GOP faces new challenge in 2020 abortion fight

GOP faces new challenge in 2020 abortion fight
© Getty Images

Republicans hoping to paint Democrats as extreme on abortion in the lead-up to the 2020 elections are facing a major obstacle in the wake of Alabama’s restrictive new law.

Democratic presidential candidates are seizing on the state’s ban, which has no exemptions for rape and incest, arguing that it shows President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump watching 'very closely' as Portland braces for dueling protests WaPo calls Trump admin 'another threat' to endangered species Are Democrats turning Trump-like? MORE and Republicans are the ones who are out of step with average Americans, and that they want to make abortion illegal at all costs.

And while Trump and GOP leaders have distanced themselves from the Alabama law, Democrats say the president’s policies and judicial nominations have essentially encouraged states to pass such bans.

“He has emboldened state legislatures across the country to do the unthinkable — an all-out attack on women’s reproductive freedom,” Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandSteve King to Gillibrand: Odds of me resigning same as yours of winning presidential nomination The Hill's Morning Report — Recession fears climb and markets dive — now what? King incites furor with abortion, rape and incest remarks MORE (D-N.Y.), a White House hopeful, said at an abortion-rights rally Tuesday on the steps of the Supreme Court.

Trump has relied heavily on a messaging campaign that paints Democrats as extremists who support “infanticide” and “executing babies after birth,” believing that will galvanize his voters in 2020.

But Democrats are pushing back, arguing that it is Trump who is extreme on abortion.

Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanThe Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape Head of flight attendants group claims 'broad support' for 'Medicare for All' among union members 2020 Democrats release joint statement ahead of Trump's New Hampshire rally MORE (D-Ohio), another 2020 contender, said at the rally: “I find it insulting that some white man legislator is going to accuse women of infanticide. It shows such a disconnect from what women have to go through.”

The Alabama ban is sure to be challenged in court -- it's the strictest abortion bill signed into law this year -- and authors of the legislation say its an attempt to get the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Trump and other Republican leaders are distancing themselves from the Alabama ban, maintaining that they support exemptions for rape, incest and if the mother's life is endangered.

Without specifically mentioning the Alabama statute, Trump tweeted over the weekend: “We must stick together and win for life in 2020. If we are foolish and do not stay UNITED as one, all of our hard fought gains for life can, and will, rapidly disappear.”

But he still added, “The Radical Left, with late term abortion (and worse), is imploding on this issue.”

Other Republicans show they’re not abating on their argument that Democrats support late-term abortion with no limits.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDanielRonna Romney McDanielGOP chairwoman says Trump raised M in Hamptons 'thanks to the unhinged mob' Trump, RNC sue to block California law requiring release of tax returns GOP chairwoman hits Democratic policies with Williamson's 'yada yada yada' moment MORE tweeted Monday, after condemning the Alabama ban, that five Democratic presidential candidates are “all backing abortions up until the moment a baby is born.”

No Democrats running for president have said they support that position, but all of them say the decision to have an abortion should be left up to a woman and her doctor.

Abortions after 21 weeks of gestation account for 1.3 percent of all abortions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and mostly occur in pregnancies where there are complications or a mother’s life is at risk.

“Trump is pushing out misleading information about later abortions but the truth is that the Republican party supports abortion bans with no exemptions," said Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, a political action committee that seeks to elect women who support abortion rights.

Schriock also criticized Trump and other Republicans from trying to distance themselves from the Alabama ban.

“They didn’t call other bans on abortion extreme,” Schriock said, pointing at a Georgia law that bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, about six weeks of pregnancy.

“They’re trying to spin their way out of this.”

Still, Republicans see their messaging on abortion as a winning one ahead of the 2020 elections.

As Democrats try to tie Trump to the Alabama abortion bill, they should reaffirm the party’s “long-standing position on the issue, which is to be the pro-life party, but favor exemptions for rape and incest and life of the mother,” said Republican strategist Scott Jennings, who is based in Kentucky.

“As long as Republicans maintain that position, which frankly they have since the Reagan years, then it will be the Democrats that look like the out-of-touch extremists on this issue. If you can be the reasonable pro-life party versus the party that wants 40 weeks abortions, I think most people are going to side with you,” he said.