The War on Women is back, with Republican lawmakers pushing new restrictive abortion laws in state capitals nationwide. At the federal level, too, Republicans are mulling a bill that would lower the current federal threshold on abortions to 20 weeks, from 24 weeks.
Yet if the outcry against Texas' latest effort to tighten abortion restrictions is any indication, those state-level policy victories could wind up costing the party electoral victories at the national level.
In the first six months of the year, states passed 43 separate restrictions to abortion access, according to the Guttmacher Institute, the second-highest number since the group began tracking such data. The dozens of new measures have been made possible in large part by Republicans' strong majorities in state legislatures and their control of gubernatorial offices, secured in 2010 when a Tea Party-fueled wave swept Democrats from office across the country.
On Thursday, the North Carolina House passed a bill that would grant the state's Department of Health and Human Services power to "apply any requirement" on abortion providers that is already imposed on surgical centers, a move critics said could lead to the closure of many clinics. That came one week after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed a bill requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. (A judge has temporarily suspended that law, and similar laws in Alabama and Mississippi have also been held up by courts.)
Then there's Texas, where the legislature is considering a measure that would ban abortions after 20 weeks into a pregnancy, and impose a whole slew of restrictions on abortion providers. Critics of the bill argue that it would force all but five of the state's 47 abortion clinics to close.
That bill proved so controversial that State Senator Wendy Davis made national headlines with an incredible 11-hour filibuster that prevented the Senate from voting on it before the end of the legislative session. Even President Obama chimed in on her feat, elevating Texas' debate to the highest reaches of national political discourse.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) June 26, 2013
Republican Governor Rick Perry, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, has since called a special legislative session solely to circumvent that filibuster, prompting boisterous protests in Austin.
Though a recent poll found Texans evenly split on the bill, national polls show a more favorable picture for Democrats. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll last August found that a 55 percent majority of Americans thought abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
That could prove troublesome for Republicans if, as was the case in the last election cycle, Democrats effectively channel voters' outrage over women's rights issues into electoral success. Failed Senate candidate Todd Akin (R) lost what should have been an easy race just by making an ignorant remark about "legitimate rape" that showed he had a shaky grasp on the science behind pregnancies.
Yet all he did was make a dumb comment. Come next year, Democrats can point to all the new laws to claim that Akin was not an exception to Republicans' position on women's issues, but rather a loose-lipped representation of them.
In Washington, Democrats are already beginning to make that case. Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told the Washington Post that Dems were preparing to go after 16 Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee who voted in June to back a federal 20-week abortion ban.
"Republicans have shown they can't help themselves from pursuing an ideological agenda, and they are further alienating independent and moderate voters," he told the Post. "They are pulling themselves down on this issue."