August 15, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

To improve its messaging, the GOP is covering anti-abortion politics with anti-trans politics

It might backfire to strengthen abortion rights and trans rights.

Courtesy of Getty.
Courtesy of Getty.

Share this article


Last week, I said that the Republicans seem to think that ground-level mobilization is still on their side. I said that’s why they keep finding more ways to restrict or ban abortion, even as voters keeps handing them their asses. 

But on second thought, that’s not quite right.

At least some anti-abortion operatives seem to understand that such efforts are extremely unpopular, even in Republican-controlled states. That’s why some of them have decided to link abortion to transphobia.

They seem to think it will work, but the problem with anti-abortion politics isn’t messaging. It’s that most people don’t like it. No amount of fearmongering about children getting sex changes will change that.

In Ohio, voters last week rejected a proposal that would have made it harder to amend the state’s constitution by popular vote. Proponents wanted to stop a measure, expected in the fall, that could enshrine abortion rights constitutionally if approved by a simple majority. 

They seem to think it will work, but the problem with anti-abortion politics isn’t messaging. It’s that most people don’t like it. No amount of fearmongering about children getting sex changes will change that.

They denied that abortion had anything to do with it. Instead, they said that voters should raise the threshold from a simple majority to a supermajority because, according to one of their ads, “out-of-state groups fighting Issue 1” “want to allow minors to get sex changes without parental consent.” Here’s Bill Scher, describing a similar ad:

“You promised you’d keep the bad guys away,” a worried female narrator intones over a video of a child being tucked into bed in its ad “Your Promise.” As a drag queen reads to children, the narrator warns of “out-of-state special interests that put trans ideology in classrooms and encourage sex changes for kids.” By voting Yes, “You can keep this madness out of Ohio classrooms and protect your rights as a parent.”

Ohio is one state, and last week was one vote, but it seems there are two things we can count on. One, that the Republicans are not going to stop trying to stop pregnant people from determining their own fates. Two, that they are going to try much harder to hide those efforts, probably by hyping fears over the effect of “trans ideology” on kids.

And this link, in which Republicans and their operatives hope that anti-trans politics will provide cover for anti-abortion politics, could backfire in ways that strengthen trans rights and abortion rights. 

Consider the question of the center.

When Roe was law, the center was to the right. Republicans didn’t have to hide their intentions, because most people most of the time didn’t believe them, even when they made their intentions clear. After all, Roe was law. Abortion rights had been taken for granted for half a century. 


Now that the unthinkable has happened, the center is now to the left. The Republicans must hide their intentions with a boogeyman – “trans ideology”! – that draws attention away from their true intentions. 

But the more reasonable it is to defend abortion – and that seems to be the direction the culture is heading – the more grotesque the GOP’s boogeyman must be. That’s going to inspire acts of violence against trans people, but it’s also going to cause swing voters to stop listening, especially on occasions when abortion rights are being decided.

Worse, for the GOP, as the boogeyman gets more grotesque, voters will get more used to gender identity being as varied as humanity. Again, Bill Scher: “In 2016, Pew found that 30 percent of Americans knew someone who is transgender. In 2022, it was 44 percent. As with gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, personal familiarity with transgender adults — and trans kids — will become even more common.”

The problem of anti-abortion politics, now that abortion is no longer a national right, is anti-abortion politics. It’s unpopular. Some believe that it’s about messaging, and that if they hide it with an anti-trans boogeyman, that that will solve the problem. It probably won’t. 

It might even backfire.


John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

Leave a Comment

Want to comment on this post?
Click here to upgrade to a premium membership.