How Mitch McConnell’s abortion flip-flop was driven by his political ambitions: journalist

How Mitch McConnell’s abortion flip-flop was driven by his political ambitions: journalist

No Republican in the U.S. Senate did more to bring about the overturning of Roe v. Wade than Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. By blocking President Barack Obama’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in 2016 only to ram through all three of Donald Trump’s nominees — Justice Neal Gorsuch in 2017, Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 and Justice Amy Coney Barrett in 2020 — McConnell played a key role in giving the High Court the hard-right majority that overturned Roe v. Wade with its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

The 80-year-old McConnell is ruthlessly ambitious, disciplined and incredibly focused on moving the federal courts to the right and having a U.S. Senate majority, which is something he doesn’t have at the moment — although that could change if Republicans retake the Senate in the 2022 midterms. And the support of the anti-abortion movement has played a major role in McConnell’s ambitions.

But in an op-ed published by the Louisville Courier-Journal on July 1, Al Cross — who serves as director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky — stresses that McConnell was pro-choice on the abortion issue back in the 1970s and 1980s.

READ MORE: Democrats in swing states vow to defy anti-abortion laws

“He made possible the first Supreme Court decision to remove a constitutional privilege: the 49½-year-old right to an abortion,” Cross explains. “It is classic irony, because McConnell was once on the other side of the issue, and it illustrates how he has shifted shape to gain and retain power.”

According to Cross, McConnell will say and do what it takes when it comes to “getting and keeping a Senate majority.”

Cross recalls that when he heard McConnell speaking out against abortion during a 1996 speech, he was surprised — as the Kentucky Republican, who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984, had defended abortion rights back in the 1970s and 1980s. Cross notes that when McConnell was serving as Jefferson County, Kentucky judge-executive in the late 1970s, he aggressively fought against “ordinances that would have made abortions harder to get.” Jessica Loving, who was director of the Kentucky ACLU, considered McConnell staunchly pro-choice in those days.

READ MORE: 'An illegitimate institution': New analysis offers blistering assessment of SCOTUS role in the 'authoritarian takeover'

Why the flip-flop? Some of McConnell’s apologists claim that he had a genuine change of heart, which is nonsense. McConnell flip flopped on abortion rights because it was politically convenient, and he clearly valued power over principle.

In 2022, there is considerable animosity between Trump and the Senate minority leader, but one thing they do have in common is a record of flip-flopping on abortion; during a 1999 appearance on NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” Trump told host Tim Russert that while he personally “hated” abortion, he was adamantly pro-choice.

But when he ran for president in 2016, Trump wanted the support of the Christian Right — and like McConnell, he flip-flopped on abortion. For McConnell and Trump, becoming “pro-life” was obviously a cynical move motivated by their political ambitions, not heartfelt principles.

Cross stresses that although McConnell once “stood up for” Roe v. Wade, he is “now arguably the person most responsible for ending it.”

“He has always cast himself as a mainstream person, not someone who would endorse radical action,” Cross observes. “But now, he has fostered it…. Knowing the decision (in Dobbs) was coming may have given McConnell more impetus to get a deal on gun violence, to reassure swing voters this fall that his party isn’t so radical. He stands for one thing above all else: getting and keeping a Senate majority.”

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