Craig Frucht | Axes to grind
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 02:02
There is no question that the 2012 elections were bad for the Tea Party. But as tempting as it is for Democrats to think of Todd Akin and Jim DeMint disintegrating, Voldemort-like, into ashes and drifting away in defeat, no one should discount the significant power that the group still wields.
Remember that many of these lawmakers believe they were handpicked for higher office by God to carry out his work. When that is your mandate, the ebb and flow of public opinion takes on a diminished scale of importance.
That, of course, hasn’t stopped the Republican establishment from reasserting control of the Party at the federal level and agreeing to a compromise with President Obama over top marginal income tax rates. Nor did it stop Speaker of the
House John Boehner from removing several prominent Tea Party Republicans from top committee assignments shortly after the election.
So the movement’s grip over Congress, which was so strong in the wake of its historic success in the 2010 elections, has more or less been neutralized.
But there was a lot more to the Tea Party’s 2010 achievements than congressional victories. Mostly on the back of Tea Party momentum, Republicans wrested control of 20 state legislative chambers (every state has two, except Nebraska, which has one), bringing the total number of Republican-controlled chambers to 60, compared with just 35 for Democrats. That advantage largely endured through the 2012 election cycle, which brought the split to 56/41.
So what has the Tea Party been doing with its newfound state-level power? Mainly launching a full-scale assault on abortion rights. The recent gun control debate has been fascinating because pro-gun legislators have behaved like strict Constitutionalists over the Second Amendment. Yet when it comes to abortion, the same lawmakers have been perfectly content to act as if the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which establishes the authority of Supreme Court decisions like Roe v. Wade (1973), doesn’t exist.
Last month, for instance, New Mexico State Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R) proposed a bill under which rape victims who become pregnant as a result of the assault and seek an abortion could be charged with evidence tampering and sent to prison for up to three years.
Fortunately for residents of New Mexico, that bill doesn’t have the votes to pass. Women living in other states aren’t so lucky. In Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) last year signed a law requiring women who elect to have an abortion to first undergo an ultrasound, an unnecessary and invasive state-mandated medical procedure. What’s worse, five other states adopted similar provisions in 2011, bringing the total number of states with ultrasound requirements to nine.
Over the last two years, eight states have enacted laws banning abortions beyond 20 weeks of gestation, an absurd and arbitrary cutoff—no child is ever known to have survived a premature birth before 21 weeks, five days—that goes against the spirit of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Planned Parenthood of Southern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992).
In light of this, 2011 and 2012 were perhaps the most devastating years for abortion rights in the four decades since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. This year figures to be no different: New proposals to restrict abortion are already underway in several states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan and Kentucky. Last Thursday, the North Dakota State Senate passed a “personhood” measure whose sponsor, Sen. Margaret Sitte (R), admitted that it is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.
It will be a long time before the U.S. Congress is willing to touch explosive social issues like abortion and gay marriage. In the meantime, Americans are at the mercy of their state legislatures, where the Tea Party remains very much alive.