Recent media headlines suggest a disdain for democracy among pro-life groups, aligning with the Democrats’ narrative that they champion democracy while the GOP poses a threat.
By Jonathon Van Maren
As the pro-life movement and abortion groups gear up for a series of tough state-level fights in 2024, a new mantra has emerged in the press: pro-life groups hate democracy. Here’s a sampling of recent headlines:
“The Contempt for Democracy Driving the Anti-Abortion Movement,” The Nation
“Voters back abortion rights, but some opponents won’t relent. Is the commitment to democracy in question?” The Associated Press
“Direct democracy is saving abortion rights. Conservatives want it gone,” The Hill
“Protecting Abortion Rights Requires Protecting Democracy as Well,” The New Republic
This plays directly into the emerging theme of the Biden-Harris re-election campaign: that the Democrats are the party of democracy, and that the GOP, on every level, poses an active threat to it. Biden has already given several speeches to that effect (this tactic played well for him during the midterms), and Harris will embark on a national speaking tour to whip up support for abortion. The Democrats intend to make support for democracy and support for abortion synonymous, and the media has already picked up on this theme.
This line of attack is worth examining more closely. In a longform report in December titled “Conservatives move to keep abortion off the 2024 ballot,” Politico took a look at the emerging abortion battles:
Conservatives are testing new tactics to keep abortion off the ballot following a series of high-profile defeats. In Arizona, Florida, Nevada and other states, several anti-abortion groups are buying TV and digital ads, knocking on doors and holding events to persuade people against signing petitions to put the issue before voters in November. Republicans are also appealing to state courts to keep referendums off the ballot, while GOP lawmakers in states including Missouri and Oklahoma are pushing to raise the threshold for an amendment to pass or to make it to the ballot in the first place.
The emerging strategy aims to prevent abortion rights groups from notching their third, and largest, set of ballot measure victories since Roe v. Wade was overturned. And while conservatives celebrated the fall of Roe for returning the question of abortion rights to the people, these efforts are seen as an implicit admission that anti-abortion groups don’t believe they can win at the ballot box – even in red states – and that the best way to keep restrictions on the procedure is to keep voters from weighing in directly.
It is important to note here, once again, that even when the press attempts to be even-handed, they are operating, fundamentally, from the premises of the pro-abortion side. Abortion is an act of violence that ends the life of a young human being. As such, it has always been the pro-life position that pre-born children are entitled to protection under law; not merely that abortion should be a state-level issue.
As Steve Aden of AUL told Politico: “Because we believe that abortion is truly about the right to life of human individuals in the womb, we don’t believe those rights should be subjected to majority vote.”
To accuse pro-lifers of opposing “democracy” because we do not believe the right to life of girls and boys in the womb should be subject to the will of the mob is to accept the premise of the abortion movement that the debate about feticide is actually about healthcare and bodily autonomy.
Conversely, there is also a double standard here. For decades, abortion activists have insisted that abortion “is not up for debate” and that public opinion should have no impact on whether abortion is legal; they fiercely opposed the idea that abortion should be placed on the ballot.
Why? Because they, too, believe some rights should not be subjected to popular vote. Now, however, they have realized that direct democracy initiatives provide them with some distinct advantages – especially because the media and Big Tech allow them to largely dominate the debate. (I have written on both the advantages of direct democracy for abortion activists for First Things here and here, and did a podcast on pro-life strategy in referendums thus far for LifeSiteNews here.)
The abortion movement does not believe that abortion should be on the ballot – but because it serves their strategic interests at the moment, it is convenient for them to insist that “democracy” should decide the fate of pre-born children in the womb.
Neither the pro-life movement nor the abortion movement thinks that abortion should be decided by the voters. The pro-life movement, because we do not believe that the right of human beings not to be killed should be subject to popular vote; the abortion movement, because they believe the right to “bodily autonomy” underpins the entire post-sexual revolution society.
The fight over state-level referendums isn’t about democracy. It is about whether abortion is about a what – or a who.