Wednesday, April 12, 2023

The NCGOP's "Death Dive" on Abortion


In the first week of April, NC House Rep. Keith Kidwell (he of the mean eyes) filed House Bill 533, "An Act to Prohibit Abortion After Conception." No one much took that total ban bill seriously, as House Speaker Tim Moore has been promising and forecasting a less apocalyptic abortion law but certainly one that will shorten the time period allowed for legal abortion.

Republican legislators have been meeting about this and arguing in private for weeks and weeks, and so far nothing concrete has emerged. Tim Moore himself has said he would prefer a six-week cutoff, otherwise known as the time when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, but President Pro Tem Phil Berger of the Senate, the biggest cock on the block, has said he's in favor of the first trimester as the marker, about 12 weeks into a pregnancy. Whatever. It seems pretty clear that the Keith Kidwell total ban is not the one the Republicans are going to move in this General Assembly, though they are duty-bound to move something, to persecute women's bodily decisions a little or probably a lot further. Currently, the law in the state allows abortions during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.


The very recent defection of Rep. Tricia Cotham might have changed the calculus of just how far they're willing to go -- or maybe not. Cotham has already said that she's willing to consider stricter rules on abortion, but so far no bills have appeared to compete with the Kidwell total ban. Why, it's almost as though the Republicans are frozen. Make that frozen with fear. I'm indebted to Sen. Graig Meyer for turning me onto The Editorial Board (John A. Stoehr), who published a really insightful thread on Twitter about the new politics of abortion (since the overturning of Roe) and the "Republican death dive." Sen. Meyer suggested that Stoehr's opinion "helps explain why #NCGA Republicans haven’t run an abortion restrictions bill yet …. They’re screwed."

Here's part of Stoehr's argument, contained in a long string of tweets that I've collapsed for easier reading:

The thing about antiabortion politics is there’s no going back. You can’t spend decades equating it to murder, then go soft on murder. The other thing about antiabortion politics is there’s no going forward.  Some Republicans are now seeing that the whole “abortion is murder” thing is a loser. This would appear to be a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. But that suggests an exit. There is no exit. Republican legislators can’t help themselves. They’re caught in their own death drive....

These Republicans can’t get more in line with where voters are, because most voters believe abortion should be legal with limits here and there. At the same time, they can’t soften their position for fear of being accused on being soft on murder. The problem isn’t doing a poor job of selling antiabortion politics. The problem is antiabortion politics. To see the problem clearly, consider a secondary theme of antiabortion politics undergirding the principal (abortion = murder). That theme is rooted in nostalgia – for the days when a man was a man, a woman was a woman, and an embryo was not sacrificed on the altar of modernity. These days never existed. Humans have experienced the full range of human sexuality and gender expression since the history of humans began. The antiabortionists believe they do exist, however, for a reason: in order to maximize the emotional trauma that comes with liberal democracy moving on from the old days. Because liberal democracy never stops moving on, neither does the antiabortionist’s trauma. The trauma is woven into their personalities. It must, given the bedrock belief in the existence of the old days. But, again, those days never existed. So the antiabortionists ensnare themselves in a vicious cycle. The more they long for the old days, the more trauma they feel. The more trauma they feel, the more they long for the old days. Victimhood is the base on which they build their group identity. They can’t help it. It’s their death drive....

The death drive is compulsive, though. The more they see themselves as victims of trauma that never happened, the more grotesque they are going to be, even in the face of growing resistance by a majority of Americans that hasn’t changed its mind about abortion in decades.The Republicans have entered a new phase. The death drive is killing off their power. They can’t help it, though. The problem of antiabortion politics isn’t messaging. It’s antiabortion politics. A majority doesn’t like it. The antiabortionists, however, will never admit it. They’re victims, after all.

Phil Berger realizes the danger of a deep dive on abortion in North Carolina. Tim Moore perhaps realizes it too, but he doesn't care, so giddy is he about his new main squeeze in the House. But whatever they do to punish women is going to energize opposition. It's going to galvanize those suburban districts where Democrats have a fighting chance, even under the extreme new gerrymandering that is also coming down the track from Berger/Moore.

Fear of the "death dive" might also influence what the US Supreme Court ultimately does with the appeal of that Amarillo judge's decision on mifepristone. Kavanaugh -- particularly that party-boy -- might think twice about the jurisprudence of denying scientific authorities for the sake of religious ideology.

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