The Pro-Life movement has been around as a force for fifty years or so. They were the corner stone of the Republicans becoming the party of the Religious Right and the Religious Right one of Ronald Reagan’s three electoral stool legs. They have supported Pro-Life candidates, helped fight against abortion funding, and even saw some legislative success with partial-birth abortion bans.
But for almost all that time, Roe v. Wade, and later Planned Parenthood v. Casey, there was always a limit to how far any law or lawmaker could go, regardless of stated Pro-Life position or goal. Voters knew that even the most extreme Pro-Life position would not survive the courts, so it was for those moderate swing voters who had a moderate view of abortion had little reason to care. As such, the Pro-Life movement never needed to provide any compromise in its positions… until now.
And oh, how the Pro-Life movement failed to prepare for the post-Roe world. There were six ballot measures on abortion—the Pro-Life movement lost every single one of them. Kansas rejected a Pro-Life amendment to their state constitution to declare that there was no right to an abortion in their state constitution earlier this year, which ought to have been a warning sign. Instead, Kentucky rejected a measure to do the same. Some blame problematic or poorly written language… but the Pro-Life movement had about half-a-century to work on language that would be passable.
There was not much of a political detriment to taking anything but an extreme yet vague Pro-Life position. So, without a clear cut-off for the abortion, or exceptions for life of the mother, rape, or incest, people assume that it’ll be a total ban. The political ads this year showed this being pushed with even moderate politicians being accused of no limit no exception abortion bans and created nightmare scenarios of women dying or doctors afraid to save a woman’s life.
And the only major rejoinder was that the other side supported abortion without limits, even up to birth.
It turns out that given a choice between a total ban and total allowance, the vast majority of voters will choose the later because the former is far more objectionable. That the later was also the law of the land for nearly fifty years makes it far less scary than the nightmare scenarios they were presented with in campaign ads. So much so that state Constitutional amendments to allow an unrestricted and absolute right to abortion passed not only in Left-wing California and Vermont, but also in Michigan.
The Michigan “abortion rights” amendment overturned a law from nearly a century ago which was a blanket ban on abortion. Instead of even hastily trying to pass a replacement law with at least some exceptions, the Republican legislature did nothing and got aborted at the same election that amendment passed.
So bad was it, that Montana rejected a measure to protect children born alive after botched abortions. Yes, the language was badly written, even many Pro-Life groups would admit. But this just underscores how unprepared the Pro-Life movement was for the practical political fighting that so many other movements have been dealing with just as long if not longer.
Both the Pro-Gun and the Pro-LGBTQ&c. movements have worked in the political trenches since the 1970s (or longer) to shift public opinion, make incremental changes to remove restrictions, and gain practical experience with electoral politics.
The Dobbs decision was not the end of the political fight, but only the right to begin fighting in the political arena.
So, what can the Pro-Life movement do?
At the very least they should concentrate on the possible. Simply stating what you believe, no matter how true, does not work unless people are already inclined to believe it to. The fight will be to make the electorate so inclined. Find where the median voter in each state stands and try to bring any abortion laws to the left of that center towards the center, but no further.
Better some lives saved then none, after all.
This is where the distinction between the Republican Party, which is a coalition that includes but is not exclusive to, the broader conservative movement, can come into play. The Republicans need to find moderates who have bone fide voting opposition to total bans, but will accept many restrictions such as bans on partial-birth abortion or supporting parental consent/notification. Then, with that achieved, continue to shift the Overton window. That’s how the Pro-Gun and Pro-LGBTQ&c. achieved success; their court victories were build on decades of hard work on changing minds and winning election victories. This does not mean that the Pro-Life movement should abandon any moral or conviction, just be realistic in how they further those eminently gust goals.
Even if you believe that the prior paragraph is wrong, the election results indicated even if you don’t agree with that alternative, some alternative to what the Pro-Life movement brought to this years election is necessary.
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