By Sue Altman
Election night in New Jersey could not have gone much more differently this year than it did in
2021. Two years ago, Republicans picked up six seats in the Assembly and another in the Senate. This week, Democrats regained almost all the ground they lost, flipping five seats in the Assembly.
The difference? Dobbs. All across the country, Democrats who focused on abortion rights trounced anti-choice opponents. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear went from winning election in 2019 by .4 points to handily winning re-election by 5 points after running one of the most emotional ads of the cycle, telling the story of a young woman who at 12 was raped by her step-father. Democrats also gained control of the Virginia legislature and passed an abortion rights referendum in Ohio by 13 points after Trump won the state 53%-45%.
Abortion has become political kryptonite for Republicans, but instead of shying away from the topic or adjusting their platform to reflect a more moderate position on the issue, they’ve chosen to double down. Two weeks ago, House Republicans elected Rep. Mike Johnson, an anti-abortion extremist, as the Speaker of the House.
To understand just how extreme Rep. Johnson is on the topic, just listen to what he has to say:
“Many women use abortion as a form of birth control, you know, in certain segments of society, and it’s just shocking and sad, but this is where we are. When you break up the nuclear family, when you tell a generation of people that life has no value, no meaning, that it’s expendable, then you do wind up with school shooters.”
Rep. Johnson was not elected Speaker solely with the support of far right radicals like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert; he received unanimous support from the Republican caucus, including my own Representative, Tom Kean, Jr.
It used to be that support for abortion rights in North Jersey was bipartisan. While nowhere near as steadfast as their Democratic colleagues in their support, Republicans like Rodney Frelinghuysen, Leonard Lance, and Christine Todd Whitman took moderate positions on abortion that were worlds apart from their South Jersey contemporaries like Republican Jim Saxton, who were staunchly anti-abortion and even anti-contraception.
But Tom Kean Jr. of two decades ago sounded like a moderate Republican, saying that he supported abortion rights in his 2000 campaign for Congress. But over the years, his views on the topic have shifted further and further to the right. When he ran for Senate six years later, National Right to Life, a radical anti-abortion group, spent tens of thousands of dollars on his campaign. In 2022, as a State Senator, he voted against codifying the right to choose into New Jersey state law.
This about face on abortion rights has culminated with Rep. Kean Jr. voting for one of the most radically anti-abortion politicians in America for the third highest office in the country. On the topic of abortion, it seems that there are no more moderates in the Republican Party, or at least among the ones that are sent to Congress.
Abortion may be a winning issue for Democrats, but right now, abortion rights are still more under threat than ever. State legislatures across the country are racing to pass more and more restrictive abortion laws in the wake of Dobbs. Since the decision, 22 states have passed laws restricting or banning abortion. With another Trump term a very real possibility, we are dangerously close to Republicans being able to pass a national abortion ban.
At the federal level, the most effective way we can protect abortion rights is sending more Democrats to Congress, and getting rid of politicians like Rep. Tom Kean Jr. who enable anti-abortion extremists. While there are many issues where there is reasonable disagreement between Democrats and Republicans and politicians who straddle the middle ground, on the issue of abortion, it is quite clear. Democrats are for abortion rights, and Republicans are against them.
Sue Altman is a Democratic candidate for Congress in the 7th District.