In the 18 months since the Supreme Court eliminated the nationwide right to abortion, reproductive rights’ power to boost election turnout has forced conservative media figures at Fox News and Republican politicians to reckon with voters’ outright rejection of the anti-abortion policies they have pushed for years.
Before Roe v. Wade was reversed in 2022, Fox News pundits regularly downplayed the harm that Roe’s overturning would do, while simultaneously cheering on opportunities for the landmark court decision to be relitigated under a new majority of conservative justices. Now, with the 2024 presidential election on the horizon, Fox News hosts and guests are increasingly suggesting that anti-abortion politicians should avoid specifics when referring to national abortion policies, instead suggesting messaging meant to not deter the plurality of voters who support access to reproductive health care or scare away the anti-abortion conservative base.
Abortion-protecting state ballot initiatives, pro-choice candidates, and elections that were largely seen as proxy votes on abortion have repeatedly succeeded since the June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision repealed federal abortion protections. Polling has also shown that voters overwhelmingly favor access to abortion, with public support now reaching near-record levels.
These electoral losses for the anti-abortion movement have spurred a messaging crisis among conservative leaders in both politics and media. Some are blaming Republican candidates for being too soft on abortion, as others have begun to obfuscate their support for a national ban — a policy proposal opposed by 80% of Americans, including a majority of Republicans. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has embraced pro-choice advocacy as a cornerstone of its 2024 messaging.
Despite all the evidence showing that voters will turn out against abortion restrictions, the organizations setting conservative policy priorities for 2024 have not reined in their anti-choice agendas.
On January 30, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution directing GOP lawmakers at both the federal and state level “to pass the strongest pro-life legislation possible” ahead of the election. In its “Project 2025,” the influential conservative think-tank the Heritage Foundation called on the next Republican president to restrict access to the abortion drug mifepristone and emergency contraception and soften federal protections of abortion clinics.
After even more anti-abortion election losses in November 2023, even Fox News — a dependable propaganda surrogate of the anti-abortion movement — has begun to soften its tone when issuing advice to conservatives on how to best message their anti-abortion agendas.
In the week following Election Day 2023, Fox aired at least three segments with guests decrying the GOP’s inability to garner electoral support on abortion.
The day after Election Day, Fox guest Lee Carter appeared on Special Report, urging Republicans “to stop using that word ‘ban’” and instead push a message “that says, ‘We’re going to put women and babies first.’”
On Fox & Friends, failed GOP gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon said, “People in America do not like bans, and the Republican Party has not figured out how to talk about that yet” and advocated steering away from pushing for national bans because of “the reality of the situation.”
Dixon conceded that abortion restrictions “aren’t where the people are” while also noting that “we’re not changing our stance.”
In an interview with Fox host Rachel Campos-Duffy, anti-abortion activist Amber Roseboom argued that Republicans need to “message on consensus issues and talk about our support for women,” rather than pushing for 15-week bans, which are “dead on arrival.”
Roseboom also noted that over 90% of abortions occur prior to the 15-week mark, meaning that such bans would eliminate only a small percentage of abortions and thus are failing to motivate anti-choice voters. In other words, Roseboom criticized Republican messaging as both too specific to fly under the radar of pro-choice voters and not extreme enough to motivate anti-choice ones.
In January, Fox political analyst Gianno Caldwell spoke highly of Nikki Haley’s messaging on abortion and said she understands that “Republicans need to — not necessarily change values but at least the approach to the issue and not demonize women.”
Fox host Kayleigh McEnany also pressed Republicans to change their messaging on abortion, saying, “We as a party must be pro-mother because we’re looking down a very dim election road should we not change our rhetoric on abortion.”
Most recently, on the January 23 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade encouraged Republicans to be vague on abortion policy and avoid discussing bans measured in gestational weeks.
“Don't talk about how many weeks, six or 12,” Kilmeade said. “Message it ‘pro-mother.’”
Fox acknowledged the limited political reach of anti-abortion policy only after a string of GOP electoral losses, reversing years of precedent where the network simultaneously downplayed the possibility that reproductive rights would ever be meaningfully curtailed and celebrated opportunities to inch conservatives closer to overturning Roe.
When Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanugh was first nominated by then-President Donald Trump in July 2018, Fox guest and National Review senior fellow Andrew McCarthy called concerns that Roe could be overturned “overblown” and suggested that it was “highly unlikely” that reversing Roe would have immediate effects on patients trying to access abortion care.
Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich also dismissed fears about Roe’s reversal, stating, “We've been hearing about the threat of Roe v. Wade being overturned for 40 years, it hasn't happened.”
After Kavanaugh was officially sworn in on October 6, 2018, Fox contributor and megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress celebrated the news, arguing that liberals opposed the conservative judge because he “might diminish in some way the number of babies being murdered every year through abortion, that he would chip away at Roe v. Wade.”
Similarly, when the September 2020 death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg led to a vacancy on the Supreme Court, Fox News personalities pushed Trump to nominate another anti-abortion justice to raise the chances for Roe’s reversal.
The night of her death, Tucker Carlson Tonight guest Ned Ryun advised Republicans to “seize the moment” and embrace the court vacancy to highlight the “importance of the Supreme Court … especially in regards to Roe v. Wade” ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
As then-Judge Amy Coney Barrett underwent Senate confirmation hearings, Fox host Sean Hannity commented, “In spite of the lies the left will tell you, Judge Barrett has been described as personally pro-life but has expressed doubts that Roe v. Wade will ever be overturned.”
The leaked draft Supreme Court majority opinion overturning Roe reported by Politico in May 2022 once again revived discussion among Fox hosts and guests that hyped the impending reversal of the federal right to abortion while still promoting the false claim that abortion rights wouldn’t be immediately affected by the Dobbs decision.
Fox Business’ Jackie DeAngelis argued that the Dobbs decision would not “undo abortion in this country,” and Fox News contributor and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee referred to fears that Dobbs would end abortion access as “the big lie” and an “unfair” assessment of the case.
When the Supreme Court officially released the Dobbs decision the following month, Fox prime-time hosts Carlson, Jesse Watters, and Laura Ingraham each celebrated the Supreme Court’s majority opinion, with Ingraham praising the ruling as “a triumphant Friday night from New York” and “answered prayers.”
Watters commended the decision as “a victory for the Constitution,” and Carlson called Roe “the single shoddiest, most destructive Supreme Court decision in American history.”
Fox is now imploring Republican candidates to muddy the discursive waters on the campaign trail, leaving voters in the dark about the party’s real intentions for reproductive policy. The network and its personalities have read the tea leaves, concluding that electoral support for abortion access is not going anywhere, and leading them to give new advice to Republicans: The best way for anti-abortion politicians to gain power is by misleading the public, a strategy that Fox itself has used to promote the cause for years.