Resolute Square

A Civil Rights Battle In Red States: How To Win

The only factor Republicans did not account for in their decades-long diabolical plan to restrict women’s healthcare and endanger their lives was the modern backlash they would face from voters.
Credit: (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/via Getty Images)
Published:January 12, 2023

Despite six in ten Americans saying that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, the actuality of legislating for these protections will be difficult in certain states. After the Supreme Court eradicated decades-long federal protections for a woman’s right to seek an abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson last summer, different laws went into effect all over the country.

Conservative states had been busy enacting laws for years in preparation for this new Dobbs ruling, which was only possible thanks to organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society, securing Supreme Court Justices that would willingly overturn nearly 50 years of established legal precedent. After Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, the Christian Right established conservative organizations like the ones named above to set their fifty-year plan in motion.

While Conservatives made restrictive laws within their states to challenge the constitutionality of Roe, a process that would take decades, they also fostered the development of conservative lawyers and judges, who could be appointed to fill key seats that might have a hand in overturning certain abortion protections.

Throughout the 2000s, Conservatives sought to enact targeted restrictions on abortion providers called “TRAP” laws. TRAP laws sought to shut down abortion providers and make it more difficult for people to access abortion, all under the faux premise of “protecting women.” They were fueled by a heavily Republican majority in statehouses all over America and continued well into the 2010s.

By placing more and more restrictions on abortion clinics, legislators in conservative states were able to effectively shut down more clinics across the country. By 2018, only one facility remained open for the State of Missouri, as clinics could no longer meet new state requirements and were forced to close.

Another prong of attack by conservative jurists and scholars was the creation of Heartbeat Bill abortion restrictions in states like Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Georgia. Knowing that it would take years for cases like these to make their way to the US Supreme Court, Republicans established these regulations so that they could challenge rights granted so long ago in Roe.

None of this would have come to fruition for Conservatives without the judicial nominations of President Donald J. Trump, who appointed more than 200 judges to the federal bench in a single term, more than President Barack Obama appointed in his two terms. Additionally, and most importantly, conservative organizations were able to get their judicial nominees put in place through Trump, who was able to appoint three Supreme Court Justices, thanks to additional help from then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

The only factor Republicans did not account for in their decades-long diabolical plan to restrict women’s healthcare and endanger their lives was the modern backlash they would face from voters who had continued to evolve in a way that staunch Conservatives had clearly rejected. The detailed work and layers of legislation in conservative states still remain, however, as does the Trump-induced Conservative Supreme Court majority.

This means that those who endeavor to protect a woman’s right to complete healthcare services that include abortion have to now implement a strategy similar to the one used by Republicans for the last several decades. Despite an overwhelming majority of Americans believing that the right to abortion should be reinstated, this legislative battle will be best won if we move from state to state, recognizing that the mentality of the voters in each conservative hub greatly differs and employing a specialized strategy for each one.

Two votes in Kansas and Kentucky last year overwhelmingly proved this theory. In order to win over voters in a deeply conservative state on the issue of abortion, you have to meet Republicans halfway to garner their support. Rachel Sweet, the activist who previously managed Planned Parenthood’s public policy, ultimately led the campaign to defeat the Kansas initiative that would have further restricted abortion and then moved on to do the same in Kentucky.

Sweet emphasized that the goal of getting Republican support in conservative states hinges on the need to target those specific voters within that state. No two electorates are the same, according to Sweet, and we have to research, poll, test, and work on the messages that resonate with voters in each state in order to customize our plan to target those voters.

While this form of customized politics at the national level, which more closely resembles politics at the state or county level, might seem obvious, it is a strategy that has not been employed by Democrats very often in the last several years. One big issue in creating campaigns of this nature has been the high cost of this approach and the many areas in which money needs to be spent.

The outrage over the Dobbs ruling set in motion the perfect petri dish experiment for these first two major referendum elections in Kansas and Kentucky. Money flowed into political organizations from donors who understood that everything was on the line in these first two critical elections. The result was a resounding win for abortion advocates, who knew they had the support of a majority of Americans but who needed to tailor their message to fit a local political narrative.

While it is critical to recognize that voting is still the largest tool we have at our disposal — Democrats had amazing results in this last Midterm Election, which secured the majority in the Senate and many seats in the House — we should continue to push for protections at the federal level with the tools we have in place, i.e., President Biden. We would be remiss to overlook the need to start customizing state campaigns as they relate to the issue of abortion.

The key to continuing to secure the majority perspective on abortion all over America, even in the most conservative states, is money. By continuing to fund these individual campaigns within certain battleground states, we can afford to pay for the management, personnel, and data we need to deliver to all voters what they actually want.

One race in Kentucky is vastly different from another in Kansas, and the old way of generic branding on the issue of abortion will no longer work. It’s time to get down in the mud and get dirty with local politics, and somehow that seems much easier to do when we are galvanized in our anger and outrage and unified in our mission.