A GOP Twist: Safe, Legal, and Rare – The New California Abortion Policy…

When it comes to abortion, a Republican vying for a tight California House seat is taking a novel approach: Come out as a Democrat from the Clinton period.

“I’m a pro-choice Republican that believes abortion should be safe, legal and rare,” stated Matt Gunderson, the owner of a car dealership who is running against Democratic Representative Mike Levin in Santa Ana, California.

This stance, which harkens back to the way Democrats framed abortion in the 1990s, distinguishes Gunderson from the vast majority of Republican candidates who attempt to sidestep the issue and places him in an exclusive group of Republicans who advocate for abortion rights.

By expressing limited support for abortion, Gunderson aims to separate himself from his party’s most staunchly anti-abortion ideas. He hopes to deflect attention away from an issue that has hurt the GOP electorally since the Roe v. Wade decision was reversed two years ago. The race’s outcome, which could decide House control, could impact Republicans’ stance on abortion in upcoming elections.

However, Democrats are eager to discredit Gunderson’s professed support for abortion rights because they don’t want to lose ground on a powerful electoral issue.

According to Levin, Gunderson differs from Clinton because Clinton was pro-choice. Clinton, on the other hand, popularized the “safe, legal and rare” slogan, which abortion rights advocates now reject as stigmatizing the practice. Planned Parenthood actually backed Bill Clinton. A “pro-choice Republican” is, alas, a contradiction in terms.

The Republican Party in California is clumsily juggling its anti-abortion stance with the state’s resounding support for access to abortion services. The seven Republican lawmakers from California who were involved in the Dobbs decision had previously supported a nationwide prohibition on abortion that proclaimed life to begin at conception. Among them were Reps. Mike Garcia, Michelle Steel, and David Valadao, all of whom held swing seats. Two lawmakers from California have joined forces to support a companion bill, and none of them are running for office. Like former President Trump, vulnerable Republicans avoid directly discussing the possibility of a federal ban on abortion by directing attention to the states.

The controversy over Gunderson’s position is a reflection of how quickly the abortion debate’s parameters were altered by the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling. Democrats have taken a different tact, making their support for abortion more prominent than before and endorsing national and state safeguards that extend beyond Roe v. Wade. In contrast, Republicans in conservative states have used the ruling to push for further restrictions. Now, pro-choice activists are arguing that the tired old “safe, legal and rare” argument falls flat.

Jodi Hicks, president of Planned Parenthood California, stated, “That isn’t enough, and it never was enough.” “What we should be aiming for should never have been higher than what Roe v. Wade established.”

Gunderson is one of very few party members who has publicly stated their support for abortion, in contrast to the national GOP’s efforts to downplay the topic. While most Republicans are against abortion, two prominent exceptions include Maine Senator Susan Collins and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, both of whom are Republicans. However, for some in traditionally blue states, it may become an absolute political necessity. In his Republican Senate campaign, former Maryland governor Larry Hogan has prominently positioned himself as “pro-choice,” a significant shift to the left following his rejection of a bill to increase access to abortion two years ago.

Some Republicans in California said that Republican candidates in purple districts are hurt by the state party’s stances on abortion and same-sex marriage, so they sought to remove those principles from the platform last year. But social conservatives scuttled the plan, proving that the GOP base is still deeply opposed to abortion.

If Gunderson, who is seeking reelection in a blue-tinged district that snakes along the coast of south Orange and north San Diego counties, were to break with the party loyal on the issue of abortion, he would likely benefit politically. The district supported Joe Biden for president by eleven points, even though Democrats only have a three-point registration edge.

Last year, Levin, who was initially elected during the 2018 Democratic wave, was re-elected with a margin of five points. As a candidate, he used abortion as a wedge issue, attacking Republican Brian Maryott for supporting the Dobbs decision.

To save face, Gunderson has played down the matter by saying he and Levin are virtually on equal ground and that their disagreements are only “nuances.”

On this issue, he assured voters that they “can rest easy” because they share his views. He instead advocated that people consider other concerns, like border security, which are more favorable political ground for Republicans.

According to Rob Stutzman, a seasoned Republican strategist residing in Sacramento, Gunderson’s stance represents astute political maneuvering within the district’s educated suburban population.

“Because you’re already trailing in that district, it’s understandable that you would want to find ways to address the abortion issue,” he explained.

Abortion rights advocates and Democrats, meanwhile, claim that Gunderson has compromised his “pro-choice” credentials in more than one way. They cast doubt on his professed stance against nationwide bans. By declining to back a ballot initiative that would have codified abortion rights in the state constitution in 2022, they claim Gunderson revealed his real colors. Seventy percent of the voters in the state approved the measure.

Planned Parenthood of Orange County and San Bernardino’s senior vice president of public relations, Robert Armenta, stated that 61% of voters in his congressional district approved of writing a constitutional amendment to guarantee abortion access. “His actions do not represent the will of his constituents.”

By highlighting his stance against Proposition 1, Gunderson claimed that Democrats are trying to reach out to him.

Gunderson stated, “They want to nitpick the issue over Prop 1 two years ago,” while explaining that he was in favor of California’s abortion law that was in place at the time. Angry that the initiative “opened a Pandora’s box to late-term abortion and abortion demand,” he criticized it as an unnecessary proposition. The majority of people would feel uneasy with such a radical stance. (That interpretation has been challenged by legal authorities.)

Many people who identify as “pro-choice” share Gunderson’s stance on abortion, which is to say, in favor of some limitations. Nationally, 38% of people think abortion should be permitted in most situations and 31% think it should be legal all the time, according to polling by KFF, a journalism and research group focused on health policy.

Gunderson and Levin are vying to be the pro-choice voice, and the polls show why. Abortion has become a politically charged issue in the post-Dobbs era. There has been an all-time high in the number of voters who identify as “pro-choice” since the ruling. Plus, the problem has proven to be a strong incentive.

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