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Republicans’ Messaging on Abortion Puts Democrats on the Defensive

With grisly claims that Democrats promote “birth day abortions” and are “the party of death,” the Republican Party and its conservative allies have aggressively reset the terms of one of the country’s most divisive and emotionally fraught debates, forcing Democrats to reassess how they should respond to attacks and distortions that portray the entire party as extremist on abortion.


WASHINGTON — With grisly claims that Democrats promote “birth day abortions” and are “the party of death,” the Republican Party and its conservative allies have aggressively reset the terms of one of the country’s most divisive and emotionally fraught debates, forcing Democrats to reassess how they should respond to attacks and distortions that portray the entire party as extremist on abortion. 


The unusually forceful, carefully coordinated campaign has created challenges that Democrats did not expect as they struggle to combat misinformation and thwart further efforts to undercut access to abortion. And advocates of abortion rights fear it is succeeding in pressuring lawmakers in more conservative states to pass severe new restrictions, as Alabama did this week by approving a bill that would essentially outlaw the procedure.


These new measures, combined with the likelihood that the Supreme Court will agree to take up at least one case in the coming months where Roe v. Wade will be tested, have stirred intense passions on both sides and elevated abortion into a prominent issue in the presidential race.


Much to the distress of abortion rights supporters, their own polling is showing that the right’s message is penetrating beyond the social conservatives who make up a large part of the Republican base. Surveys conducted for progressive groups in recent weeks found that more than half of Americans were aware of the “infanticide” claims that President Trump and his party have started making when describing abortions that occur later in pregnancy.


Initially, many Democrats and abortion rights groups believed the notion was so absurd that it was not worth responding to it. But they discovered that was a dangerous assumption to make in an information environment dominated by Mr. Trump.


“Sometimes there is a temptation to let the absurdity stand on its own, but we have to recognize that this is a different time,” said Dr. Leana Wen, the president of Planned Parenthood. “He’s deliberately conflating infanticide with abortion late in pregnancy. And it’s important that we as doctors and health care providers explain the extremely rare and devastating circumstances of abortion later in pregnancy.”


Mr. Trump is using the issue to rouse his base, including the crucial voting bloc of Christian conservatives for whom abortion is an overarching issue. His false statements that Democrats would “execute” newborn babies — which he has repeated on his Twitter feed, during his State of the Union address and at campaign rallies, sometimes as he mimics swaddling a baby — are being picked up and repeated by conservatives all over the country.


Activists in the anti-abortion movement, who during previous Republican administrations were left to drive their messages with far more measured public support from the White House, have welcomed the president’s approach as refreshing, saying it has infused them with new purpose and perspective.



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“For too long we cowered to the side and were not able to fight back,” said Diana Banister, a Republican consultant who works on social conservative causes. “We were told, ‘We can’t say that. That’s too harsh.’”


“No,” she added, “We’re defining what they believe.”


Mr. Trump’s rhetoric has caught on in Congress and state legislatures, and with candidates running for office in states like North Carolina and Wisconsin, and it is drawing Democrats into a difficult debate over abortions that occur in the second and third trimesters, which make even some self-described pro-choice Americans uncomfortable.


What is new about Republican attacks is that they have presented the extremely rare circumstance of ending a far-along pregnancy — terminations after 24 weeks comprise less than 1 percent of all abortions — in a way that abortion rights groups say leaves a false but evocative impression: that women who are about to deliver a healthy baby are asking for and receiving abortions, and that Democrats support that.


The right is also vastly outspending Democrats on digital advertising on the issue, devoting hundreds of thousands of dollars so far this year on targeted Facebook campaigns that are reaching voters in battleground states.


An array of outside groups are involved. There are traditional anti-abortion organizations like the Susan B. Anthony List, which is advertising against Democrats who picked up Republican-held seats in the 2018 midterm elections. And there are newer players like Restoration PAC, which has been funded with large contributions from Dick Uihlein, a Midwestern businessman who often underwrites controversial candidates and causes. 


One of Restoration PAC’s recent Facebook ads featured pictures of six Democratic senators who are running for president and attacked them as the “Party of Death” for their votes against legislation that would further regulate abortion in the later stages of pregnancy; the senators, like others who voted against it, said the legislation was unnecessary, containing redundant provisions to protect babies if they were born alive during an abortion.


“If nobody pushes back,” the ad said, “Life will not be cherished. Its destruction will be reclassified as a Planned Parenthood revenue source.” 


Original post can be found at The New York Times