So Alabama has passed the strictest pro-life law in the nation, amounting to a full-on abortion ban with a lone exception for abortions deemed truly necessary to save the mother’s life. The law has an overtly anti-Roe v. Wade footing, which may or may not be a sound idea as a matter of both litigation strategy and public relations tactics. The reality, as I expressed to Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro on his radio program yesterday, is that the U.S. Supreme Court, as presently constituted, is highly unlikely to do anything more on the abortion front than possibly tighten the “undue burden” constitutional standard that was fabricated in the 1992 Roe follow-up case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey. For that reason, it is exceptionally difficult to see a world in which the Supreme Court would even grant a writ of certiorari to hear argument on the Alabama law, after it wends its way up through the federal judiciary.
But the passing and signing into law of the Alabama legislation ought to raise some additional concerns for pro-lifers. My sympathies on this highly contested issue are not a secret: I resuscitated my law school’s moribund pro-life student group, have marched in marches for life, and have more generally been engaged in pro-life public discourse for years. I am proudly and unapologetically pro-life: Of the belief that the combination of rudimentary biology/embryology and basic Western ethical/moral norms compels the belief that every innocent human life is worthy of legal protection.
But laws that severely restrict or (ideally) outright ban abortion, such as Alabama’s, must be viewed as but one aspect of a more comprehensive pro-life strategy.
To begin with, pro-lifers ought to always strive for empathy, grace, and charity in their engagement on this issue in the public discourse. Large swaths of the “shout your abortion!” hard Left — especially the activist wing that is disproportionately loud on Twitter — often tend toward unhinged slander and vapid sloganeering. But it is incumbent upon conservatives to rise to the occasion and be better than the Left. This issue arises intense passions all across the spectrum — and while it may be satisfying in the short term to merely scream “baby killers!” at our “pro-choice” political foes, that (biologically and legally accurate) sort of talk accomplishes extremely little in the realm of persuading hearts and minds to move toward the pro-life side. And it is that cultural persuasion — including but hardly limited to discussions about birth control and blunt conversations about sex itself — that is ultimately an upstream prerequisite for achieving the sort of society that pro-lifers so earnestly and rightfully seek: One which values in heart, deed, and under law alike, a culture of life.
How tragic, in the words of Justice Antonin Scalia’s prescient Casey dissent, that the Court’s constitutionalization of such a divisive issue has “merely prolong[ed] and intensifie[d] the anguish” surrounding it. But pro-lifers still must always strive to be happy warriors and understand, in our post-sexual liberation culture and with oral contraceptives unfortunately still not widely available over-the-counter, that we have a culture to change. We can, and should, support morally correct legislation such as Alabama’s — personally, I also support a “personhood amendment” to the U.S. Constitution that would ensure that unborn children are protected under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clauses. But our legal battles must not encompass our movement’s entire strategy.
Second, there are any number of ancillary policies and rhetorical strategies that we ought to deploy. There is truly no compelling reason why oral contraceptives ought to be captive to Big Pharma and the insurance cartels: They should be de-politicized, removed from the HHS mandate wars, and made available over-the-counter. This is particularly important with respect to poorer states, such as Alabama, in which many lower-income women may simply lack the time, resources, and money to proactively seek OB/GYN medical assistance on a recurring basis. Pro-lifers also must accompany their (proper) talk of defunding Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion mill, with talk of replacing that with funding for women’s health clinics that do not perform abortions. For example, a 2015 study by the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Charlotte Lozier Institute identified across the country a startling ratio of 20 comprehensive women’s health care clinics for every one Planned Parenthood clinic in the country: 13,540 to 665, in total. Additionally, as I argued in February, the pro-life movement must place a greater substantive monetary investment and rhetorical emphasis on pro-life crisis pregnancy centers:
[I]t ought to be much easier for centrists and moderates on the abortion issue to come around to our side when they know that pro-lifers have a firm interest in helping the very best they can the invariably depressed, scared, lonely single women who suffer through unwanted pregnancies. … Churches, synagogues, and the various other mediating institutions of civil society need to do a better job than they already are of funding and supporting pro-life crisis pregnancy centers across the country. Pro-lifers are not just pro-unborn baby, but also pro-woman — but we need our actions to consistently match our beliefs in demonstrating that.
Finally, pro-lifers should not be scared to discuss the frank reality that, no matter how morally correct and legally proper laws such as Alabama’s are, that there will naturally be some real, tangible costs to such legislation. This is, of course, especially true for poorer states such as Alabama. Erick Erickson has a good piece at The Resurgent today, in which he observes that, “[s]hould [pro-lifers] be successful, there will be women carrying children they do not want and there will be women who bear costs with no fathers around to help them.” It is wholly appropriate — indeed, I would argue proper, as a matter of human empathy — for committed pro-lifers to acknowledge these costs. Acknowledging and openly discussing these costs in blunt terms ought to only further catalyze pro-lifers’ willingness and eagerness to advocate for the above policies and engage in the difficult task of changing our culture via the one-by-one persuasion of hearts and minds. Erickson concludes:
Restricting abortion is a good thing. It is killing a human being. But restricting abortion without helping mothers and children is cruel. A healthy pro-life community will step up and move beyond restrictions on abortion towards greater social and community support for mothers with nowhere to turn.
Amen and Godspeed to my fellow pro-lifers.