After Roe v. Wade overhauled America’s abortion laws in 1973 by nullifying state control in favor of Supreme Court management, politicians had a get-out-of-accountability free card for decades. Little could be done to change the legal framework allowing for abortion through all 9 months of pregnancy, for any reason—and often subsidized with taxpayer funding—but it generated a lot of debate.
Times have changed. Subsequent Supreme Court decisions opened the door to new ways of regulating abortion. Pro-life state legislators took full advantage, especially after legislative gains in 2010. Today, as the High Court considers a case—Dobbs v. Jackson—about a limit on abortion at almost 4 months of pregnancy, most believe that Roe will be either reversed or weakened by June, allowing states even more leeway to protect life in law.
This pending power shift away from the judicial branch of government to the executive and legislative branches will result in key changes for abortion policy and activism.
First of all, the policy debate is going to shift as legislators consider limits and bans that address more abortions. Much pro-life abortion policy has focused on issues with extensive public support, like limits on late-term abortions of viable babies who can feel pain, adult engagement in a minor’s abortion and facility regulations to require abortion vendors to operate by the same standards as out-patient medical clinics. Considering that 9 out of 10 abortions occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, those efforts did not impact most abortions.
Many believe that after the Dobbs ruling, late-term limits will be widely permitted. Abortion advocates have responded by pivoting to online, no-test distribution of chemical abortion pills, which are used to end 54 percent of preborn lives aborted by 9 weeks. Sending women these pills without medical supervision will lead to all kinds of health issues and horror stories, putting more pressure on crowded emergency rooms.
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Chemical abortion legislation, along with heartbeat and life-at-conception bills, will gain prominence in state houses as legislators begin to address the reality of abortion today—the loss of lives early in pregnancy.
This political debate will demand more action from politicians. Abortion motivates voters. One Pew poll found that 4 in 10 voters say abortion is “very important” for their vote, while Gallup notes that pro-life people are more likely to be single-issue voters. In Virginia’s recent gubernatorial race, in which Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe, exit polling indicated that abortion was the primary issue for 5 percent of Virginia voters—Youngkin won these voters by 12 points.
Today’s elected officials will find it harder to avoid commitment and action on the most pressing human rights issue of the day as voters ask to be heard.
The federal government will face mounting pressure for policy change. In light of a changing judicial landscape, advocates for the abortion industry are turning to the federalization of abortion with new legislation. The Women’s Health Protection Act, for example, goes far beyond Roe, with renewed pushes for passage of the ERA and with federal appointments, funds and resources to aid abortion vendors. The Biden administration has been aggressive in its push for more abortion, more abortion spending and less state control.
Sadly, the public discourse is changing for the worse, as peaceful protests turn more frequently into confrontations. Threats and acts of violence against pro-life activists are becoming increasingly common. Students for Life students and team members have endured everything from physical attacks and arson to bomb threats and intimidation, making security issues a vital concern and expense for pro-life events. When Justice Brett Kavanaugh—who was seen as a possible pro-life vote—was confirmed to the Supreme Court, protestors stormed the Court, banging on the doors. Outside the U.S., violent protests broke out in Poland and Latin America when those countries contemplated pro-life policies. Antifa has protested my own speaking tours and recently the Chicago March for Life.
Some abortion supporters are pairing their advocacy for the violence of abortion with violent acts, which have a definite chilling effect on public discourse that must be overcome. When people are afraid to use their free speech rights, those rights don’t truly exist.
Pro-life Americans will face these challenges in their communities and in public policy with a personal touch. Abortion advocates talk about an “abortion desert” developing in post-Roe America—better thought of as a pro-life oasis, where life is protected in law. Such change will require a renewed society-wide commitment to helping mothers and children, born and preborn, where they live. Students for Life of America’s initiative Standing with You is one of many programs that provide young families with support, as our societal goal shifts from ending the lives of people who might suffer to addressing the causes of that suffering.
Going forward, the issue is not whether we will still be debating abortion, but where. New opportunities for abortion policy are emerging, especially in communities nationwide.
LifeNews Note: Kristan Hawkins is president of Students for Life of America/SFLAction, with more than 1,250 groups on college and university, middle and high school, law and medical school campuses in all 50 states.