On abortion, Democrats take a risk on repeal of parental notification laws

Illinois repealed parental notification in 2021. Bills to repeal these laws are being introduced in Minnesota, Oregon, Michigan and elsewhere, and it’s creating a divide in the party, S.E. Cupp writes.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a 2022 pro-abortion rights rally in the Loop.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during an abortion rights rally in the Loop on May 7, 2022.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, as the old saying goes.

As Republicans venture further off into the extremes, pushing regressive and unpopular culture war policies, Democrats have made the most of the GOP’s missteps.

In three consecutive election cycles — 2018, 2020, and 2022 — Democrats have successfully cut into Republican legislative margins, taking back the House, the Senate and the White House, and making a pretty convincing argument that a majority of voters are turned off by the right-wing radicals and MAGA messiahs leading the GOP.

No issue better encapsulates the left’s political advantages than abortion, where a majority of Americans are with Democrats, not Republicans.

Thus far, Dems have played it smart, letting the right hang itself by pushing abortion bans and punitive prohibitions, even in states where those laws are not popular. But just as they’re racking up the wins, it seems as if Democrats might be getting greedy. And they’re in danger of blowing an important political opportunity.

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A number of Democratic state lawmakers and abortion rights advocates are pushing to repeal laws that require minors to notify their parents if they are going to have an abortion, according to a new report in Politico. Nearly three-quarters of states, including where Democrats have majority control, have such laws requiring parental permission or notification.

Bills to repeal these laws are being introduced in Minnesota, Oregon, Michigan and elsewhere, and it’s creating a divide in the party. Some on the left believe that this idea is a good countermeasure to the right’s aggressive restrictions, merely another example of the Democrats’ commitment to expanding abortion access where Republicans are limiting it.

As Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in 2021 when he signed a bill repealing the law: “With reproductive rights under attack across the nation, Illinois is once again establishing itself as a leader in ensuring access to health care services.”

But others on the left worry that this is a political loser that will turn off voters who are otherwise sympathetic to abortion rights.

Abortion rights groups in several states told Politico they wouldn’t even try to repeal parental involvement laws, but focus on other efforts to expand reproductive rights. The latter group has every reason to be concerned.

Polling shows repealing these laws is very unpopular — a Pew Research poll from 2022 found there was 70% support for requiring parental notification, 57% among Democrats.

In Illinois, a whopping 78% of voters favor parental notification, begging the question, Who was this for?

Parent’s rights movement helping GOP

Pushing unpopular laws on voters, including in your own party, is a political bridge to nowhere, an unforced error, especially when you have the wind at your back, as Democrats do on this issue.

They also risk running afoul of a parental rights movement that successfully galvanized new voters to the Republican Party in previous election cycles. When the Democratic candidate for Virginia governor, Terry McAuliffe, said in a debate in 2021 that parents shouldn’t have a role in setting public school curriculum, Republican Glenn Youngkin was all too happy to ride the serious misstep all the way to the state house.

Abortion advocacy groups like Planned Parenthood also risk sounding extreme, even telling girls how to legally attempt to bypass parental involvement laws.

Not surprisingly, the right is jumping on this obvious overreach. “[W]e’ve conducted polling and we know for a fact that this is something parents are concerned about,” Amy Natoce of Protect Women Ohio told Politico. “This isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue.”

Not only is repeal unpopular, it’s also an unnecessarily extreme version of an already-existing solution. In some states doctors can exempt minors from parental notification and consent if they believe that would jeopardize the patient’s physical or mental health.

While Republicans are seriously out of touch on abortion — passing a 12-week abortion ban in North Carolina in spite of the fact that most North Carolina voters oppose it — the far left is extreme too.

Since 1976, the first year Gallup started polling abortion in the United States, attitudes have remained practically fixed.

The majority position of Americans has always been that abortion should be legal, with some restrictions. Beliefs that abortion should either be legal or illegal in all circumstances have always been in the minority.

This should be a warning to both parties as they consider where to go in an era without Roe. Most Americans are firmly in the middle.

There’s such a thing as “too far,” a line Republicans have been crossing with increasing regularity and paying the price. Democrats, on the issue of parental consent, shouldn’t risk making the same mistake.

S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.

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