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Dobbs’ Victory Is More Complicated — And More Fragile — Than Many Realize

Pro-abortion protest in New York City on June 24 2022. Elvert Barnes/Flickr.
Image CreditElvert Barnes/Flickr.

We can teach our politicians to talk about life, death, and the reality of abortion — and we can hold accountable those who refuse.

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Few parts of our country lie untouched.

Dallas, Texas. Corpus Christi. San Antonio, Houston, and Austin.

Atlanta, Georgia, and its suburbs. Savannah, too; and Augusta, Athens, and Macon counties.

Arlington, Virginia; Fairfax, Falls Church, Norfolk, and Loudoun County. Richmond and Portsmouth.

Birmingham, Alabama; Jackson, Mississippi; and Nashville, Tennessee.

Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio. Indianapolis, Indiana. St. Louis, Missouri.

Asheville and Durham County, North Carolina. Lawrence, Kansas and Tampa, Florida.

All these cities and counties are in red states, but represent just some of the dozens led by district attorneys who have declared they will not be prosecuting abortion crimes, whether those crimes relate to individuals seeking abortions, providing abortions, or supporting abortions.

In Wisconsin, the state’s Democratic attorney general sued to stop a pre-Roe law declaring abortion illegal. The law had been put on ice after the 1973 ruling and was given new life with Roe’s repeal. The Democratic governor of Wisconsin agreed with his attorney general, calling a special legislative session to repeal the law — but was ignored by the legislature. In response, the governor promised “clemency” for those breaking his state’s own law.

Judges in Louisiana and Utah blocked the implementation of laws both states had previously passed that were designed to restrict or ban abortion as soon as Roe and Casey were finally reversed. Those laws, called “trigger laws,” are in place in 11 other states as well — including six where district attorneys have already vowed to disregard them.

In short: The Dobbs decision has produced a disaster of jealous competitors for power; and not in the healthy way our framers imagined, in which each branch protects its own power and restrains the others — but in a seditionist way, where ideologically distinct localities simply ignore the will of the broader citizenry around them.

The tactic has been around since Berkeley, California became the first American city to designate itself a sanctuary from federal law (then, to shelter deserters from the U.S. Navy), but the tactic expanded in scope and target in the late 1970s and through the ’80s. Today, we hear nearly daily of “sanctuary” towns, cities, counties ad even states; more and more, it’s simply another symptom of our broader national crack-up.

The fights are going to get nasty, and the way to win will go beyond simply using Republican state attorneys general to prosecute cases local district attorneys decline to prosecute. Another weapon will be money: state funds for local roads, schools, policing, and all other sorts of projects. DAs who ignore the law will forfeit those funds, although policing enthusiasm will prove difficult, at best.

This is also a sword that will swing both ways. The Biden administration has already announced plans to cut off federal taxpayer support from elementary schools that don’t bend to its transgender ideology; using taxpayer dollars to enforce its abortion demands is an easy and logical next step for them. Suddenly, states that outlaw killing their babies could be cut off from the resources they use to educate their children.

Before even this step, the federal government has vowed to do everything it can to promote abortion, putting an emphasis on shipping abortifacients to women in states that outlaw the practice, and even floating using federal lands for abortion clinics — actively undermining governors and lawmakers from within their own states.

It’s tempting to look to the midterm elections to hobble these efforts, but with a few notable exceptions, national Republicans have proven themselves inept at fighting the culture war. While the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s still saw national Republicans whose sole focus was stopping abortion, the party currently lacks anyone so singularly focused on this issue.

In contrast to those days, just four years ago Republicans pushed a ban on abortion after five months — when research shows the child is able to feel physical pain — and GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins voted no. A bill far more liberal than even Western Europe’s restrictions was too much for their vote.

While national Democrats’ most recent attempt to make Roe law was too radical for even Collins and Murkowski — when Democrats were panicking after a leaked draft opinion foreshadowed what the court was preparing to do — that doesn’t mean pro-abortion legislation is off the table. In the next few months, Democrats might decide to narrow their federal efforts to legalize abortion to take advantage of the thin congressional majorities they expect to lose in November.

The Washington Post, for example, reports that some leftist senators favor a strategy of doing just that, codifying “only a portion of the rights secured by Roe and related cases,” so they can “more sharply highlight the depth of the Republican opposition” to abortion.

While Democrats’ muted legislative response on Capitol Hill indicates Democratic leadership knows their base would spit out such half measures, that doesn’t put the country in the clear over the long term. Sure, Republicans are headed for major gains in November, but there’s little indication they’re ready for a battle they’ve already proven too timid to wage. And from passing the Affordable Care Act to backing President Joe Biden’s inflationary agenda, national Democrats have demonstrated a real willingness to wield political power, happily sacrificing always-temporary majorities for opportunities to change the country fundamentally.

Republicans largely lack this daring. Worse yet, most are unprepared should they stumble into an opening to turn their rhetoric into reality.

For decades, the GOP has practiced selling their economics — honing their talking points and growing comfortable dissecting tax, spending, regulatory, and budget issues with both hostile colleagues and a hostile press. They’ve grown comfortable talking about military spending and strategy. They’re at home talking about shrinking the size of the federal government. When the subject of abortion comes up, however, their discomfort shows.

For those same decades they’ve been honing their economic and military bona fides, the majority of national Republicans have hidden behind the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, lambasting abortion on the primary trail, but deploying “law of the land” excuses when called to the real fight.

Because of this, not only has abortion not been a priority for the majority of national Republican lawmakers, but many don’t even know how to talk about it. The fight, like all culture war fights, has real and immediate human consequences. It forces congressmen and senators who are mainly interested in capping their successful business careers with a low-demand political title to contemplate life, death, morality, suffering, and duty.

Abortion and other culture war fights don’t deal in neat and tidy numbers, and this makes these retired businessmen deeply uncomfortable. This doesn’t mean these lawmakers can’t ever speak to these issues, though. Few politicians are economists or mass transit engineers or military geniuses, yet our think tanks and communications shops have armed them with the know-how (or at least bullet points) to feel comfortable debating these issues and even crafting policy.

The pro-life movement can do this, but they need to do it fast. When political advisers discard all the obfuscations and weasel words our society has built around abortion to disguise its repulsive reality, they can move the politicians they advise. Tell them, “This isn’t about choice, it’s about violence. This isn’t simply a difficult decision — it’s a murder.”

If President Donald Trump’s Las Vegas debate performance is any measure at all, explaining the issue of abortion clearly to astute politicians can have an immediate impact.

“If you go with what Hillary is saying,” Trump said, “in the ninth month you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby. Now, you can say that that’s OK, and Hillary can say that that’s OK, but it’s not OK with me because, based on what she’s saying and based on where she’s going and where she’s been, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb in the 9th month on the final day; and that’s not acceptable.”

That, from a New York businessman no one believes had deeply pondered this issue before pro-life activists got his ear in 2016. We can teach our politicians to talk about life, death, and the reality of abortion — and we can hold accountable those who refuse.

Political victories are fleeting. Even Roe, which spent half a century as the established “law of the land,” is now gone. Now, as before, the Democrats — local, statewide, and national — will be playing for keeps. They know power is temporary, and are unafraid to wield it. This leaves the pro-life movement exposed, and far more vulnerable than our incredible victory might lead us to believe.

Sure, the Democrats might lose power in November. They might lose it for two years, four — maybe longer; but they’ll be back. More, 2020’s Democratic majorities won’t be the last time their party controls every lever of national government. When they do, they won’t use it to tinker around the edges.

We need to be ready: Our great June 24 victory is more complicated — and more delicate — than we realize.