Since the day that Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, abortion has been a hot button political topic in the United States. But while it is an emotional issue that has always had inflamed rhetoric surrounding it, over the past 46 years, the abortion question has existed in a kind of stalemate or détente. Very little, including the polling numbers on how many people are pro-choice or pro-life, has changed.
On the right, given the composition of the Supreme Court during that time, and the unlikelihood of Roe being overturned, it has been mostly a fight around the edges of the issue. Pro-lifers have sought to cap abortions at early periods in pregnancy, or advocated for parental notification, but there was no clear path to actually making all abortions illegal.
On the left, secure as they also once were in Roe, the attitude for most of that time had been that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. Abortion was not something to be celebrated, but rather a sad and dire thing only to be used in extreme and necessary circumstances.
Today, none of this is true anymore. Pro-lifers for the first time feel that it is possible that the Supreme Court could overturn Roe and allow states to ban abortion, and for abortion advocates, it has been become something to celebrate, to shout, and to be considered an unfettered good.
As a result of these changes, we have seen bills from both sides in state legislatures that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. In New York, state lawmakers passed a bill that would allow for abortion up to birth, and arguably, make allowances for finishing the job if a botched abortion produces a live baby. Meanwhile, Virginia lawmakers floated a similar bill that was then defeated.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, a new law would effectively ban abortion after as little as six weeks and, in Alabama, legislation was passed this week that would basically ban abortion entirely (though it has yet to be signed by Governor Kay Ivey). The détente which has held for 50 years is gone and the fight over abortion has become a total war. What has always been a testy battle in American politics is poised to become very ugly, very fast.
Because it seemed for so long like nothing would ever really change much regarding abortion, the underlying question of whether it is the taking of a human life has been somewhat academic. By granting constitutional protection to abortion, the Court made it a moot point if abortion is murder, because it is first and foremost a right. But should that change, either under the current Court or perhaps a future Court with more Trump-appointed justices, the entire battlefield will shift and that central question will be front and center.
Pro-abortion forces have made it perfectly clear how they plan to respond to this. With flat-out denials that a fetus is a human being at all, with increasingly less restrictive abortion laws, and with campaigns that encourage this choice for women as liberating and empowering. There are no important voices on the current left or in the Democratic Party who will challenge any of this. It will be a united front dedicating to expanding abortion access and abortion itself as widely as possible.
For Republicans and other conservatives, the situation is more fraught. There are, after all, some on the right who support access to abortion, and as a political matter, many in the GOP may well be scared about how such strict measures as Alabama’s will play with suburban women voters, viewed as essential in the presidential and congressional elections of 2020.
But in order to be effective, pro-life forces must not be too tame. They must not seek middle ground with abortion advocates who have no interest in compromise. Instead, they must finally and once and for all stake their claim that abortion is the killing of a child and must be treated as such. The pro-life movement doesn’t need gimmicks and costumes; it just needs the truth, that killing babies is wrong.
It can be scary to suddenly have the opportunity to achieve something once thought impossible, and it may be that the current Court is disinclined to overturn Roe, but for the first time, it does seem possible. Saving millions of innocent lives is not some far away dream, but a tangible and real opportunity.
For the pro-life movement, now is the time to speak with a unified voice, to make it known that life is better than death, to make it known that innocent lives will be protected, and to make it clear that this is a war we are ready to fight and ready to win.