The following appeared November 9 in the online version of First Things. It was written by Michael New, professor at the University of Michigan, who has authored studies on the effects of laws restricting abortion.
The results of Tuesday’s presidential election were certainly disappointing. We knew the next president might get the opportunity to appoint as many as four new judges to the U.S. Supreme Court. We also knew that the 2012 election marked our best opportunity to repeal Obamacare. We were running against an incumbent president who very openly and aggressively supported legal abortion. We knew the stakes were high, and we responded admirably. In the end, our efforts came up a bit short.
However, I want to encourage you not to despair. We continue to make good progress. In fact, I would argue that our biggest successes during the past twenty years have neither been political nor legislative. Our biggest success story is that we have succeeded in changing the hearts and minds of millions of Americans.
Allow me to explain. One simple measure of the effectiveness of the pro-life movement is the number of abortions that are performed every year in this country. The number of abortions has declined from 1.6 million in 1990 to about 1.2 million in 2008. That is 1.2 million too many. But it is also a 25 percent decline. The consistent decline in the incidence of abortion is progress the pro-life movement could sometimes do a better job advertising.
So why has the abortion rate declined? It is due partly to the state level pro-life laws we have passed. I am probably the most dogged defender of the incrementalist strategy in the pro-life movement. I frequently cite numerous academic studies, including my own research, which shows that public funding restrictions, parental involvement laws, and properly designed informed consent laws all reduce abortion rates. I also detail how the strategies our opponents promote, like greater spending on welfare or contraceptive programs, have no effect on abortion rates—or are, in many cases, counterproductive.
However, I want to remind everyone that the abortion rate has fallen in every state—even deep blue states that have not passed any pro-life laws since 1990. Why is this? It is mostly because hearts and minds are changing. Ultrasound technology has developed that allows people to see clear pictures of sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews in utero. We have also developed an impressive network of pregnancy resources centers that provide vital assistance to literally thousands of women facing unplanned pregnancies.
Furthermore, we have become increasingly smart and savvy in our outreach efforts. There are too many good pro-life outreach efforts for me to name in this letter. However, I think that the Silent No More campaign has done a great job communicating the regret of many post-abortive women. The 40 Days for Life campaign has inspired thousands of people to become more active in their pro-life work. The annual Students for Life of America conference during the March for Life weekend routinely attracts thousands of college students—making this the largest pro-life conference in the country. Finally the videos produced by LiveAction Films have done a great job exposing unethical and illegal activities at Planned Parenthood facilities across the country.
We have realized that we have to work smarter and work harder than our opponents. Many fail to realize the difficulties that Roe v. Wade has imposed on the pro-life movement. Roe not only legalized abortion on demand and made abortion policy resistant to change, it also changed society’s sexual and cultural mores in such a way as to make subsequent restrictions on abortion more difficult to enact. It gave abortion rights mainstream political legitimacy. Moreover, it created a national network of abortion providers with a financial interest in easy access to abortion. Overall, through creativity and dedication, we have done a good job overcoming many of these obstacles.
Of course, I do not want to dismiss politics. After the 1998 election, many conservatives were disgusted that the Lewinsky scandal did not result in a greater political backlash against the Democratic Party. Some suggested that conservatives disengage from politics. However, I would never recommend that course of action. Winning elections and passing laws has certainly done some good. Furthermore, if nothing else, pro-lifers have to play defense. The unique problems posed by both the HHS contraception mandate and Obamacare will only be solved through political engagement.
Most important, I do not want pro-lifers to despair. The past 20 years have been good to us. It was just 20 years ago we received a very disappointing judicial ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. A number of surveys indicated that the pro-life position was losing ground in the court of public opinion. The Republican Party was having serious discussions about removing the pro-life plank from their platform. Pro-lifers certainly had plenty of reasons for pessimism. But now everything has changed. Many surveys show that the pro-life position is gaining support, and no one disputes that the Republican Party will remain a pro-life party for the foreseeable future.
So please keep doing your pro-life work, with pride, conviction, and confidence. Our efforts have made a difference over the past 20 years. And I have every confidence that if we stay the course, the next 20 years will be even better.
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