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Republicans’ Abortion Messaging Is All Over the Place. They Argue That’s the Point.

“Republicans not having a unified abortion position is a fact. We have a diversity of views on the issue,” said Rep. Richard Hudson.

March For Life
Keeping Republicans from trying to come up with a cohesive message is easier said than done. Mariam Zuhaib/AP

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, Republicans have struggled to have a cohesive message around abortion. Now, party officials are arguing they don’t actually need one.

Republicans have experimented with a number of different party stances, from calling abortion a states’ rights issue to fighting over when federal restrictions should be implemented to ignoring bans altogether and focusing on “pro-family” policies.

“Republicans not having a unified abortion position is a fact. We have a diversity of views on the issue,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Richard Hudson told NOTUS.

Hudson has advised Republican candidates to talk about their own personal positions on abortion in order to highlight different opinions in the party rather than avoiding the topic.

“The American people have a pretty diverse view on what [limits on abortion] ought to be, and so, that’s why I say, you know, the Republicans’ position is actually closer to the American people,” he said. (Most Americans support keeping abortion legal nationwide, although many are open to restrictions, according to a 2022 survey from Pew Research Center.)

Nevada Republican Senate hopeful Sam Brown is a recent example of a candidate trying to display an individual path on abortion messaging. He and his wife gave an interview to talk about the abortion she had before they met, and he stated he did not support a federal ban on abortion, though he was “personally pro-life.”

Keeping Republicans from trying to come up with a cohesive message is easier said than done, though, as most of the elected GOP and anti-abortion advocates are unified around having some kind of ban and not unified around personal choice. Donald Trump has reportedly signaled support for a 15-week federal ban on abortion. The Republican Study Committee, a caucus that represents the majority of GOP lawmakers in the House, has endorsed several bills that have been introduced to ban abortion federally, including a prohibition on abortion pills, a 15-week restriction, a six-week ban and a total ban.

“I think what you’re seeing, and what we need to realize here in Washington, D.C., we can’t make all the decisions for every single American that’s out there. We should respect the individual voters,” GOP Rep. Kevin Hern, chair of the Republican Study Committee, said of the disconnect. “Like we’ve done with everything else out there, once all of this is settled down, there may be a point in time that then we come across and look at it from the federal government: Is there a unifying message across all of the country?”

Republican strategists say eschewing a larger party strategy won’t be helpful in November.

“Do I think being all over the place on something that is probably the only thing at this point that could enable Democrats to pull out a win in the 2024 election? Do I think that’s smart? No, I don’t think that’s smart,” said Liz Mair, a longtime GOP strategist.

Mair told NOTUS Republicans used to be able to avoid specific policy questions on abortion and focus on opposing Roe v. Wade itself. But now Republicans now have to figure out a way to speak about a topic that has turned into a political winner for Democrats, particularly among younger voters.

“I think if the Republican Party had a more unified message, it would probably be beneficial. I just don’t see that happening,” Sean Spicer, former chief strategist for the Republican National Committee and White House press secretary under Trump, told NOTUS. He added that there’s too much conflict in the party to make one single-party message.

“The dog finally caught the car, and I don’t think anyone has figured out how to message this,” Spicer said.

After the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday in a case seeking to reimpose restrictions on abortion pills, many Democrats put out statements supportive of abortion rights as strategists and advocates see the case as having the potential to bring out voters in November the same way Dobbs did in 2022. Most Republicans, on the other hand, were notably quiet.

Anti-abortion advocates say they are not satisfied with Republicans’ lack of a unified message, and if they don’t take a specific stance, they risk losing that part of their base.

“If you want to get pro-lifers to come out and door-knock for you and be excited to go to the ballot and vote for you, then yes, you have got to have a clear policy,” said Tina Whittington, executive vice president of Students for Life. “We’re an important voting bloc, and I tell you, there’s a lot of people who vote pro-life first and vote pro-life only.”

“It does hurt us; we need a unified message,” said Mark Lee Dickson, a Texas anti-abortion advocate who helped pave the way for Texas’ lawsuit-enforced six-week ban and several city ordinance restrictions. Dickson added that anti-abortion activists “are going to say that unborn human beings should be protected from the point of conception. … How we get there is different, and so that is challenging, but we do need to see more unity.”

Some Republicans say that they might not have a specific stance on when to limit abortion, but they are united on other abortion policies.

“We might differ on the means to the end strategy,” said Rep. Chris Smith, chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus, but they’re together when it comes to things like opposing public funding for abortion, opposing the Food and Drug Administration’s removal of restrictions on abortion pills and opposing Democrats on abortion rights.

Democrats’ messaging has focused largely on women’s rights and bodily autonomy. No matter how Republicans have responded — primarily calling Democrats too lenient on abortion — Democrats have stayed consistent in their messaging.

“The Republicans may not want to have a unified abortion message that is heard nationally because their underlying goal to ban abortion nationwide is wildly unpopular,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a Biden campaign press conference earlier this week. “They think that will help them at the ballot box. But make no mistake, every move the Republicans are making aims toward banning abortion nationwide.”

Democratic strategists say that even as Republicans try to stay away from taking a firm party stance on abortion, they can’t escape the issue.

“The problem isn’t the lack of a message — it’s that everyone knows they’re the ones to overturn Roe,” said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist. “They can’t undo that now.”

Oriana González is a reporter at NOTUS.