When the Supreme Court decided Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization in June, overturning the right to abortion guaranteed by Roe v. Wade (1973) for nearly five decades, it came as little surprise: A draft copy of the majority opinion was leaked nearly two months earlier.
But Republicans have agitated for the end of Roe for generations. Ronald Reagan, the first Republican elected president after the case was decided, was the favored candidate of abortion opponents based on his support for a constitutional ban.
This remained the Republican platform for decades, even as public support for abortion with either few or no restrictions remained the majority position. Republicans appointed judges and Supreme Court justices based on the nominee's likelihood to look askance at Roe. Now that the goal has been achieved, some Republicans seem to be expressing buyer's remorse.
Blake Masters is the Republican Senate candidate in Arizona. Like Ohio's J.D. Vance, Masters is a venture capitalist and an acolyte and former employee of Peter Thiel, who has given millions to each man's campaign. Despite a longstanding reputation as a Silicon Valley libertarian, Thiel pivoted in recent years toward "national conservatism," using state power to achieve his ideological ends.
A recent Politico profile characterized Masters as "king of the trolls," combative and macho-posturing, dedicated to upsetting "the libs." He supports a national ban on abortion, a practice he referred to as "demonic" and akin to "religious sacrifice."
But last week, Masters tried to pivot to a position more aligned with mainstream polling. Masters released an ad saying that his opponent, Sen. Mark Kelly (D–Ariz.), supported "the most extreme abortion laws in the world," while Masters only opposed "very late-term and partial-birth abortion." At the same time, Masters scrubbed restrictionist abortion proposals from his campaign website. CNN reported that another Republican, Michigan congressional candidate Tom Barrett, also removed language from his website that favored abortion restrictions with "no exceptions."
And this week, the Los Angeles Times reported that three House Republicans from California had gone silent on the issue since the Dobbs decision in June, despite all having previously co-sponsored the Life at Conception Act, a nationwide abortion ban "including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being."
Notably, public opinion has not changed much in the five decades since Roe: Around three-quarters of Americans consistently support some level of abortion access. It has also long been official Republican policy to oppose the practice and support a ban.
But since the Dobbs decision effectively accomplished the first half of their goal, political trends have not broken in Republicans' direction. Earlier this month, deep-red Kansas voted overwhelmingly against banning abortion in the state's Constitution. While traditionally the president's party fares poorly in midterm elections, Democrats have outperformed the historical trends in the special elections held since the Dobbs decision.
Perhaps Republicans are simply lying to get elected. Some may have actually had a change of heart. Either way, it is encouraging that politicians are adapting to the notion that on at least one issue, by and large, Americans simply wish to be left alone to make their own decisions.
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.