By Aaron Blake
As their party confronts the vexing political fallout of the Supreme Court striking down Roe v. Wade, some Republicans — especially those in tough 2022 races — are taking things a step further in trying to rid themselves of the issue: Embracing the idea that voters themselves should decide it.
The party as a whole, of course, probably won’t like what those voters decide, as Kansas recently showed. And we should hardly expect this approach to catch on very widely. Indeed, getting such measures on the ballot looks to be one of the next big battlegrounds in the fight over abortion, with Republicans as a whole preparing to fight against it.
But to a few candidates, direct democracy is apparently an attractive off-ramp.
This week, both Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and New Mexico GOP governor candidate Mark Ronchetti proposed letting voters decide the issue, in different ways.
Ronchetti in a new ad proposes putting the issue on the ballot, saying, “No politician should decide this; you should. We should vote on it as a state. Put it on the statewide ballots, so everyone gets a say.” Ronchetti, who has taken pains to soften his past position on abortion, adds that “no politician should make this decision for you.”
Johnson, meanwhile, suggested Wisconsin hold a ballot referendum to add rape and incest exceptions to Wisconsin’s Civil War-era law banning nearly all abortions. “We really ought to poll the citizens,” Johnson said. “And I’d rather do it through a direct referendum.” But the process for doing that in Wisconsin is lengthy and might be prohibitive.
Given the results in Kansas and the likelihood that abortion rights supporters will win in some of these other states come November, Republicans will be confronted with how to fight back. With referendums and amendments, that often means trying to control the ballot language or trying to exclude the measure on a technicality, as was attempted in Michigan. In some states, they’re trying to increase the threshold for putting measures on the ballot.
But that’s a difficult trick, as Michigan also showed. And Republicans hailed the Supreme Court overturning Roe by emphasizing this merely returned the issue to the states — letting the people’s chosen representatives decide, rather than unelected judges. But then why not go all the way and let it be decided by direct democracy? That process is still prone to gamesmanship, of course — the late David Broder will tell you all about it — but it’s certainly a logical extension of the argument.
And now a few Republicans with their careers on the line in 2022 are apparently embracing that. Of course, they’re doing so as a means to show how populist and moderate they are on this issue — or, more likely, as an attempt to put the issue to the side. But the fact that they think this is what plays well shows how difficult it could be for the party to fight back against such ballot measures, ahead of what could be the biggest round of ballot initiatives in a very long time.