By David N. O’Steen, Ph.D.
Editor’s note. This appeared in the December issue of National Right to Life News. Please be sure to share with your pro-life family and friends.
At the time Roe vs. Wade was handed down in 1973 I was a math professor in my late 20’s at a small private college. I very much enjoyed proving theorems but had less than zero desire whatsoever to publicly debate any political, much less moral, issue with anyone.
But then there was Roe. A quick reread of the Constitution proved it to be legally void and a quick check of my conscience showed it to be an embrace of pure evil…child sacrifice.
So I soon found myself in front of an audience debating a very smooth, silver tongued psychology professor from a neighboring university who was 10 or more years my
senior and oh so confident. But bolstered by my faith in the justice of our cause, the children and I held our own. I/we had facts. He had well-delivered fluff.
At the end of the debate he approached me and said in a friendly, but smug and certain manner, “You do know Dave that this is all over, your side has lost.” And a little voice in my head said, “No it isn’t and no we haven’t.”
Forty nine years later Roe vs. Wade was gone.
Yet today you can again hear the glee in the voices of pro-abortion announcers and read it from the pens of the of the pro-abortion press as they declare that the pro-life side and unborn babies have lost. Why? Because of an unbroken string of post-Dobbs pro-life defeats in ballot initiatives.
In each case the pro-life side was vastly outspent, usually by a margin of three to one or more, and faced the unanimous opposition of all outlets of the legacy press which parroted the talking points, outright lies, and deceptive ballot language of abortion advocates.
But that same voice still says, “It’s not over.” This battle must/will be fought and won. Innocent unborn life is worth it!
Overcoming the obstacles presented by ballot initiatives won’t be easy, but some patterns are emerging. While the goal of these initiatives is really unlimited abortion at any time for any reason, that won’t be the debate. Rather, the pro-abortion side knows that if the public is convinced that women’s lives or health are threatened without the initiative’s passage, or that there will be no allowance for rape or incest, then they are on their way to victory.
National Right to Life’s own polling shows that over 80% of the public wants abortion available to save the life of the mother, in cases of rape or incest, and when a medical emergency threatens a woman’s health. Ballot initiative experience shows that if those in the middle are faced with choosing between unlimited abortion or risking that women won’t be able to get necessary health care, or abortion in the horrible case of rape or incest, they will choose the former. Especially since the advertising and media message will focus on those circumstances.
In Michigan, for example, the pro-life side was essentially defending a life of mother only law with no allowance for rape or incest. In Ohio the pro-abortion side could point to a six week law, again with no allowance for rape or incest. It really didn’t matter that the law was in the courts and not being enforced, since it could go into effect. Much of the advertising centered around the tragic case of ten-year-old rape victim.
As a first step to overcoming the ballot initiative challenge, states should not go into a ballot fight where they are in essence forced to defend an actual or potential law banning abortion in cases of rape or incest or when there is a medical emergency seriously risking a woman’s physical health.
It is very hard to win any election when 80% plus of the voters disagree with you.
Those children must be saved another way, through education and innovative support programs…or all of the children may be lost.
Many other obstacles must be overcome as well. These include achieving something approaching parity in funding. And we need to obtain ballot language that clearly explains what the proposed amendment actually does and is free of soothing buzzwords such as “reproductive freedom” or imprecise terms such as “viability” that purposely obscure the intended effect.
Ballot initiatives have served to underscore another major change facing the pro-life movement post-Dobbs. We all know that the Dobbs decision sent the issue “back to the states,” but this is much more significant strategically than it may have seemed initially.
Under Roe pro-life state activities were necessarily very similar and limited. States could seek to prevent abortion funding and pass legislation such as parental involvement and informed consent. And then, to further test the Court, states passed legislation such as the pain-capable or dismemberment bills. The hope was that these laws would force the Supreme Court to take a harder look at Roe.
From Roe onward, the focus was always achieving a Supreme Court that would correctly interpret the Constitution and recognize that Roe was an abomination. That required electing pro-life presidents and pro-life senators as well as a pro-life House to limit abortion funding.
Now pro-life federal election activity remains crucial to keep the federal government out of the abortion business. However, due to Senate filibuster rules requiring sixty votes for passage of contested legislation, a national law directly protecting unborn children is not possible in the foreseeable future.
However, post-Dobbs, state activities necessarily vary much more widely.
States facing pro-abortion ballot initiatives must focus all resources on defeating them.
States that have lost ballot initiatives that established a “right to abortion” in their state constitution may seek to test the limits of that “right” legislatively, while also focusing on
life-saving education and support and protection for pregnancy resource centers, and building for the time that the initiative can be reversed.
States that are so heavily pro-abortion Democrat that they are essentially one-party states may also focus on life-saving education while seeking to thwart abortion promoting legislation including that aimed at pregnancy resource centers.
There are states that are pro-life politically but face hostile or mixed state supreme courts forcing legislation to be tailored accordingly while pro-lifers work to improve the court.
Then there are more than one fourth of the states that are sufficiently Republican and pro-life so that very strong protective legislation has already been passed and is saving lives.
A recently published report from the Institute For Labor Economics found that the number of births were up in such states for the first six months of 2023!
No, it’s not over, and it won’t be as long as there are babies to save.