Roe’s repeal, 1 year later: Pro-lifers see significant challenges ahead

Roe’s repeal, 1 year later: Pro-lifers see significant challenges ahead



The scene outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., after the court released its decision in the Dobbs abortion case on June 24, 2022. Pro-abortion demonstrators gradually made up a decided majority of the crowd as the day wore on. / Katie Yoder/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 23, 2023 / 10:45 am (CNA).

Marking the one-year anniversary of the historic Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, pro-lifers are celebrating the reality that 14 states in the country have barred almost all abortions — and half of all states have enacted strong pro-life protections, something that would have seemed impossible to groups on both sides of the abortion debate only a few years ago.

Currently, abortion is not permitted, with some exceptions, in 14 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. It is limited to six weeks, when heartbeat can be detected, in Georgia; 12 weeks in Nebraska; 15 weeks in Arizona and Florida; and limited to 18 and 20 weeks in Utah and North Carolina, respectively.

Florida’s heartbeat law has been signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and is currently under review by the state’s Supreme Court. North Carolina’s measure to limit abortion to 12 weeks will go into effect in July. Six other states — Indiana, Iowa, Montana, Ohio, South Carolina, and Wyoming — have enacted pro-life protections that are facing legal challenges.

-Lifesaving impact-

These laws have had a real impact on the number of abortions in the country, as indicated by an April report from the pro-abortion nonprofit Society of Family Planning, which noted a more than 6% decrease in the number of abortions nationwide in the six months following the Dobbs decision. The report found that there were roughly 32,260 fewer abortions over six months compared with pre-Dobbs numbers. The group compiled data from 83% of legal abortion providers in the United States and provided estimates for the remaining 17%.

Tessa Longbons, senior research associate at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research and education arm of SBA Pro-Life America, told the National Catholic Register that the pro-life group estimates that 60,000 lives have been saved in the year since Dobbs, based on taking the data released by the Society of Family Planning and “extrapolating that out over the next six months.” 

“There may be more data that becomes available that will give us a better view,” she said, “but for right now, just using the latest that we can see from the abortion industry to include states that normally don’t report abortions, like California, Maryland, New Hampshire … gives us a good glimpse of what’s happening in the U.S. as a whole.”

Another estimate of the impact after Dobbs is SBA’s “Lifesaving Laws in the States” tracker, which “is a measurement of the estimated impact of a state law on the abortions happening in that state.” Currently, the group lists 181,178 abortions that have been or would be impacted annually by being prohibited in the 25 states with significant pro-life protections in effect or pending. 

“We know that many women will go out of state. We know that many women will order abortion pills online,” Longbons said. 

She explained that the tracker is not necessarily saying those abortions are not happening, given the abortion pill and abortion travel, but it is measuring the “legal protection to unborn babies” in the state and “the scope of the state laws.” She added that the tracker’s estimate projects what the impact would be “if all state pro-life laws were in effect, and, sadly, some are blocked.”

-Abortion pills and travel-

Melanie Israel, a policy analyst on life issues at the Heritage Foundation, told the Register that while it is encouraging that “Planned Parenthoods have stopped doing abortions in these pro-life states,” she noted that “we still have a long way to go to be able to fully protect women and unborn children from abortion pills that can still flow across state lines.” 

Addressing this reality, Israel noted that the Heritage Foundation, alongside other organizations, sent a letter with pro-life protections they want members of the 118th Congress to pursue, including limiting “the interstate flow of dangerous abortion drugs.” 

The administration of President Joe Biden has ensured widespread access to the abortion pill mifepristone despite significant health and safety concerns raised by pro-life doctors, particularly over the pill being provided without a doctor’s visit to check for conditions such as a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy. The Supreme Court recently permitted the pill to remain on the market as a court case brought by the pro-life Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine challenging the FDA’s approval of the drug continues.

Israel also regretted that “states like California, for example, are trying to make it easier for someone to come from out of state and get an abortion there in their state.”

Twenty states have enacted additional measures in the past year to ensure and expand abortion access. In California, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a series of measures in September aimed at thwarting other states’ investigations into abortions obtained in the state. The state also launched a website to assist those traveling from other states to obtain abortions.

-Violence and vandalism-

In addition to ongoing legal challenges in pro-abortion states, another significant challenge the pro-life movement has faced is violence and vandalism following the Dobbs decision. 

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said that in the year following the decision, her group’s legal costs have tripled due to an increase in incidents involving free-speech violations.

“That’s something that we saw immediately after the fall of Roe,” she said. “We had over 100 instances of free-speech violations.”

Emily Osment, vice president of communications at Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, also noted violence and targeting that the pro-life community has faced since the Dobbs decision. “Over the last year, nationwide, there have been nearly 90 attacks on pregnancy centers and pro-life groups,” she said. “Since Dobbs, we’ve seen firebombing and vandalizing of pregnancy centers across the county.”

Catholic churches have also faced more than 100 instances of vandalism and attacks in the year since the decision.

-Ballot setbacks and strategies-

Regarding the political landscape in the past year, the pro-life movement contended with setbacks, including the failure of pro-life ballot initiatives in Kentucky and Montana in the 2022 midterm elections and the success of pro-abortion ballot initiatives in California, Vermont, and Michigan.

Steven Aden, chief legal officer and general counsel at Americans United for Life, believes the results of the ballot initiatives in the 2022 midterm elections “can’t be relied on to predict future public sentiment, since voter sentiment around abortion has cooled and the pro-abortion resolutions in California, Vermont, and Michigan relied on ambiguous verbiage that simply doubled down on a ‘right to reproductive freedom.’” 

He said the “upcoming ballot initiatives in traditionally pro-life states like Ohio, South Dakota, and Missouri will tell us more, but when citizens in pro-life states speak through their elected representatives, they’ve strengthened protections for life.”

Osment emphasized the need for pro-life advocates to speak clearly on the abortion issue. She said abortion advocates have been “as ambiguous as possible with these ballot initiatives,” citing ambiguous wording in the proposed constitutional amendment in Ohio that leads with mentions of birth control and miscarriage care instead of focusing initially on abortion.

Ohio’s proposed amendment states that “every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions on: contraception; fertility treatment; continuing one’s own pregnancy; miscarriage care; and abortion.” 

Pro-lifers have also raised concerns that the amendment would undermine parental-consent laws due to its broad wording. Republican state lawmakers are pushing a measure that will appear on an Aug. 8 ballot that would make it more difficult to amend the state’s Constitution, thereby making the pro-abortion amendment more difficult to pass.

Hawkins believes the state legislatures are a key part of continuing to fight for pro-life protections. In the 2022 midterm elections, Students for Life “identified states where we knew we were going to have the best chance to pass pro-life measures and identified the members in our previous work who had said that they were pro-life, who were holding up progress from taking place; and so, when we looked after November, we correctly knew that we had a more pro-life base going in the state legislatures in January 2023 than we did in January 2022.”

She noted North Carolina’s recent pro-life protection limiting abortion after 12 weeks and how state pro-life lawmakers needed every Republican vote to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of that legislation.

-Looking ahead to 2024-

Hawkins said clarity and taking a strong stance on the abortion issue is key for 2024 pro-life presidential candidates. This cycle, she said, “whether or not a candidate wants to talk about abortion, a candidate is going to have to talk about abortion.”

Osment said that when a pro-life candidate states the “pro-life protections that they’re for and really clearly states that, they do well.” In the midterms, she said, “when you look at the really tough governor races — Brian Kemp, Ron DeSantis — these are clear examples of people who were upfront, they were transparent, and they won by double digits against their opponents.” 

SBA is calling on all the 2024 pro-life presidential candidates to back at least a 15-week limit. Osment also acknowledged the need to educate the public on the issue, saying most Americans don’t realize that the U.S. is “one of seven countries in the world, alongside human-rights abusers like China and North Korea,” that permit abortions past 15 weeks. She said that pro-life presidential candidates need to share information like that with the public. 

While some pro-life GOP candidates, such as recently announced former vice president Mike Pence, have indicated support for a national 15-week abortion limit, others such as Nikki Haley have stated support for consensus pro-life protections while noting that any national abortion limit would be extremely unlikely, given the makeup of Congress. Others have indicated they would leave the issue up to the states.

Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, said that given the current makeup of the U.S. Senate, a national gestational limit is unlikely to pass in the near future. But she is calling on 2024 pro-life presidential candidates to “institute a whole-of-government approach (through the use of life-affirming executive orders and statements of administration policy, as well as personnel appointments, among other tools) to ensure that all executive branch departments promote the intrinsic value and dignity of innocent human life.” 

Hawkins warned against complacency following the Dobbs decision. “There have been concerns about the lack of funding in the pro-life movement,” she said, adding that every organization she has spoken with faced “supporters falling away from investing in the pro-life movement, with many people feeling the job has been done when, in fact, the job actually got 50 times harder at the end of Roe v. Wade.”  

She noted the congressional Democrats’ and Biden administration’s push for the Woman’s Health Protection Act — a measure that goes far beyond Roe, widely permitting abortions up to and, in some cases, after viability, while barring nearly all state pro-life protections. Biden has also made restoring and expanding abortion access a central aspect of his 2024 reelection campaign.

“We’ve had this great success, but we could lose it all in 2024,” Hawkins said. “We’ve got to make our case to the American people right now.”

This article was first published June 21, 2023, at the National Catholic Register and is reprinted here on CNA with permission.

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