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As the midterms approach, some Republicans are changing how they talk about abortion


Abortion rights supporters have gotten some encouraging signs since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Voter registration data and recent election results suggest that women and young voters are especially fired up. And as a result, NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben reports that some Republicans are changing how they talk about abortion.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: About a week ago, Arizona Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters tweeted an ad featuring him playing with his kids.


BLAKE MASTERS: Look, I support a ban on very late-term and partial birth abortion. And most Americans agree with that. That would just put us on par with other civilized nations.

KURTZLEBEN: That's a different tone than Masters took on abortion in March, when he spoke to Catholic news outlet EWTN.


MASTERS: Every society has had child sacrifice or has had human sacrifice in some form, and this is our form. And it needs to stop.

KURTZLEBEN: This discrepancy was highlighted when NBC News reported that his website had also changed. It no longer, for example, characterizes Masters as 100% pro-life. That shift is part of a broader trend of GOP candidates changing how they and their websites talk about abortion since the Supreme Court's decision in the Dobbs case. In March, Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen told Minnesota Public Radio his position.


SCOTT JENSEN: I would try to ban abortion. I think that we're basically in a situation where we should be governed by pro-life. There is no reason for us to be having abortions going on.

KURTZLEBEN: But in an August interview with NPR, he said he supports exceptions for rape and incest. And he added this.


JENSEN: If a pregnant woman's mental or physical health is endangered, then this is no longer any kind of a situation for the legal system.

KURTZLEBEN: Tresa Undem is a pollster who has worked heavily on abortion. And to her, these changes make sense, as a majority of Americans oppose total or near-total bans on the procedure.

TRESA UNDEM: Post-Dobbs, where I see sort of the biggest shifts is the potential in turnout for independent women and Democratic voters and young voters who are all looking to be more mobilized by this issue.

KURTZLEBEN: Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of SBA Pro-Life America, which opposes abortion rights. She says changes in rhetoric from candidates like Masters don't mean their actual views have changed.

MARJORIE DANNENFELSER: I do not see this as a change of position at all. I've talked to him extensively back and forth on this before and now. The position that he stated before is the one shared by the whole pro-life movement, and that is, of course, to end abortion.

KURTZLEBEN: To her, the path is to tighten laws over time.

DANNENFELSER: We have partial victories along the way. And we're very clear about where we want to end up. Blake Masters is a great example. He is very clear about what his personal position is, but he's also clear about what's achievable.

KURTZLEBEN: Abortion rights supporters and opponents agree that candidates' statements, not views, are changing. Where these groups differ is on why.

CHRISTINA REYNOLDS: It's not that complicated what they're trying to do, and it's not that clever. It's just, they don't want voters to understand what the end goal is

KURTZLEBEN: Christina Reynolds is vice president of communications at Emily's List, which supports Democratic pro-abortion-rights women candidates.

REYNOLDS: What we see is that voters don't like the Supreme Court decision. They think the Republicans have gone way too far, and they believe that this is a right and a freedom that they should have.

KURTZLEBEN: Republican candidates have in some cases removed abortion from their websites all together. Colorado congressional candidate Barbara Kirkmeyer has in recent months done so, along with removing a number of other topics. Her position on abortion is clear. In a July interview with a Colorado Fox affiliate, she said she opposes it, except to save a pregnant person's life.


BARBARA KIRKMEYER: I have said for years that I'm 100% pro-life, and I remain that way. But again, the issues that are facing this district that my opponent is so out of touch with has to do with the inflation.

KURTZLEBEN: And that's one more tactic many Republicans may take on abortion as the midterms approach - try to talk about something else.

Danielle Kurtzleben, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.