What to Know in Washington: Republicans Test Abortion Limits

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Republican-led state legislatures are increasingly road-testing restrictive abortion rules that fall just short of total bans, to see how far they can limit reproductive health care without generating political backlash.

States such as Florida and Georgia have passed laws banning abortions after six weeks, before many people realize they are pregnant. Others are trying out slightly longer gestational limits. North Carolina’s Senate Republicans earlier this month advanced a bill that would restrict abortion after 12 weeks, while Arizona has a 15-week ban in effect.

Photographer: David McNew/Getty Images
A woman holds an anti-abortion placard.

After years of hewing to a strong anti-abortion platform, Republicans are treading more carefully as they run into a different political reality since the end of Roe. When given the choice at the ballot box in the last year, voters have turned out to support abortion protections and delivered a series of losses to Republicans in key political contests where reproductive health was an issue.

While the majority of the Republican base supports extreme restrictions and bans, a January Gallup poll of Americans showed that 17% want less strict abortion laws, an increase from just 2% in 2021. Among Independents, 44% want less strict laws, up from less than 20% before Roe was overturned.

“In these purple states, we’re going to see a drip drip — incremental changes that will satisfy the base, but not cause a backlash,” said Alex Patton, a Republican strategist and pollster. Ultimately, laws that pass without much pushback could not only inform other state legislation but offer a road-map for a national strategy, which has yet to emerge among federal lawmakers.

Republican hopefuls for the 2024 election have floated divergent policies. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to run, signed the bill restricting abortions after six weeks. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for a “national consensus,” though she is yet to detail what she believes that consensus should be. Haley also urged her party to acknowledge the limits of federal action on the abortion debate.

Former President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has blamed the party’s disappointing midterm election results on GOP candidates’ hardline on abortion, particularly those who are against exceptions for rape or incest. Kelsey Butler has more on what’s at stake.


  • At 4 p.m., President Joe Biden gives a speech at the White House on conservation actions his administration has taken.
  • At 1 p.m., White House Karine Jean-Pierre and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas give a press briefing.


  • The House meets at 10 a.m. to debate and vote on a border security package, unemployment fraud measure, and narcotics research bill. Read more about the border bill here.
  • The Senate meets at 10 a.m. to vote on two GOP measures aiming to block Biden administration endangered species policies, as well as a judicial nominee.

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To contact the reporters on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com; Michaela Ross in Washington at mross@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kayla Sharpe at ksharpe@bloombergindustry.com

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