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Some abortion haters redefine ‘pro-life’ and no longer support Trump

This story was published in partnership with The 19a non-profit, non-partisan newsroom that reports on gender, politics and politics.

Four years ago, Jennifer Abel broke a lifetime record when she voted for Hillary Clinton, the first time she voted for a Democrat.

“Donald Trump just doesn’t embody any of my value systems, and I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for him,” said Abel, a mother of six who lives in southern Virginia.

For years, Abel’s position on abortion has guided his voting record. She considers herself “pro-life,” she said. But especially now, that identity has taken on new meaning. Between the president’s stances on immigration, his rhetoric on race and, more recently, his approach to handling the coronavirus, she said, she doesn’t think the Republican Party addresses his definition of valuing life after birth.

So Abel – along with her husband and 18-year-old son – votes for Democratic candidate Joe Biden, despite his avowed commitment maintaining access to abortion. And she encourages other women she knows to do the same.

“How can you call yourself a pro-life president if you refuse to be completely open about how to protect most lives?” she says. “The pandemic has really shone a spotlight on the hypocrisy of a lot of people who have fallen into this pro-life camp.”

Abel is the kind of voter Trump is counting on to win, the one he explicitly appealed at recent rallies: a white suburban woman, a conservative, and a Christian who opposes abortion.

white women and white christian voters played a vital role in Trump’s victory in 2016. But polls and focus groups clearly show the coalition is developing cracks. white women are giving up more and more Asset. White Catholics and Mainline White Protestants – groups that both backed Trump in 2016 – are less likely to support the president than four years ago.

Pandemic:Trump’s handling of the coronavirus has cost him Christian support

And abortion has taken precedence over other health problems. The issue is ranked as a low priority for most voters, including white Catholics and white Protestants, who are more concerned about COVID-19 and health care, according to a recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). ). Voters are generally supportive of Biden on both issues, according to separate polls.

Still, anti-abortion white women are likely to break for Trump again this year — just 16% plan to vote for Biden, per PRRI. It sounds small, but it’s just enough to make a difference, especially as support for the president wanes across the board, said PRRI research director Natalie Jackson.

“He’s lost tracks from so many different bands it’s important,” Jackson said. “There’s not one big band that’s turned against Trump. They’re pieces of different groups. They’re pieces of white women, they’re pieces of older Americans.

Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist who frequently hosts focus groups with undecided women in swing states, says anti-abortion voters have cited a number of reasons why they won’t support the president this year.

Some women cite Trump’s criticism of protesters speaking out against police brutality and racial injustice this summer. Others point to the president’s immigration policies, including the notorious stance of family separation on the southern border, which made national headlines in 2018 and is back in the news.

Above all, there is the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 220,000 Americans and disproportionately affected women economically and in terms of mental health consequences.

“There are a lot of people I hear in focus groups saying… ‘I could never vote for a Democrat because I’m pro-life,'” Longwell said. “But I also heard about as many women who consider themselves pro-life, who have always voted Republican because they are pro-life, who vote for Joe Biden or lean towards Joe Biden this time, for whom the race and Donald Trump’s general behavior and division became something that caused them to rethink the framework around what it means to be pro-life.

For Jody Delikat, a 49-year-old evangelical Christian voter in Madison, Wisconsin, the past four years have forced her to go through that math. In 2016, she wrote during a vote for John Kasich, the former governor of Ohio who ran an unsuccessful presidential campaign. This year, she plans to vote for Biden, even though she is anti-abortion.

“A lot of heart-to-heart with people I love has helped me realize that there’s a difference between pro-birth and pro-life,” she said. “Separating children and putting them in cages is not pro-life. Refusing to wear a mask is not pro-life. I really consider this position to be really hypocritical – you can’t say that you only respect life for unborn children and ignore other lives.

Trump focused heavily on abortion in the months leading up to the election, flooding August’s Republican National Convention with anti-abortion speakers and, most recently, nominating Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, a decision that abortion access advocates fear will overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade. During Thursday’s final presidential debate, however, Barrett and the topic of abortion in general were conspicuously absent.

The president’s focus on abortion during his 2016 campaign, including promises to appoint Supreme Court justices who could overturn Roe v. Wade, allegedly played a role in his victory. But the real picture is more complicated, which might help explain why recreating this formula proves a challenge.

For one thing, not all Trump supporters have actually opposed abortion rights, Longwell noted — so emphasizing the issue does little to win them over. And the women interviewed by The 19th, all of whom said they personally oppose abortion and had in the past factored it into their voting habits, expressed attitudes ranging from skepticism to outright disapproval of the idea of ​​nullifying Roe v. Wade.

The majority of white women – about 59% – say abortion should remain legal in most or all cases, according to PRRI. Polls conducted before and after Barrett’s nomination showed no difference in how voters ranked abortion in shaping their votes.

At most, a third of the general electorate includes single-issue voters who say they will only support a candidate who shares their position on that issue. When you control for other demographic factors, the number drops significantly, Jackson noted — all models suggesting abortion doesn’t generate a large enough electoral bloc.

Views on abortion appear less important in determining support for the president than attitudes on immigration, said Ryan Burge, a pastor and political scientist at Eastern Illinois University who focuses on politics and religion. It seems to have been true in 2016as well as.

White evangelical voters who support abortion rights but oppose immigration seem more likely to support the president than those who oppose abortion but support immigration, according to his analysis.

And Republican women are more likely to disapprove of Trump’s immigration record, he said, which Burge said could inspire more people to vote for Biden this year. Among Republican women who strongly approved of Trump, 53% supported family separation, compared to 62% of comparable men, her research found. Among those who somewhat approved of Trump, 23.4% of Republican women supported the policy, compared to 35.5% of Republican men.

“Women are much more reluctant to separate families,” he said. “It is more harmful to them than abortion.”

Meanwhile, Trump has spent little campaign time talking about the issue that seems to affect even anti-abortion women the most: COVID-19.

“It’s part of the general conversation about why he’s doing so badly with women in general,” Longwell said. “He doesn’t talk about the things that matter to these women. If there’s one thing that matters to them, it’s that their lives have been turned upside down by the coronavirus.

For Lacine Aday, Texas, the coronavirus is a key factor in why she is voting for Biden.

“I think Donald Trump could have done a lot more to save lives. I think he has blood on his hands for the way he handled this, said Aday, a 43-year-old independent voter from Flower Mound.

Aday is active in her church and opposes abortion, although she does not believe criminalizing it is an effective approach. Her main issues include dealing with the pandemic and better gun regulations, especially since she has three school-aged children. Before Trump, she said, she would have identified as an evangelical Christian. But now she finds the term’s association with the president hard to swallow. She doesn’t know what to call herself anymore.

After Trump was elected in 2016, Aday, who was one of the few Christian women she knew who voted for Clinton, created a private Facebook group for people like her. It started with a dozen women, white Christians from the surrounding community who did not support the president.

But since then, his limbs have exploded. Of the 225 women in the group, Aday estimates half are lifelong Republicans who can’t bring themselves to vote for Trump this year. Because the group is private, she says, they feel comfortable talking about their change of opinion — even though neither would voice their political change in public.

Aday doesn’t see Texas opting for Biden this year. But in the longer term, she predicts a trend that is hard to ignore.

“There’s going to be a lot more [Democratic] votes than there have ever been before,” she said. “It’s moving in that direction.