahoma suggested a national ban isn’t urgent since Roe has already been struck down. “I’m willing to look at anything that comes federally, but right now, I certainly don’t have any objection to state people making their decision,” he said.

“I’m comfortable with that,” Cole told NOTUS.

Twenty-one states have restricted abortion — ranging from full bans to limits after 18 weeks. But abortion remains fully legal in 27 states, and many have passed new protections for the procedure over the past two years. The number of abortions performed nationally actually rose in the year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe.

The congressional GOP’s newfound reluctance to advance federal abortion restrictions points to a growing divide in a movement that once marched in lockstep. Anti-abortion activists have dutifully supported Republicans for decades. But in the post-Roe era, those activists have found their priorities increasingly set aside by the national Republican Party, as GOP politicians have concluded anti-abortion policies are hurting Republican candidates in some essential states.

Take it from Rep. Dan Crenshaw. “Thinking about the politics, it doesn’t seem like that’s really on the table,” the Texas Republican said of passing national abortion restrictions next year.

Crenshaw said if Trump becomes president again, the answer is “no.” And if he isn’t president, the answer will be “definitely no.”

Crenshaw indicated he would support such a bill — “I don’t really think that’s a crazy thing to think at the federal level,” he said of a potential 15-week abortion ban, with certain exceptions — but he warned anti-abortion activists not to rush it.

“If you get too greedy and you push the policy beyond where the culture is, you might lose more than you gain,” Crenshaw said.

Other Republicans made similar arguments.

“We don’t have a consensus on it,” said Rep. Warren Davidson, an Ohio Republican and member of the Freedom Caucus. “Legislatures can make these decisions. And in theory, OK, a federal legislature could too. But the reality is, it wasn’t ripe in the ’70s for a federal solution; it’s clearly not ripe today for a federal solution.”

Anti-abortion activists, Davidson added, have to “go back and relearn how to win over the public.”

“They spent a lot of time focusing on legislation and court decisions, and now you have to really reorient them and say, ‘Oh, we actually have to win the debate,’” he said. “In a democracy, politics follows culture.”

Of the 10 House Republicans who spoke with NOTUS about national abortion policies last week, only one seemed eager to pass a bill.

“There should be some limits. Whatever those limits are, we can figure it out,” said Rep. Nancy Mace, a South Carolina Republican. “Most everybody doesn’t want abortion in the third trimester. It’s somewhere in the second trimester, whether you’re pro-choice or pro-life.”

But most Republican lawmakers seem to be skeptical of, if not openly hostile to, efforts to enact national abortion policies — and one Republican was harsh on the activists themselves. “SBA List has converted from a pro-life organization into an organization largely existing to solicit from donors and pay executives,” Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida said of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, a high-profile anti-abortion group. “Think about it: If you’re a witch hunter, you continuously need witches. Otherwise, you go out of business.”

Marilyn Musgrave, vice president of government affairs for the group, responded that even after 24 states had acted on restricting abortion, “at least three-quarters of a million abortions occur annually in America.”

“Pro-life Americans have their work cut out for them to protect the unborn and we welcome Rep. Gaetz to join in that effort,” Musgrave said.

And how does Gaetz answer critics who want to see Congress act on this issue?

“I’m a Florida man. I have to take a vote on a constitutional amendment on this very question,” Gaetz said. “Seeing that it’s a state issue doesn’t allow you to avoid the politics — it makes you confront them in the place where the action is occurring.”

Haley Byrd Wilt is a reporter at NOTUS.