Mainstream media should stop treating Republican extremism on abortion as if it were Democrats’ fault

Republicans are gearing up to criminalize abortion. How are Democrats supposed to negotiate a bipartisan agreement with them?

With the Supreme Court apparently set to rescind constitutionally protected abortion rights by overruling precedents in both Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), mainstream media outlets are returning to their usual habit of putting the burden on Democrats to find bipartisan compromise with their Republican counterparts — while ignoring the political reality of GOP extremism and intransigence.

The Democratic-led Senate is set to vote this week on the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would enshrine the protections established under Roe and Casey by barring states from outlawing abortion before fetal viability, and preserving the ability to obtain an abortion after viability in cases that would “pose a risk to the pregnant patient’s life or health.” ​​The bill is unlikely to pass, because Republicans will block it via the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster, as they have done with nearly all major Democrat-led bills in recent memory.

On the other side of the aisle, elected Republicans and the anti-abortion movement are now emboldened to push even harsher and more extreme positions. These include outlawing abortion as early as six weeks, defining legal personhood as beginning at fertilization, and banning abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest, as well as efforts to outlaw traveling to another state to get an abortion.

Against such a drastic political backdrop, MSNBC’s Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough Monday morning asked NBC News analyst and Politico White House bureau chief Jonathan Lemire to “explain to me exactly why Democrats aren’t trying to figure out how to get aligned with the two or three Republicans who are willing to join on to a bill that guarantees some abortion rights?” (A compromise bill capable of attracting “two or three Republicans” would still fail in the face of the aforementioned Republican filibuster, as Lemire correctly noted.)

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Citation From the May 9, 2022, edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe

In the following conversation, Scarborough undercut his initial thesis by detailing the extent of Republican extremism: Louisiana state legislators proposing to define life as beginning at fertilization to punish people who have abortions; the leaked draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito undermining the constitutional framework for contraceptive rights, interracial marriage, and same-sex marriage; and Gov. Tate Reeves (R-MS) not ruling out targeting contraception next.

But after declaring that Republican policies are “getting crazy pretty quickly,” Scarborough brought the conversation back to blaming Democrats. “My only question is, going back to Schumer — why don’t you get a bipartisan vote?” Scarborough said. “This is what Democrats — Democrats don’t understand, they don’t understand. So, you can't get 100% of what you want, you can't get 80% of what you want. Maybe get 60% of what you want, so you can say, ‘We have a bipartisan bill.’”

Lemire agreed, telling Scarborough that “Democrats have too often let perfect be the enemy of the good, and they’re not taking the wins when they need.”

Earlier that morning on CNN’s New Day, anchor and senior political analyst Jon Avlon also pushed this oblivious call for compromise. Avlon initially held a panel discussion detailing a number of extreme positions, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) raising the prospect of a federal abortion ban, extreme statements by officials in Republican-led states, and the dangerous legal reasoning in the leaked draft opinion.

But in Avlon’s telling, it is up to Democrats to find a means of compromise with Republicans, even as he pointed out CNN’s national polling showing that Americans across the political spectrum broadly favor protecting abortion rights. Avlon also uncritically repeated Republican talking points on their refusal to work with Democrats, while supposing that it would even be possible to reach a bipartisan agreement.

“So, Democrats this week are going to try to pass their own support for Roe. It's not going to hit 60 votes,” Avlon said. “What’s striking to me is that they seem unwilling to make exceptions to win over a few Republican votes like Susan Collins, by saying that, for example, Catholic hospitals don't have to perform abortions. What's the point of this Mission Impossible, and why not the concession to get a couple Republican votes?”

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Citation From the May 9, 2022, edition of CNN’s New Day

To be clear, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has claimed that the bill “doesn’t protect the right of a Catholic hospital to not perform abortions,” with Collins also claiming that such a right “has been enshrined in law for a long time.” While both the lead sponsor Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have denied the charge, the fact is anyone can read the Blumenthal bill’s text and find that nothing in it could ever be construed to require that doctors perform any procedure in which they do not wish to participate.

The bill would protect doctors from state and local governments enacting a variety of limitations on abortion services, and it would empower doctors to challenge such state regulations. Nothing in the bill would tell doctors what to do, and it would also obviously be impossible to attempt any mandate to perform an abortion. Since Collins herself noted that conscience protections “have been enshrined in law for a long time,” there ought to be no need to reiterate them yet again — that is, unless she is simply finding a way to move the goalposts following her own failed public assurances that Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh would not overturn the Roe and Casey precedents.

With mainstream media outlets keeping up their tired habit of claiming that Democrats need to find compromise — when it’s obvious that Republicans are the ones refusing to move an inch — the resulting coverage only rationalizes Republican extremism. As the country heads toward the political tempest that will follow the Supreme Court’s coming opinion, it is vital that mainstream media stop falling for the GOP’s act and provide coverage that actually reflects real life.