Will McConnell’s proudest accomplishment be his party’s political undoing?

by Jamie Lucke, Kentucky Lantern

A Louisville audience last month applauded U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell as he touted his historic success in remaking the federal courts.

But McConnell’s proudest accomplishment could also prove to be his party’s electoral undoing as voters again showed the next day in Ohio where a measure sought by anti-abortion forces was defeated.

The federal judiciary that McConnell created is too extreme, too scary, too out of step with most Americans. 

Even people who generally oppose abortion see the wrong in withholding the standard of medical care when a pregnancy is failing or making a child carry her rapist’s child.

Placing greater value on a fetus than on a sufferingbleeding woman, as McConnell’s Supreme Court and Republican Party have allowed in Kentucky and 15 other states, is too much for most of us.

People who want a baby, who already have decorated the nursery, are living out this nightmare in real time, even losing their ability to conceive, because five “conservative” justices overthrew a half-century of legal precedent and ended a right that most Americans support.

Nothing illustrates the state of abortion politics better than a Democrat injecting the issue into a Kentucky governor’s race, as Andy Beshear is doing. In a new Beshear ad Louisville prosecutor Erin White says “Daniel Cameron thinks a 9-year-old rape survivor should be forced to give birth.”

The near-total ban that the Republican challenger supports and is defending as attorney general has no exceptions for rape and requires that a pregnant patient be in danger of dying before an abortion is considered legal.

 Senator Mitch McConnell speaks during the 143rd Fancy Farm Picnic on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Austin Anthony)

Nine was the age of the two youngest abortion recipients in Kentucky in 2021 and last year before the procedure was all but outlawed.

In 2021 in Kentucky, 34 girls ages 15 or younger received abortions, Deborah Yetter reported, based on state records. Now those 34 children would have to travel to another state to end their pregnancies or stay home and give birth. 

That’s because the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2022 swept away guardrails that had allowed states to restrict abortion while still preserving the right to end a pregnancy. The consequences of that decision quickly became frighteningly real in many states, including Kentucky, where some young women sought sterilization rather than risk an unwanted pregnancy.

I doubt McConell ever lost a minute’s sleep over the “unborn.” Abortion has little to do with what he wants from his Supreme Court.

The backlash among voters turned what should have been a Republican blowout in last year’s midterm congressional elections into something of a dud — denying McConnell the chance to reclaim the title majority leader and giving Republicans only a slim majority in the U.S. House. Meanwhile, voters in Kentucky and Kansas rejected anti-abortion constitutional amendments.

More recently, Ohioans were asked to stack an upcoming state vote on abortion by giving away some of their own power. The goal was to raise the threshold to pass a constitutional amendment from a simple majority to 60% in time for a November vote on strengthening abortion rights. Buckeyes responded with a resounding no, so now those who want to outlaw abortion are resorting to deceptive ballot language in hopes of misleading voters.

Exit polls after last year’s midterms confirmed that the abortion ruling — and the fears it raised about the risks to other rights — played a big role in Republicans’ poor showing, even though voters cited inflation as their most pressing priority.

Since last November support for abortion rights has increased, according to polling by Gallup. 

Just 13% of Americans want abortion to be outlawed in all circumstances, as it essentially is now in Kentucky. 

The absolutist stance on abortion — echoed by candidates in the first GOP presidential debate — pretty much assures Republicans cannot win a majority of American voters. 

But in McConnell’s “long game” winning a majority of voters might not matter anymore. Because his Supreme Court will enforce minority rule. 

As a refresher, McConnell blocked hundreds of Barack Obama’s judicial appointments and for 11 months refused to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, saying it was too late in Obama’s presidency — then turned around and confirmed Amy Coney Barrett with four months left in Donald Trump’s term. Thanks to McConnell’s brilliance in manipulating the process, Trump appointed nearly as many federal appeals court judges in four years as Obama did in eight years. McConnell also pushed through confirmation of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett “I Like Beer” Kavanaugh, completing a trio that guarantees a right-of-center (some would say rabidly right wing) high court for decades.

One of the great things about the U.S. Constitution is its protections against tyranny of the majority. But now we’re subject to tyranny of the minority.

I doubt McConell ever lost a minute’s sleep over the “unborn.” Abortion has little to do with what he wants from his Supreme Court. What McConnell wants are more rulings shoring up the power of the super-rich while chopping away economic protections for ordinary Americans. A court that will weaken voting rights and uphold gerrymandered lawmaking bodies. Judges who value the perogatives of corporations over the needs of people, are eager to shred the social contract, turn thumbs down on protections for our sizzling planet and slash away at what’s left of organized labor.

McConnell’s legacy seems likely to be decades of division as Americans fight for rights — for a nation — they thought had been secured long ago. 

Top photo: Mitch McConnell freezes at a press conference in Northern Kentucky. (Link-NKY)