Commentary

Susan J. Demas: Nothing radical about Whitmer fighting the GOP’s anti-abortion extremism

April 19, 2022 3:46 am

Sergio Flores/Getty Images

Ten years ago, I was having a beer with a Michigan GOP consultant who informed me that liberals should stop all the fear-mongering because Republicans would never be dumb enough to outlaw abortion.

“If they did that, they’d lose the next election by 20 points,” he declared.

It was a simpler time during the 2012 “Vaginagate” scandal, when pro-choice women were simply silenced from speaking out against Republican anti-abortion bills on the Michigan House floor with the flimsy excuse that one lawmaker dared to use the word “vagina.” 

Back then, Republicans were just trying to make it as hard as possible to get an abortion. Now the far-right Supreme Court is poised in June to undo 49 years of precedent and toss Roe v. Wade in the dumpster. 

Abortion would then become illegal in 26 states. That includes red states that have taken recent action, like Texas, where hospital staff reportedly turned in a 26-year-old who had an abortion and was almost charged with murder, or Idaho, where family members of rapists are legally allowed to sue abortion providers if the survivor terminates the pregnancy.

That’s state-sanctioned violence against women.

But it doesn’t stop there. Abortion also will be criminalized in states like Michigan with outdated laws still on the books. That’s why Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced earlier this month that she was filing suit to scrap the state’s 1931 law that Right to Life has touted as the most restrictive in the nation. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at the State of the State address, Jan. 29, 2020 | Andrew Roth

“Nearly my whole life, this is a right that’s afforded women the freedom to live and enjoy full rights to privacy and autonomy and equality as American citizens. All of that is in jeopardy,” Whitmer told the Advance. “Regardless of why a woman might choose to exercise her rights in this regard, it is none of our business.”

Whitmer’s decision was weirdly slammed by some pundits as radical — even as millions of women are set to lose a constitutional right they’ve enjoyed for a half-century. Oh, and about 75% of Michigan voters think abortion should be legal.

Yet all of Whitmer’s 2022 GOP opponents support the full abortion ban, with ultra-creepy chiropractor Garrett Soldano declaring that rape victims who become pregnant must “protect that DNA and allow it to happen.” 

There’s also palpable denial that Roe is dead — there are still hot takes that the Christian fundamentalist Supreme Court majority would never do so or could take a “compromise” approach (as if women’s rights and lives are a suitable political bargaining chip).

More radical laws are coming, like proposals to stop people from crossing state lines to get abortions or permit lawsuits against people who transported them.

Never underestimate the creative cruelty of the anti-choice movement.

And all of that is just a warmup for a national abortion ban, which will be a top priority if Republicans capture the White House and Congress in 2024.

So how did we get here in a decade?

Well, what that GOP consultant didn’t fully appreciate was that the strategy of cynically parroting anti-abortion talking points and passing limited restrictions to keep the religious right in the fold wouldn’t be enough. True believers took them at their word that they wanted to overturn Roe and in recent years, they’ve flexed their political clout.

You can trace a palpable shift in the GOP when good ol’ John McCain put new Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on his 2008 ticket in an act of political desperation. 

The mainstream GOP position was to oppose abortion, except in cases of rape and incest. (There were even a couple stray lawmakers who were actually pro-choice back then). But Palin shifted the goalposts to the religious right standard that abortion is always murder, with no exceptions.

“I believe that no matter what mistakes we make as a society, we cannot condone ending an innocent’s life,” she wrote in response to a questionnaire from Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum.

The phrasing is purposely vague and weird — so society has made the mistake, not the rapist? But the red line is clear: Rape and incest survivors have a duty to have babies. Full stop.

All of Whitmer’s 2022 GOP opponents support the full abortion ban, with ultra-creepy chiropractor Garrett Soldano declaring that rape victims who become pregnant must 'protect that DNA and allow it to happen.'

– Susan J. Demas

It’s not a big leap to Soldano’s 2022 exhortation to survivors: “What we must start to focus on is not only to defend the DNA when it’s created, but however, how about we start inspiring women in the culture to let them understand and know how heroic they are, and how unbelievable that they are that God put them in this moment.”

By this definition, women are not people worthy of basic human rights; they are mere vessels. That’s according to one of the frontrunners to be Michigan’s next governor, who later laughed that the controversy helped his campaign and spread the loony conspiracy theory that Whitmer faked a kidnapping plot with the FBI.

Palin deserves credit for shaping the GOP in other fundamental ways. Her indignant ignorance, like insisting being geographically close to Russia gave her foreign policy bona fides, made Know Nothings swoon. 

Her thinly veiled racism against Barack Obama, painting him as “someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough that he is palling around with terrorists who would target their own country,” really got the base going and became the foundation for Donald Trump’s nativist 2016 campaign. 

If you have the stomach for it, check out the glowing press Palin has garnered over the years as an Everywoman — a precursor to Rust Belt diner safari coverage — as another road map for how we got here.

It’s no wonder she’s now launched a bid for Congress, even though most people have forgotten who she is, besides her stint as a rapping pink bear on “The Masked Singer.” Palin helped inspire the new normal in the GOP caucus — where inspiring liberal tears on Twitter is more important than passing legislation — and she was born to hang with far-right mean girls like U.S. Reps. Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Meanwhile, rich and well-connected women like them will always have access to abortion if they need it (most of us know quite a few proudly pro-life people who have taken full advantage of their reproductive freedom over the years). 

It’s just the rest of us, especially poor people and BIPOC, whose human rights get to be sacrificed as the GOP continues its descent into full-blown white Christian nationalism.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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