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Republican women are divided on abortion as bans spread

Demonstrators stage a sit-in at the U.S. Capitol during the “Bans Off Our Mifepristone” action organized by the Woman’s March on March 26 in Washington, D.C.  (Jemal Countess)
By Elizabeth Dias and Lisa Lerer New York Times

Rebecca Gau, a self-described “reasonable Republican” in Mesa, Arizona, is conflicted about many things that her party promotes. But she knows exactly what she thinks about Arizona’s new – or rather, very old – Civil War-era abortion ban. And about the idea that Republicans like her might be happy with the outcome.

“Are you nuts?” she said, adding that she was frustrated with the ban and Republican politicians inserting themselves into women’s health choices.

Gau, 52, said she probably would not have chosen an abortion for herself. But she said she would never judge a woman for making her own decision. “It is not a cut and dry line,” she said.

Across the country, fractures are emerging among conservative and centrist Republican women, as they confront an unrelenting drumbeat of new abortion bans and court rulings. For years, the party’s message was simple and broad: Republicans oppose abortion. Its politicians rarely dove into the specifics of what the position meant for reproductive health issues like miscarriage, medical emergencies and fertility treatments.

Now, those complicated realities are everywhere. In Alabama, the state Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos could be considered children, raising concerns over future access to in vitro fertilization procedures. In Florida, women are preparing for a new six-week abortion ban to soon go into effect.

Nowhere is the conversation more intense this week than in Arizona, a key battleground state in the 2024 election. On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court ruled 4-2 in favor of reinstating an 1864 law banning all abortion from the moment of conception, except to save the life of the mother. It made no exceptions for rape or incest.

The ruling came just one day after former President Donald Trump, who rose to power in large part through an alliance with anti-abortion activists, said he believed that abortion policy should be left to the states.

Conversations with Republican women revealed a spectrum of views about abortion and its effect on their political identities as they looked ahead to November.

Some disagree with the bans but say the new laws are not shaking their support for Trump and Republican candidates. Another group, the most committed opponents of abortion, see the bans as victories, thanks in part to Trump, and as a moral call to action to further advance their cause. And some self-described Republicans who backed Joe Biden in 2020 say the bans have solidified their support for his re-election.

For Gau, who works in education policy, the new law challenged the long-held conservative tenet that abortion policy should be returned to the states. Leaving some decisions up to the states is not necessarily bad, she said, but some issues need consistency over time, and even across states. “This is one of those issues.”

She was frustrated with politicians, especially Republicans, who treated reproductive rights like just another “red meat” political issue. The ruling seemed to her like another reminder of how her party had betrayed her values. When she casts her vote, she plans to vote for Biden, as she did in 2020.

A majority of Republicans continue to oppose abortion. About 60% of Republicans oppose a law that would guarantee a federal right to abortion, and half support banning the use of mifepristone, a common medication used in terminating pregnancies, according to a recent poll by KFF, a nonprofit health policy organization. And about 2 in 3 Republican women say they trust Trump to move abortion policy in the right direction, according to KFF.

But many women’s views are more nuanced than a broad survey can capture. And there is a portion of conservative women whose views are evolving in real time, in response to changes that have swept the nation since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.


According to Tresa Undem, a public opinion researcher who studies abortion, the share of Republican women who believe their party’s views on abortion are “too extreme” increased in February to 39%, from 22% in June 2022 before the ruling.

Over the past year, abortion as an issue has quickly become tied with health, medicine, safety and security, on top of bodily autonomy, Undem said. A majority of Republican women also now cite “women’s rights” as an “extremely or very important issue” in their vote, up from 31%, a phrase Undem says is closely associated with abortion rights.

“Becoming pregnant has become an even scarier prospect than it already was,” she said. “Everyone knows someone who has had a complication in pregnancy, so this issue is far-reaching.”


Still, a vocal contingent of the Republican Party remains committed to opposing abortion. For these women, the fall of Roe was the beginning, not the end, of their efforts to end abortion nationwide.

Ashley Trussell, the chair of Arizona Right to Life, was elated by the state Supreme Court’s decision and furious that Arizona’s attorney general, Kris Mayes, a Democrat, had called the ruling “an existential crisis” for residents.

“We have an attorney general who is saying she will not enforce the law, which is terrifying,” Trussell said. “If you don’t have an attorney general enforcing the law, that is anarchy.”

Trussell said her group had gained fresh local momentum in the past couple of years and was working with Students for Life, a national anti-abortion group, to push residents to oppose a ballot initiative that would enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution, a measure that has received a groundswell of support from Democrats.


Yet surveys are also clear that Republicans generally feel less politically motivated by the issue than Democrats, a reversal from the mobilizing power that abortion had before Roe was overturned. Even some women who oppose abortion are more politically motivated by a broader set of social issues this year.

In Scottsdale, Arizona, Kimberly Miller, 61, who founded Arizona Women of Action, a group of Christian women that aims to “protect kids and restore schools,” said she supported the state Supreme Court ruling.

“To the people who want to ‘keep religion out of it,’ just realize that most every law is based on a moral premise,” she said in a statement. “We believe that every single life is precious, and we commit ourselves to saving lives rather than ending them.”

But while Miller is working to defeat the Arizona ballot initiative, the women in her network are particularly mobilized against the “politics of using race and gender as means of creating division and activism,” she said. “Parents want nonpolitical academics.”


The issue of fertility treatments presented new challenges for Republicans this election cycle.

In Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, Lorraine Mory, 70, had always voted Republican as a single-issue voter, with that issue being abortion, she said. But now she says she can’t imagine voting for a Republican ever again.

Her evolution on abortion took time, and happened through conversations she had with her daughter, an OB-GYN, throughout the Trump presidency. Mory had supported Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, until they overturned Roe.

“I wouldn’t have my grandchildren if it weren’t for IVF,” she said. “I am a very strong Christian, I think that is why the abortion issue was such a black and white thing for me before. Now I consider myself pro-choice.”

For other Republican women who back some form of abortion rights, the rise of new restrictions hasn’t been significant enough to shake their support of Trump.

On a sunny day last August at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, just weeks after the governor signed a law banning abortion in the state after six weeks, Shirley Grandstaff, 60, explained why she believed abortion should be all-but-unregulated by the government.

“I’m not your judge and jury,” said Grandstaff, a physician assistant. “I don’t think we should govern what we do with your body. Right or wrong biblically, whatever it is, I don’t believe it.”

Still, she planned to cast her third vote for her party’s nominee in November. “I’m all Trump,” Grandstaff said.


In north Phoenix, Lisa Hoberg, a Republican committeeperson, said she was “barely hanging on” to her Republican registration.

The Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol was the turning point for her with Trump. At this moment, she said, abortion policy is important but only one of many concerning issues. She plans to vote for a mix of Republicans and Democrats in November and struggles to categorize her views as “pro-life” or “pro-choice.”

“My ideals are small government, freedoms,” Hoberg said. “Stay out of our classrooms, stay out of our bedrooms, stay out of my exam rooms.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.