Republican Josh Hawley’s defeat of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) adds yet another hardline opponent of abortion rights in federal office at a critical time for reproductive rights.
McCaskill’s Senate seat had long been a target for those hoping to maintain an anti-choice majority in Congress—and with a candidate like Hawley on the ballot, it’s easy to see why abortion rights foes focused on flipping her seat. Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List, an anti-choice group with close ties to the Trump administration, deployed a “field team of 117 canvassers [and] visited more than 310,000 Missouri voters” in an effort to boot McCaskill from office. In conjunction with its PAC, the group “undertook a six-figure independent expenditure campaign to mobilize pro-life voters across Missouri to support Josh Hawley.”
Hawley, Missouri’s attorney general, is a vocal opponent of abortion rights and a proponent of so-called religious liberty. It’s a position highlighted front and center on his campaign site. “Josh has been a dedicated advocate for religious liberty, both as attorney general and for his entire professional career,” the site claimed in the candidate’s biography. “Before he became Attorney General, Josh fought Obamacare at the Supreme Court—and won—as one of the lead attorneys in the landmark Hobby Lobby case.”
The reference to Hawley’s work on Hobby Lobby refers to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 decision granting employers the right to deny insurance coverage for contraception citing religious beliefs. He has touted his work on the case and faced questions about whether he had exaggerated his role in the effort during his 2016 bid for attorney general. As the Missouri Times reported, Hawley was listed as one of the case’s lawyers on its brief, though he did not argue the case himself. However, the conservative Becket Fund, which prepared the case, has said Hawley was an “integral part of” it. “In both cases, his work and Supreme Court expertise were critical to our success at every stage of the litigation,” the Becket Fund said in a statement.
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Hawley has been outspoken about his belief that access to abortion care should be restricted. Speaking to LifeSiteNews in 2016 during his run for attorney general, Hawley discussed how criminalizing abortion was his ultimate goal and vowed to use his office to act on the matter if he was elected.
“Abortion is not a right,” he told the site. “It is a violent act against the defenseless. It violates every principle of morality and should be barred by American law. Until that day, I fully support bans on partial-birth abortion, third-trimester abortion, and indeed every limit that can receive public support.”
“In general, I would support any restriction on abortion that can garner enough votes to become law,” Hawley said at the time. “And I would vigorously defend such laws in court, all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.”
It’s a promise he acted on since taking that office. As Missouri’s attorney general, Hawley has defended the state GOP’s aggressive attacks on reproductive health care.
U.S. District Judge Howard F. Sachs issued a preliminary injunction against the Missouri GOP’s admitting-privilege requirements, or TRAP law, in April 2017, ruling that the “abortion rights of Missouri women, guaranteed by constitutional rulings, are being denied on a daily basis, in irreparable fashion.” Hawley said the “decision [was] wrong” and appealed it.
When another court allowed the state’s omnibus anti-choice restriction, SB 5, to proceed, Hawley claimed, according to Reuters, that the law offered “sensible regulations that protect the health of women” and promised that his office would “continue to vigorously defend” such restrictions. That law requires a medically unnecessary forced counseling and waiting period before patients are allowed to receive abortion services.
The court also granted the state’s attorney general the power to have concurrent original jurisdiction throughout the state to prosecute any violation of the state’s abortion laws, essentially widening Hawley’s ability to enforce anti-choice laws. Reproductive rights advocates feared such a move would empower Hawley to prosecute abortion providers.
“I’m pro-life … and that’s something that is very important to me … it’s core to who I am,” Hawley said in a Facebook Live interview conducted by the Star’s editorial board, when asked about the expansion of the state’s attorney general powers to make abortion-related prosecutions. Hawley again praised the regulations on abortion services by claiming they were about safety—a common piece of misinformation pushed by anti-choice activists and politicians.
Now that he has come out on top in Missouri’s Senate race, there’s little doubt Hawley will push his anti-choice views in Congress. Anti-choice groups like Susan B. Anthony List, Students for Life, and Family Research Council all lauded his looming presence in the nation’s capital.
Hawley has already been vocal about his support for a later abortion ban, tweeting in January that he would “be a strong ‘yes’” on a 20-week restriction if elected. And in May after receiving the endorsement of Missouri Right to Life, Hawley noted the importance of the Senate in advancing the goals of the anti-choice movement and promised that if he was elected he would “send the right-to-life movement in a stronger direction moving forward” by voting to appoint “constitutionalist, pro-life judges” to the courts, as the Springfield News-Leader reported.
With a Republican majority that includes Hawley in the Senate, social conservatives are poised to “continue shifting the ideological balance on the federal courts” as the New York Times reported. And if he has any say in the matter, that will extend to the Supreme Court.
The high court’s makeup already suggests abortion is at risk. Should President Donald Trump have the opportunity to appoint a third justice to the Court, Hawley would eagerly approve a judge likely to join conservative justices’ assault on reproductive freedoms. He’s made clear that he believes Roe “was wrongly decided.”
“I think that Roe should be overturned,” he said, according to Politico. That promise could prove a deathblow to legal abortion in the United States should the U.S. Supreme Court weigh in again on Roe v. Wade or another similar case.