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Kari Lake’s ‘Perfect Answer on Abortion’

Has the GOP candidate for Arizona governor really solved the party’s problem of how to talk about the future of abortion?
October 12, 2022
Kari Lake’s ‘Perfect Answer on Abortion’
Arizona Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake takes part in a campaign rally attended by former U.S. President Donald Trump at Legacy Sports USA on October 09, 2022 in Mesa, Arizona. Trump was stumping for Arizona GOP candidates ahead of the midterm election on November 8. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

An email arrived in my inbox the other day from the Alliance for Free Citizens, a national advocacy group “committed to local and state-based solutions.” It bore the subject line “Kari Lake Gives Perfect Answer on Abortion to Opposition Media.” Whatever could it be?

Lake is the Republican candidate for governor in Arizona. The former Fox 10 Phoenix anchor rode an endorsement from Donald Trump to a narrow win in the August 2 primary and is now squaring off against Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in the November 8 general election.

In late September, a judge allowed a 1901 law, enacted 11 years before Arizona became a state, to spring back into effect, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. Last Friday, the Arizona Court of Appeals, in a move that only the Arizona Supreme Court could reverse, blocked enforcement of that 1901 law pending the outcome of an appeal by Planned Parenthood.

However, even apart from the 1901 law, which could still be brought back into effect to make abortion illegal in Arizona except to save the life of the mother, the state’s other existing abortion restrictions are among the nation’s more restrictive, according to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute.

Abortion access is one of the main issues in Arizona’s neck-and-neck governor’s race, as it is in the similarly close race for U.S. Senate between Democratic incumbent Senator Mark Kelly and GOP nominee Blake Masters, and in all sorts of other contests all over the country. Republicans find themselves on the defensive, as a broad swath of the American public, even in red states, opposes near-total bans of the sort that could go back into effect in Arizona.

If Lake really does have the perfect answer to her party’s conundrum, well, that could sure come in handy.

According to the email I received, Lake’s perfect answer came in response to “a hostile question on abortion from a reporter.” It links to a YouTube clip of a campaign event October 2 at the Republican National Committee’s Hispanic Community Center in Phoenix. Here is the question that was asked: “Abortion is effectively banned in the state right now. Tell me, is that something that you support?” (The ruling blocking enforcement of the 1901 near-total ban was handed down five days later.)

Okay, first of all: How is that a “hostile question”? Is this not a reasonable thing for a reporter to ask a candidate for governor in a state where reproductive rights were at the time mostly repealed? Should she have said “please”?

Perhaps the good folks at the Alliance for Free Citizens confused the tone of the question with that of Lake’s “perfect answer,” which was immediately and aggressively hostile. Here’s what she said:

I support saving as many lives as possible, and what I really want to know—and I’ve been waiting, I tune into you guys all the time—I want to know where Katie Hobbs stands, but I never hear you guys ask her that. I’m pro life. My plan would be that every woman who walks into an abortion clinic know that there are options out there, [that] they don’t have to choose that. There’s families who would love to adopt a baby. And right now, the way it’s been going, they go in and they only have one option.

Nobody tells them that there’s other options. We want to help our women. If they’re afraid, we want to help them. We want to give women health care and I want to help people. But I really challenge you. And I’m happy to get back to you on this when you find out where Katie Hobbs stands, because let me tell you where she stands: She supports abortion right up until birth, and after birth. She supports, if a baby survives a botched abortion, that that baby die on a cold metal tray.

And none of you ever try to get her to talk about her stance. So get back to me after you do.

At that point, Lake’s supporters in attendance burst into thunderous applause.

The Alliance for Free Citizens, based in Fairfax, Virginia, and led by former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach—an Obama birther, Biden election denier, and Trump acolyte now running to be Kansas attorney general—called this response “a primer on how to deal with a tough issue and the predatory corporate media at the same time.” Texas Senator Ted Cruz, reviewing the same clip, had a similar reaction, tweeting: “This is how it’s done.”

I have a few follow-up questions.

Let’s start with Lake’s insistence that reporters need to start asking her opponent about abortion, as though Hobbs’s opposition to its being outlawed in Arizona is some closely guarded secret that she refuses to divulge. In fact, there is little ambiguity about where Hobbs stands on this issue.

Hobbs, on her website, says:

As a social worker and as a domestic violence advocate, I’ve seen firsthand the devastating effects that a dangerous, traumatizing, or unplanned pregnancy can have on a woman and her family. As a public official, I’ve fought tirelessly to protect our right to reproductive health care for more than a decade.

If elected, Hobbs pledges, “On day one, I will call a special session of the legislature to repeal the draconian 1901 law.” If that doesn’t work, she “will lead an effort, alongside our state’s reproductive health care advocates, for a ballot measure to repeal and replace this abortion ban with one that is in line with the beliefs of the vast majority of Arizonans.”

But this isn’t the answer that Lake wants to hear. The answer she wants to hear, as she told the reporter, is that Hobbs “supports abortion right up until birth, and after birth. She supports, if a baby survives a botched abortion, that that baby die on a cold metal tray.”

The inspiration for this claim does not appear to be anything that Hobbs has said but rather something that she didn’t say. In April, according to an article in National Review, Hobbs was asked about the issue Lake says Hobbs is “never” asked about. The question concerned Arizona’s newly enacted 15-week abortion ban, which she opposed. “What would your limits be,” the interviewer asked. “Where do you draw the line?”

Hobbs responded:

Well, women deserve access to abortion care. Abortion is health care. I’ve been very clear on my position on that throughout my time in the legislature. So if I’m elected governor, that’s what folks are getting. And I will work with the legislature that’s in place to ensure that women have continued access to reproductive health care.

Pressed further, Hobbs declined to be more specific, saying, “Abortion is a personal decision between a woman and her family and her doctor, and that’s something that needs to be discussed in the medical exam room, not by politicians.”

Arizona has a law on the books, enacted in 2017, requiring that abortion providers use “all available means and medical skills are used to promote, preserve and maintain the life” of a fetus that has survived an abortion. Laws like these are seen by abortion-rights defenders as solutions in search of a problem, and Hobbs, then a member of the state senate, did vote against it. But that hardly means, as Lake alleges, that she wants to see babies die on a cold metal tray.

Lake, meanwhile, has also made her position on abortion clear. Well, mostly clear.

In a recent interview with a Phoenix radio talk show host, Lake said: “You know, it would be really wonderful if abortion was rare and legal—the way they said it before, remember? Rare but safe, rare but safe, I think is what they said.”

The phrasing Lake seems to be trying to remember is the call by former President Bill Clinton and other Democrats for abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare.” But Lake’s spokesperson later clarified that the candidate did not mean to say “legal.” Good to know.

According to news accounts, Lake has said she supports exceptions for rape and incest. But these are not part of the 1901 law, which Lake has praised as a “great law” and vowed to enforce. The law says anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion can be sent to prison for two to five years. Lake has also expressed support for a Texas bill that bans abortions after six weeks of gestation, with no exceptions for rape or incest. (In comments last October, Lake urged the Arizona legislature to pass a “carbon copy” of this law without delay.)

It would be wrong to paint Lake with too broad a brush. Her position on contraception, for instance, is positively enlightened. She states on her website: “We must also support people who choose to act responsibly when they are not ready to have a child, and that means making all common forms of birth control available over-the-counter, and providing assistance to those who are financially unable to pay for their own birth control.”

Moreover, Lake wants women contemplating abortion to have expanded options—so long as having one is not among them. She pledges, if elected, to “put significant new resources into helping pregnant women choose life-saving options including adoption, parental support and guidance, and neo-natal treatment.” As she said in her purportedly perfect answer to the reporter: “Right now . . . they only have one option. Nobody tells them that there’s other options.”

The idea that there are women showing up to abortion clinics who don’t know they have other options is ridiculous on its face, but if the 1901 law goes back into effect, there will be no women showing up to abortion clinics in Arizona at all. (Following the September ruling allowing the enforcement of the law, Planned Parenthood Arizona started directing women seeking the procedure to other states.)

Does Lake really have no idea how fundamentally things have changed? Does she not realize that the car Republicans have doggedly chased after for decades is now in their jaws, weighing two tons and not slowing down?

All this makes a reporter’s question about whether Lake supports an effective abortion ban a perfectly good question to ask. It’s Lake’s answer that is out of bounds.

Bill Lueders

Bill Lueders, former editor and now editor-at-large of The Progressive, is a writer in Madison, Wisconsin.