The end of the Supreme Court’s term has come and gone without a retirement announcement from Justice Anthony Kennedy. Anti-abortion activists’ hopes for a long-awaited fifth vote to overturn Roe v. Wade have turned to resignation that progress at the Supreme Court will take another year. This delay is a blessing in disguise for anti-abortion activists if they use the pause to focus on efforts to proactively address the crises that frequently drive abortion.
The pro-life movement has for decades been afflicted by a paralyzing fixation on ending abortion by restricting access and ultimately making it illegal. The pro-life playbook, at least as reported in the mainstream press, has recently focused on strategically passing laws to generate test cases to chip away at Roe (or, more technically, Casey) and to galvanize public opinion against abortion. Recent efforts include Missouri’s proposed restrictions on the treatment of the remains of aborted fetuses and other limits on the operation of abortion facilities, Texas’s quasi-ban on a gruesome late-term abortion procedure (it prohibits an abortionist from ending the child’s life by pulling off his or her limbs, though it does not prohibit such a procedure if the abortionist first poisons the fetus with digoxin or potassium chloride), and Ohio’s reintroduction of a previously-vetoed proposal to ban abortion after a heartbeat can be detected.
But anti-abortion advocates must not fall into the trap of reducing abortion to a problem that can be solved by laws alone. Four decades of legalized abortion have solidified a market demand that will not end merely because abortion becomes illegal. To reduce and ultimately end abortion, life-affirming organizations must compete with abortion providers head-on and demonstrate that they offer a better range of services and better options.
The restrictions, however appropriate, are not a comprehensive template on how to proceed if Roe is overturned. Abortion is frequently the result of hopelessness or panic driven by complex, difficult problems that long preceded the pregnancy at issue. At Human Coalition, most of our clients tell us they would not seek an abortion if their circumstances were different. Restrictions do little to alleviate the very real difficulties faced by such women.
Simply making abortion illegal, without more, would not make it go away and could even make abortion more difficult to address. While laws are important, they are downstream of culture, and they do not operate in a vacuum. Consider the recent historical example of the Civil Rights Movement, which succeeded in having unjust Jim Crow laws overturned or repealed only to see the benefit of those changes significantly blunted by the “white flight” the legal changes prompted. For abortion to end, it must be rejected by a broad swath of the culture, but it is unclear whether these laws, filtered through a hostile media, have helped society understand the violence and inhumanity of the abortion industry or instead further polarized the abortion debate. If protecting preborn life is seen primarily as a political or culture-war issue, it is difficult for an average person without political connections or social influence to see how he or she can contribute to ending abortion.
Anti-abortion activists must craft a more balanced approach that includes a robust effort to provide practical, life-affirming support to abortion-seeking women. This approach addresses the needs of the mother and the baby. It is a way to make progress and rescue children while Roe still governs. It can break the cycle of repeat abortions. It provides common ground with political moderates. It demonstrates compassion, winning over the soft-core pro-lifers who believe abortion is morally wrong but are ambivalent about making it illegal. It defeats the bogus “you only care about babies until they’re born” argument. It addresses the systemic injustices driving abortion and injuring women. And it builds an environment in which abortion can be considered both unthinkable and unnecessary.
Supporting women in their journey to parenthood is challenging and demanding on everyone involved, but it is feasible. And it literally saves lives. Every day, we see clients who are determined to abort because they see no viable alternative. But offered constructive and compassionate help, many reject abortion. These clients are powerful women with a drive to overcome their circumstances, and they want to do better than aborting their children.
Considering the massive social changes the country has experienced in just the last decade, there is every reason to believe abortion can end in our lifetime. But it is going to require a well-rounded approach that emphasizes helping women succeed with their children.
Colin LeCroy is Associate General Counsel at one of the nation’s largest nonprofits, Human Coalition, which fuses technology, best practices, and tangible help to compassionately serve the unreached abortion-determined woman.