© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute
John James
“People in the state of Michigan already decided that no party, no person, no president would decide that for Michigan,” James said recently. Alex Brandon/AP

John James Once Compared Abortion to ‘Genocide.’ Now He Says the Issue Is ‘Decided.’

James, one of the most vulnerable GOP House members, now says that abortion is a settled issue in Michigan after running on an anti-abortion stance in previous races.

Republicans have moved away from having a unified message on abortion, and Michigan Rep. John James — who has a long history of making ardently anti-abortion statements — is no exception.

James, one of the most vulnerable House Republicans up for reelection, has been noticeably quiet on abortion as he runs this year. Increasingly, the party is parroting former President Donald Trump’s stance that abortion should be left up to the states. During a recent Detroit TV roundtable earlier this month, when asked where he stood on leaving abortion policy to the states or implementing a national 15-week ban, James demurred and said he believed that abortion policy was already a done deal in Michigan.

“People in the state of Michigan already decided that no party, no person, no president would decide that for Michigan,” James said during the roundtable, referring to a 2022 proposal that enshrined abortion rights into the state constitution. “Despite the fearmongering that you hear on the left, the fact of the matter is that abortion is enshrined in our Constitution.”

It’s a departure from how James talked about his anti-abortion stance extensively during his two failed Senate bids in 2018 and 2020 and likewise during his narrowly won House bid in 2022. In 2018, he said that he was “100% Pro-Life. Always have been. Always will be,” and he compared abortion to “genocide” at a campaign event. “They want to do away with our children — 50 million dead since Roe v. Wade,” he said.

A Republican strategist in Michigan thinks that James’ current messaging won’t hurt him. The strategist described abortion policy as “a dead horse for both parties” in Michigan.

“He’s taking the high road on that,” the strategist told NOTUS. “Whereas the Democrats are going to do everything in their power to try and make it a pivotal issue again even though it may not be as appealing as a pivotal issue as it was two years ago.”

The strategist added that because James’ last House race was so close — he won by 0.5% of the vote — James’ focus on economic issues engages “independent voters who are less driven” by abortion policy.

Democrats, however, see abortion as a potent attack against James.

“John James has never truly had to answer for opposing abortion even in cases of rape and incest, but he certainly sees the writing on the wall,” Aidan Johnson, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told NOTUS. “Since Michigan voted to protect abortion, he has desperately tried to run away from his record.”

In 2022, James said he would “always vote to protect the life of the mother and her child, before and after birth,” and he told The Detroit News last year he believed abortion was permissible in cases of rape and incest as well.

Johnson added that Democrats would highlight James’ congressional voting record: In 2023, he voted against congressional efforts to codify abortion rights into law and has voted on the party line when other anti-abortion legislation has come to the floor.

Sign up for the latest from NOTUS.

James’ campaign X account is heavily focused on economic policy and messaging on border policy and immigration (an emerging broader messaging trend amongst Midwestern Republicans) and veterans’ issues — policy issues Republicans believe will be salient with voters.

Rep. Lisa McClain, one of James’ Michigan colleagues, was confident that the economy and inflation would ultimately be the deciding factor in Michigan races.

“Every town hall I do, every time I go on the street and I talk to people, it’s economic, economic, economic,” McClain said. “People are struggling.”

Tinashe Chingarande is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.