Overturning Roe v. Wade could be a political minefield for McMullin

Independent U.S. Senate candidate favored overturning Roe in 2016, but now opposes the move.

(Briana Scroggins | Special to The Tribune) Utah independent U.S. Senate candidate Evan McMullin says he opposes the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. He was in favor of the Court reversing the decision during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Independent U.S. Senate candidate Evan McMullin’s shifting stance on Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in all 50 states, may become a potent weapon against him as he hopes to cleave Republican support away from incumbent Mike Lee in November.

During his 2016 presidential campaign, McMullin supported overturning Roe. Following last week’s bombshell leak of a draft opinion to do just that, McMullin backed off, warning that decision would lead to some states adopting extreme laws, including total bans on abortion.

McMullin attempted to thread the needle between those two positions during an interview with MSNBC’s Medhi Hasan Sunday night.

“I’m committed to the sanctity of life, but I think that means the lives of women. That means the lives of unborn children. I think we’ve got to take a more comprehensive approach to that,” McMullin said.

The leak of the draft opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, set off a political firestorm. The reversal would strip away a legal right afforded to women for nearly 50 years. Most Americans oppose overturning Roe. A recent survey found that 54% of Americans say the Supreme Court should uphold Roe, while only 28% think it should be overturned.

McMullin’s chances of knocking off Lee hinge on winning support from independents, Democrats and Republicans who may be looking for an alternative to the two-term Republican. Utah Democrats opted not to nominate a candidate to give McMullin a better chance in November.

Lee, who clerked for Alito, clearly sees overturning Roe as a political winner. He has seized on the abortion issue to attack McMullin as a political opportunist.

“This is not someone who has the interests of the American people or the Constitution at heart,” Lee said during an interview on Fox News Channel last week.

It was recently revealed that Lee was part of a plot to help former President Donald Trump remain in office after losing the 2020 election to Joe Biden. Lee has two Republican challengers for the party nomination this year. Becky Edwards and Ally Isom are hoping to end his reelection bid in the three-way primary election on June 28.

Despite McMullin’s Roe reversal, his staunchly anti-abortion position has remained consistent. He is anti-abortion and favors policies to reduce unwanted pregnancies, a stance that is not inconsistent with his 2016 presidential campaign.

“I think the way to move forward is found in data that says very clearly when we make long-term reversible contraception more available, the abortion rate declines. We should do more to support women and families, and children. That’s what actually lowers the abortion rate in America,” McMullin said.

Overturning Roe would send the abortion decision back to the states. Utah has a so-called “trigger law” on the books to ban abortion once Roe v. Wade is invalidated. But there is a move among some Republicans to take the decision away from individual states by enacting a nationwide abortion ban. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Saturday a Republican-controlled Congress could pass such a ban.

McMullin said he would not support Congress completely outlawing abortion.

“If it’s the kind of ban we’re seeing proposed and passed around the country that would absolutely ban abortions, then I would be a no vote against that,” McMullin said.

McMullin’s campaign clarified his comment on Monday, explaining he would not vote for a blanket abortion ban that did not include exceptions in the case of rape and incest and to preserve the life of the mother.

“As a pro-life Utahn, I’m concerned that the never-ending tug-of-war over abortion laws threatens to create a public health crisis and further divide the nation without solving anything,” McMullin said in a statement to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Sen. Lee’s office did not respond to email questions about whether he would support Congress enacting any type of nationwide abortion ban.