As the United States approaches the 46th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, the pro-life movement is at a crossroads. The priority that the movement has for decades rightly given to the appointment of justices who recognize that the U.S. Constitution does not define a right to abortion has finally led to what should be a five-vote majority in favor of overturning or weakening Roe. As pro-life activists journey to Washington again this month to bear witness to the more than 50 million unborn lives lost since 1973, it is time for the movement to ask what its priorities should look like now.
To be sure, it is not immediately likely that Roe v. Wade will be explicitly and conclusively overturned. Many commentators predict that the court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, will steer a more incremental course, gradually validating states’ restrictions on abortion. The practical legal outcome of such an approach may not differ greatly from the results of an outright reversal.
The proper constitutional settlement for the abortion question is for it to be returned to the states as a policy matter about which voters and legislators will and should continue to debate.
As we have long argued, the proper constitutional settlement for the abortion question is for it to be returned to the states as a policy matter about which voters and legislators will and should continue to debate. Whatever the degree and method by which abortion is returned to “politics as usual,” it will remain a divisive political question. The pro-life movement’s work becomes more complicated, not less so, as the prospect of meaningful legal protections for unborn children dawns. While judicial advocacy will continue to be important, developing and winning support for comprehensive pro-life legislation will require building a broader and more diverse coalition than the one assembled in opposition to Roe.
At the same time as the pro-life cause has its best prospects ever at the Supreme Court, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York vowed on Jan. 7 both to codify Roe’s results in state law and to push to enshrine it even further with an amendment to the state constitution. Nine other states have laws that codify a right to abortion. Pro-choice advocates, understanding the threat to Roe, have broadened their focus to include normalizing and even celebrating abortions.
At the end of 2018, The New York Times began running an extensive and tendentious set of editorials in defense of abortion, which are scheduled to run through January. (The entire series is already available online.) The Times paints a picture in which any legal attempt to defend the lives of unborn children is correlated with willingness—even eagerness—to “erode” the rights of women, driven by a desire for control over them. Carefully choosing the most extreme examples, the series implies that anyone who is not adamantly pro-choice is callously unconcerned about the lives of women.
Such unfair depictions will not surprise veterans of the pro-life movement. But they must concern us. The priority given to Supreme Court nominations has left the movement vulnerable to being reduced to the role of supporting player within an overall conservative political agenda. Along with pro-choice absolutism within the Democratic Party, this has hollowed out a vital part of national pro-life witness. Whatever one thinks of the historical prudence and necessity of the pro-life movement’s alliance with the Republican Party, its risks and limitations for the future are starkly evident.
We should be passionate about making sure that the rest of the world can see our respect for women as well.
Pro-lifers know well that the movement honors women, cares for women, is led by women and was founded by women. We should be passionate about making sure that the rest of the world can see our respect for women as well. Imagine a future in which every proposal to defund Planned Parenthood is linked to increased funding for maternal health and protections for pregnant women in the workplace. Imagine how much harder it would be to caricature pro-lifers as anti-woman—and how much closer we would be to protecting all unborn children in law and welcoming them in love.