May 16, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Alabama’s enactment of the strongest abortion ban in the United States should be a rallying point for a unified pro-life movement to seize the momentum that’s been building for the past year, a natural progression from the heartbeat bills spreading across the nation to put abortion’s core human-rights question before the American people.
Instead, a disturbing number of people on our own side are wringing their hands over not just the strategic errors they think they see, but a general sense of discomfort with the “extremism” of finally making a play for the goal they’ve claimed to want all along.
National Review lectures that the “abolitionist zeal on display in Alabama in particular runs the risk of making the ultimate extinction of abortion less likely.” Ramesh Ponnuru retweeted his April assessment that “demanding too much too soon would cause a backlash,” and therefore we should stick with an “incrementalist” strategy so “small victories today [can] enable bigger ones tomorrow.” Pat Robertson said that Alabama has “gone too far” with an “extreme law” that will likely lose at the Supreme Court.
Will Chamberlain, whose recent relaunch of Human Events looked promising until Wednesday night, devoted a bizarre half-hour video rant to attacking pro-lifers who oppose rape exceptions and are supposedly (but not really) inconsistent if they don’t want to prosecute women for murder (the highlight of which was his admission that he “reason[s] through ethics” via “aesthetics and disgust and emotion,” rather than, y’know, reason).
This means that the likely result of the Alabama bill is that it is struck down and never goes into effect, and has the opposite of its intended effect in the public discussion. William Lloyd Garrison was correct, but it took Lincoln to end slavery.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) May 15, 2019
I’m pro-life. This bill goes too far. I’ll also say this: It’s the opposite equivalent of the radical late-term abortion laws being proposed/passed in various states. These laws are all *far* outside the mainstream, which favors significant new restrictions, but not blanket bans. https://t.co/8WBYLGhe6Z
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) May 15, 2019
Conservatives don't understand incrementalism—it's why the left wins (bit by bit), it's why “socialism” is popular with young people. While many are celebrating this victory I'm reluctant because I know the pendulum will swing back—harder. Look what the media is already doing. https://t.co/dlfWfzNb7v
— Lyndsey Fifield (@lyndseyfifield) May 16, 2019
The detractors essentially raise two objections: first, that the public isn’t yet ready to ban abortion in rape cases, which will scare away people sympathetic to more modest abortion restrictions, and second, that the Supreme Court will either refuse to take the case or vote to uphold Roe v. Wade, which will set pro-lifers’ legal mission back years.
To the first objection, it’s true that polls generally show that the American people are squeamish about telling rape victims they can’t abort their children. In late February, Marist found that only 29% of Americans would support an abortion ban that doesn’t have a rape exception. But to infer political suicide from that alone is a simplistic calculus that ignores common sense and recent history.
First, the question isn’t whether America is ready for a no-exceptions ban; it’s whether Alabama is ready. The people of the state chose the legislature that voted overwhelmingly (74-3 in the House, 25-6 in the Senate) for this law, and if they disapprove, we’ll find out in the next round of elections. The squishier among us needn’t cheerlead for the parts of the law that trigger them; they need only support states’ freedom to set their own laws, without giving aid and comfort to the abortion lobby by echoing its favorite buzzwords.
Second, elections generally don’t rest on any single detail of any single policy. Remember when the Left went nuts over Donald Trump endorsing “some form of punishment” for women who abort? He quickly recanted, but for the rest of the campaign, the media made sure that wide swaths of the electorate believed that Trump favored something far harsher than banning rape abortions…and Trump won anyway. That’s not to say there’s zero cost to making gaffes or defying polls, but it should remind us that a compelling core message is what matters, not reflexively appeasing every fear.
Third, it’s worth noting that the 29% quoted above was a nine-point jump from what the number was just a month earlier, likely in response to the abortion lobby’s mania for infanticide. That’s an essential reminder that poll numbers aren’t set in stone, and it begets the question of what we’re really doing to influence them.
It’s an article of faith among the political consultant class that the only way to handle the rape question is to change the subject, but this dogma often seems based on little more than trauma from soundbites like Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments. The late Jeff Bell, the GOP’s 2014 Senate candidate in New Jersey, provided a much better model in a debate with Cory Booker: set the stage with the facts, show compassion for the women involved, and remind the audience that rape survivors aren’t the only party owed compassion in the situation.
(Bell still lost that race, but there’s no evidence that his pro-life stand was the reason why. No Republican has won that seat since 1972, and Booker focused his attacks on Bell being an out-of-stater. Most tellingly, the national press and abortion lobby completely ignored Bell’s rape answer instead of trying to exploit it.)
So maybe pro-life lawmakers should treat voters not like robots predestined to vote a certain way based solely on their presumed inclinations, but like people who can be reasoned with and appealed to. Making the argument for protecting children conceived in rape won’t win over everybody, but it will persuade some, and will help others at least respect the no-exceptions view and its believers — further defanging pro-abortion fearmongers in the process.
The other fear, that these laws either won’t reach the Supreme Court or will lead to it upholding Roe, is more serious. As regular readers know, I have severe misgivings about Brett Kavanaugh and believe that John Roberts is all but certain to uphold Roe. (Neil Gorsuch has been better but isn’t guaranteed, either.) So the detractors are probably right that if it reaches SCOTUS, the vote won’t go our way…but every pro-lifer should support the Alabama ban and heartbeat laws anyway.
The primary reason to support these laws, obviously, is that if these three justices surprise the pessimists and vote with Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito to overturn Roe, the ramifications for life will be immense. Babies would automatically be protected in the dozen-plus states that either have their pre-Roe abortion bans or post-Roe trigger laws, and lawsuits against scores of other pro-life laws will have the legal rationale cut out from under them. Pro-life morale would be supercharged, and the possibilities to effect change would drastically expand.
But even the Supreme Court upholding Roe wouldn’t be the death blow the naysayers imagine. Yes, I know how that sounds; just hear me out.
The prospect of SCOTUS handing down an even worse abortion ruling with even stricter limits on what states can do shouldn’t be seen as some intolerable new normal to be avoided at all costs, because SCOTUS’s current abortion jurisprudence should already be seen as an intolerable perversion of the Constitution that we should be working to tear down anyway. And the fact that pro-lifers can’t trust every justice appointed by the last two pro-life presidents isn’t just some unfortunate reality; it’s one the professional pro-life movement chose to let happen by abdicating our responsibility to vet judicial nominees during the confirmation process.
The real solution to all of this was never to keep letting babies die year after year while waiting for Supreme Court justices we pick without even knowing if they’re pro-life to overturn Roe at some unpredictable future date, but to work toward a Congress that will reclaim its constitutional role as a check on the judiciary, whether that means limiting the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction, restructuring the lower federal courts, impeaching anti-constitutional justices, or challenging Roe directly on its own terms with a bill like the Life at Conception Act.
Hardworking pro-lifers in the trenches have been ill served by leaders who’ve preached fixating on judges to the exclusion of other strategies, and maybe — just maybe — having that fixation blow up in our faces will be the splash of cold water the movement needs to realize that our current strategy isn’t working, and that a serious talk about changing course is long overdue.
Either way, the only way the cause has any hope of moving forward is if pro-lifers unite behind measures to demand more, instead of dividing the movement with tired excuses for doing less.