By David N. O’Steen, Ph.D
Editor’s note. This appeared in the January issue of National Right to Life News. Please share the contents of this 48 page edition with your pro-life family and friends.
Are we winning…or not? That is a question many pro-lifers must have asked after the battering we have endured from the press since the “leak” of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision; the loss of a number of referenda; and an election that left the pro-life movement in a much better congressional position, but felt like a disappointment because of higher (and perhaps unwarranted) expectations.
Let me give a short answer and explain. Yes, pro-life movement, you are winning.
Ask yourself, would you trade the reversal of Roe for a couple of Senate seats and referendum victories? No! Would the abortion industry spot pro-lifers those victories to have Roe back? You betcha!
The Multi-Generational Miracle that was the reversal of Roe was no accident. It was the result of much prayer and a half century of step-by-step strategy, primarily developed and implemented in the educational, legislative, political, and judicial arenas by National Right to Life and its state affiliates.
In the meantime, the abortion toll was reduced from about 1.6 million lives lost annually to about 900,000 today–a not insignificant feat –and very significant to the millions of children who have been saved.
Today, 22 states have laws protecting most unborn children from either fertilization or a time when a heartbeat can be detectable with 14 of these in effect.
An analysis by NRLC’s Dr. Randall O ‘Bannon, which takes into account both the estimated number of mothers who traveled from a protective state to an abortion destination state to abort and the number who used abortion pills illegally, conservatively concludes that about 30,000 lives were saved in the latter half of 2022 due to Roe’s reversal!
It has always been three steps forward and two steps back. But the Multi-Generational Miracle was many giant steps forward. Now the pro-abortion backlash that followed must and will be overcome as we continue to advance.
It certainly appears that the Dobbs leak was carefully coordinated with the abortion establishment and the press. From day one the press over and over again parroted the pro-abortion talking points with a unified national message that was top news right up until the election. The message was simple, false, and since repeated non-stop, persuasive to many.
The message: reversal of Roe meant all abortions would be banned, including for rape victims. Women would not be treated for miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, and even deceased children in utero.
Pro-abortion doctors complied with the messaging. There was a cascade of stories where doctors claimed they were unable to treat women in need of care that actually had nothing to do with abortion, because of Dobbs and pro-life legislation.
(One early talking point that women would be jailed was essentially squelched by NRLC’s release of a letter signed by a number of groups reiterating pro-life opposition to punishing women, who are also victims of abortion.)
Unfortunately, the media was able to tweak the pro-abortion messaging in referendum states to successfully claim that even the possibility of pro-life legislation would result in their phony parade of horribles. This was successful even in well-organized pro-life states such as Kansas, Kentucky, and Michigan.
Yet despite the above, post-election polling by the McLaughlin Group for NRLC found the following regarding attitudes on abortion:
- 9.6% would allow abortion only to save the life of the mother
- 12.6% would allow abortion only to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest.
- 24.5% would allow abortion only to save the life of the mother, in cases of rape or incest or in case of a medical emergency
- 11.7% would allow abortion up to 6 weeks when a fetal heartbeat can be detected
- 12% would allow abortion up to 24 weeks
- 21.1% would allow abortion at any time
At first these results seem counter-intuitive, given the pro-abortion media barrage and its resulting impact. But remember that the pro-abortion side was able to control the message by removing the baby and concentrating on easy targets where they have overwhelming support such as abortion for rape.
Obviously, the pro-life movement has to reclaim the message by bringing back the baby and removing the easy targets from the political and legislative debates.
West Virginia has passed a strong piece of protective legislation based on the NRLC model developed by James Bopp, Jr., its General Counsel. The West Virginia legislation has the potential to prevent about 95% of abortions in the state, but people have heard practically nothing about it in the media. Why?
I suspect because it doesn’t fit the pro-abortion narrative. This legislation, which protects unborn life beginning at fertilization, does not prevent abortion in the case of rape or medical emergency carefully defined, and makes clear that nothing in it prevents treatment for miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, and still births.
The November McLaughlin poll indicates 47% support for a model like the West Virginia bill and 31% opposition, with the “Heartbeat” contingent in the poll likely somewhere in middle. When such a bill can be passed, it would make little sense to make the debate about a life of mother only bill which has just 10% support and 90% opposition, thereby handing the abortion lobby the issue they want while saving no lives.
When drafting legislation, one is not writing a gospel or a statement of principal. Legislation is simply one tool to save lives. If a legislative tool cannot reach to some lives, then other tools such as pregnancy resource centers, adoption, and other alternatives must be found.
Our goal is to save every child and different means may have to be used in some cases.
Most of the pro-life movement has supported the concept of the heartbeat bill. The Texas experience and current statistics indicate it saves approximately 50% of children intended for abortion. It defies any logical explanation why anyone or any group that has supported the heartbeat bill would oppose the legislation like West Virginia’s which has the potential to save 95% of the children.
The 2022 elections
Heading into the election, the Democratic party kept the same playbook of pro-abortion lies and deceit that had been used since the leak of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe. An article entitled “How Democrats Used the Abortion Debate to Hold Off the Red Wave” in the New York Times on November, 10, 2022 stated:
“Soon after the decision in June, Democratic Party committees invested in detailed polling, hoping to drill down on what exact messaging worked best. There was a clear conclusion: The most potent messaging for Democrats was to keep the conversation broad by casting Republicans as supporting a national ban on abortion, and avoid a discussion over the details about gestational week limits.”
Unfortunately, the introduction in the U.S. Senate of a 15-week abortion ban in the height of the fall campaign played right into the hands of the Democrats and the pro-abortion press. It made the issue a “national ban on abortion,” despite the fact that about 95% of abortions are performed before 15 weeks and the bill could not possibly pass the House or overcome a Senate filibuster. The pro-abortion press and Democratic candidates just kept the issue a “national ban on abortion.”
To quote again from the same New York Times article:
“Debating weeks is not where we want to be, said Celinda Lake, the long time Democratic pollster who conducted some of the surveys. ‘People are terrible at math and terrible at biology.’”
The damage was exacerbated by a pressure campaign by some groups urging Republican senators to co-sponsor the bill and Republican candidates to support it. NRLC wisely declined to be part of this campaign but had to contend with the political damage it caused.
Although Democrats and the pro-abortion press were able to control the message throughout the campaign by focusing on the ban and easy targets like rape, in the end the pro-life movement emerged in a much stronger position. Throughout 2021 and 2022 only the filibuster, which depended on two Democrat senators resisting tremendous party pressure, stood in the way of Democrats enacting a pro-abortion “parade of horribles.”
The pro-abortion wish list, which was narrowly averted, included enactment of the Women’s Health Protection Act, Washington D.C. statehood, and packing the Supreme Court. After the election with the retaking of the U.S. House by pro-life Republicans, those pro-abortion goals are now out of their reach.
National Right to Life and its political committees, as well as its state affiliates, were very active in the campaign. We were involved in essentially all of the close House races that led to the pro-life House majority, as well as defending Senate seats in competitive states such as North Carolina and Wisconsin.
McLaughlin’s post-election poll found that 29.2% of respondents recalled hearing, reading or seeing something from National Right to Life, whether by mail, radio, social media or telephone during the campaign. 20.5% recalled receiving such information from a state right to life group.
Activities of other groups were also recalled. 12.1% recalled information from Students for Life; 11.1% from Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America; and 10.9% from Women Speak Out PAC.
So where is the pro-life movement today? In the best position it has been in since 1973. Sure, there are many challenges ahead. We must recapture the public narrative and bring back the baby, find winning strategies for referenda, and deal with the proliferation of the abortion pill.
But we are free of the Yoke of Roe v. Wade! We are free to save lives! The pro-life road will still be long and in some states very rough, but along the way more and more lives will be saved.
By God’s Grace we have achieved one miracle. State by state the pro-life movement will have many more victories and National Right to Life will lead the way…as it always has.