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September 01, 2022 09:57 AM UTC

The Death of Nuance on Abortion Rights

  • by: Colorado Pols
The Associated Press, via the Aurora Sentinel (9/1/22)

As The Associated Press reports in a fascinating new story, one of the major changes to the political landscape in 2022 is the death of nuance in terms of how politicians talk about their positions on abortion rights:

Analysts say similarly nuanced positions were once considered the political sweet spot in the complex world of abortion politics, coming closest to representing the views of the typical, conflicted voter. But that may be changing as abortion restrictions kick in following the fall of Roe with the high court’s ruling in June.

“We are here in this country, right now, with patients traveling thousands of miles for care because politicians have been given the room for the least little bit of nuance,” said Adrienne Mansanares of Planned Parenthood Action Colorado during a recent news conference to back Michael Bennet.

The message from Democrats: Republicans can’t be trusted on the issue — regardless of their personal beliefs.

[mantra-pullquote align=”center” textalign=”left” width=”90%”]“[O’Dea] has the benefit of knowing that [recent SCOTUS justices] actually led the reversal of Roe v. Wade, and still he says he would have voted for them…I mean, that is a pitiful position to be in.”

     — Sen. Michael Bennet (the Get More Smarter Podcast (Aug. 2022)[/mantra-pullquote]

It’s obvious how and why nuance is no longer accepted in the debate over abortion rights. The Supreme Court’s June 24th decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which essentially overturned Roe v. Wade, triggered strict abortion bans in at least 13 states (many with no exceptions) and changed the narrative for Republican politicians trying to find a middle ground with voters:

The reason this is happening, said Republican pollster Whit Ayres, is “you now have state legislatures that have taken positions opposed by 9 out of 10 Americans.”

“What the Dobbs decision has done along with these trigger laws is focus attention on the early part of pregnancy, not late term,” Ayres said.

While many Americans back some restrictions on abortion, especially after the first trimester, the most extreme measures introduced in some Republican-led states are at odds with public opinion, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll in July.

There are several signs that momentum is with abortion-rights backers. In conservative Kansas, a ballot measure to remove that state’s right to abortion lost by more than 150,000 votes. Democrats won a special election in a narrowly divided upstate New York swing district last week after their candidate focused on abortion. In a survey shortly after the Supreme Court ruling, Pew found that 62% of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, the highest share in nearly 30 years of tracking the issue. [Pols emphasis]

This is why incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet’s latest television ad highlights the fact that Republican Joe O’Dea said he would have supported all of the SCOTUS nominees who eliminated federal abortion rights — even with the benefit of hindsight.


The AP story concludes with a few quotes from O’Dea that are as absurd as everything else he’s said on the matter this summer:

In an interview, the first-time candidate said of his opponent’s attack: “It’s pretty dishonest, pretty disingenuous.”

Yet in 2020, O’Dea voted for a statewide ballot measure to bar abortions after 22 weeks that failed by 18 percentage points. The measure didn’t contain exceptions for rape, incest or to protect the mother’s life. [Pols emphasis] He now says he thinks those exceptions are essential and added that he would support allowing the termination of nonviable pregnancies. 

He noted he wasn’t a candidate for office when the measure was on the ballot.

“I didn’t look at all the nuances,” O’Dea said.

Michael Bennet, Joe O’Dea

Bennet’s arguments are hardly “dishonest” when they merely state O’Dea’s own public positions on abortion rights.

O’Dea says he wasn’t a candidate for office when he voted for Prop. 115. Why this is a relevant statement is not clear, particularly considering that O’Dea recently insisted that he ACTUALLY favors even stronger restrictions on abortion than those included in Prop. 115 (O’Dea wants to ban abortion at 20 weeks instead of 22 weeks).

O’Dea often tries to counter Bennet’s arguments by claiming that Bennet supports abortions later in pregnancy, which is an absurd comparison. We know that such abortions are incredibly rare and are almost always the result of fetal anomalies or concerns about the health of the mother. When the Colorado legislature passed the Reproductive Health Equity Act (RHEA) last Spring, some anti-choice zealots were claiming that abortion had been legalized even after birth, which is silly.

As the Kaiser Family Foundation explains:

…intense public discussions have been sparked after several policymakers have theorized about abortions occurring “moments before birth” or even “after birth.” In reality, these scenarios do not occur, nor are they legal, in the U.S. [Pols emphasis]

Phil Weiser (left) and John Kellner

All these arguments aside, the point of what The Associated Press is explaining in today’s story is that any sort of nuances on abortion rights are no longer relevant to many voters. Consider this exchange from a forum between Attorney General candidates (Democrat Phil Weiser and Republican John Kellner) in Colorado last month as an example of where nuance is no longer a viable strategy on abortion rights:

QUESTION: Do you support a woman’s right to choose over her reproductive rights?

WEISER: Yes. The Dobbs decision was wrongly decided.

KELLNER: I don’t think I can give you a bumper sticker answer for this. It is just simply, I think like most Americans, too nuanced of a position to be able to tell you a yes or no answer to that. [Pols emphasis]

[Audience murmurs. One unidentified woman groans, ‘Oh, come on.’]

MODERATOR: As it’s a lightning round, let’s move forward. We have an answer.

“Do you support a woman’s right to choose over her reproductive rights?” There are two answers to this question: ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ In previous election cycles, candidates who couldn’t answer ‘Yes’ could try to avoid ‘No’ by saying something like, Abortion rights are settled law in this country/state. But to quote a familiar line, “That dog won’t hunt” anymore.

It’s easy to roll your eyes at a post like the one you just read. You might be thinking, I’m tired about this argument over abortion. But if that is the case, you’re missing the broader point here: EVERYONE IS TIRED OF THE MANEUVERING.

There is no longer an acceptable middle ground between ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ when it comes to supporting a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health decisions.


5 thoughts on “The Death of Nuance on Abortion Rights

  1. I am a bit confused by O’Dea’s vote for the Proposition because he “didn’t think of the nuances.” My recollection is the main points of the campaign by the backers was “we aren’t nearly so extreme as previous amendments or initiatives.”  Opponents’ responses were “look at what would happen” in the hard cases and “it’s a foot in the door.”

    Just my subjective recollection or was O’Dea not paying attention?

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