Republicans attempting to move away from ‘pro-life’ terminology: ‘Need to be specific’

Young people hold prolife signs during the 2015 March for Life in Washington DC on Jan 22 2015 Credit Addie Mena CNA CNA 1 22 15 The March for Life in Washington, D.C., Jan. 22, 2015. | Addie Mena/CNA.

Republicans on Capitol Hill are reportedly attempting to move away from the long-used moniker of “pro-life” to describe their views on abortion in the wake of polling that allegedly shows shifting public sentiment toward that term. 

NBC News reported this week that a recent closed-door session of Senate Republicans featured polling numbers from a GOP super PAC showing voters “reacting differently” to terms such as “pro-life” and “pro-choice.”

Those expressions have been mainstays in the U.S. abortion debate for decades. Yet the pro-life label reportedly “no longer resonate[s]” with GOP voters in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last year, the numbers allegedly showed. 

NBC said it had not reviewed the poll data, leaving the methodology of the polling unclear. But several Republican politicians indicated the numbers were enough to potentially drive a change in GOP messaging on abortion. 

“Many voters think [‘pro-life’] means you’re for no exceptions in favor of abortion ever, ever, and ‘pro-choice’ now can mean any number of things,” Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley said. “So the conversation was mostly oriented around how voters think of those labels, that they’ve shifted.” 

Hawley, who has been vocal about his pro-life beliefs during his time as a senator, argued that “if you’re going to talk about the issue, you need to be specific.”

Wyoming Sen. Cynthia Lummis, meanwhile, told the network that voters “require more in-depth discussions” and “you can’t get away with a label anymore.” 

“What we’ve learned is you have to dive in and talk to people about very specifically where you are on that subject if you’re running for public office,” she said. 

Many political analysts viewed the 2022 midterm elections as a surprising upset for the GOP. The party had been projected by commentators to pick up major wins at the local and national levels after Joe Biden’s first two years in office. 

Democrats broadly outperformed in the election relative to expert projections, which many attributed in part to a backlash against Republicans over the Roe repeal. 

Polling from 2020 showed that just under half of U.S. Catholics believe abortion to be “intrinsically evil,” while just over half believe otherwise. Catholic voters were roughly evenly split, meanwhile, on the Supreme Court’s Roe repeal last year.

Some Republican leaders, meanwhile, are reportedly pushing for the GOP to significantly moderate its position on abortion ahead of the 2024 elections. 

NBC reported that the National Republican Senatorial Committee is “encouraging Republicans to clearly state their opposition to a national abortion ban” and advocate instead for much narrower restrictions on abortion.

The network cited “a source familiar with the [NRSC’s] strategy.”

North Dakota Sen. Kevin Cramer told the news network that anti-abortion candidates should offer a more nuanced and equivocal approach to abortion in the current political climate. 

“I think it’s more of a ‘I’m pro-life, but…’” he told NBC. “Or it’s ‘I care deeply about the mother and the children, and we should always have compassion. But I believe that after 15 weeks where the child can feel pain, they should be protected.’”

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