Body Blow

Mississippi, Get Over Your Abortion Fixation

Mississippi just banned abortions after 20 weeks, with no exceptions. Republicans may think they are playing to their conservative base, but they are also alienating—at greater long-term cost—female and younger voters.

Rogelio V. Solis/AP

Republicans are incredibly good at legislating to solve problems that don’t really exist in order to try and score points in their ongoing war with political reality and American culture. See, e.g., Republicans wildly inflating accusations about voter fraud as a justification for restricting the voting rights of poor people, people of color and young folks who tend to vote Democratic. And see, e.g., Republican legislation to ban abortions after 20 weeks with no exceptions—as the Republican-led Mississippi legislature passed on Wednesday.

Nationwide, only 1.5% of abortions happen after 20 weeks. Even more pertinent, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s only abortion services clinic, does not do abortions after 16 weeks. Bear in mind that the Mississippi legislature is only in session for 90 days each year—or basically one trimester. Yet Republican “leaders,” in their infinite moral and political wisdom, saw fit to prioritize “fixing” this non-existent “problem” in the state.

It’s not that Mississippi doesn’t have real problems that need solving. It is the poorest state in the nation. It has the worst ranked education system in the nation. It has one of the highest unemployment levels in the country. And it’s tied with Alabama for the worst infant mortality rate in the nation. Meanwhile nationwide, whereas far and way most voters think that jobs and the economy are the most pressing issue facing our nation and should be the focus of our legislators, moral or religious issues fall toward the bottom of the list. Voters want their elected leaders to be solving real and urgent issues rather than wasting precious time passing frivolous legislation to address fictional problems.

“It occurs to me the past few years that a lot of men do not understand how the female body works,” Mississippi State Senator Debbie Dawkins said recently, summing up her colleagues in the legislature and the process behind their anti-abortion vote. Indeed, the Mississippi law calculates gestational weeks differently than every doctor in America and standard medical procedure. Dawkins’s colleagues also don’t seem to understand constitutional caution, as courts have already thrust the legality of such 20-week bans into question.

It also appears that Republicans may not understand how women voters work. Perhaps Mississippi conservatives weren’t paying attention last year in Virginia, where Ken Cuccinelli’s extreme anti-abortion stance cost Republicans the governorship in a Republican-leaning state. Sure, Mississippi is far redder than Virginia. On the other hand, there are more women in Mississippi, and Republican voter participation in Mississippi has been declining. Appealing to—or really, trying to resuscitate—the old social conservative voting base as a younger, more diverse and more open-minded base of voters grows is ultimately a dead-end strategy. Literally.

Again, State Sen. Dawkins nails it when she says the Mississippi anti-abortion bill, which the conservative governor is expected to sign into law, “is about removing the rights of women without means, whether anybody here is willing to admit it or not.” Yes, and it’s also about appealing to a small margin of Republican voters while not only trouncing on the rights of women but trampling on the interests of every Mississippian who would rather their legislators work to address the actual crises in their state.

All we can do is hope that the United States Supreme Court continues to protect the rights of women to make decisions about their own bodies—and that the people will continue to vote against political demagogues who busy themselves standing on moral soapboxes instead of solving the real problems people face.