After Roe

Pro-Life for All of Life

In a recent Facebook post, my friend and former Touchstone editor David Mills linked to a piece by Scott Klusendorf entitled “What Does it Mean to be Pro-Life?” (Personal aside: Two of my dearest  friends are named “David,” as is my son. Furthermore, the son of my oldest friend — in the sense of knowing him the longest — is also named “David.” There’s a pattern here.)

Mills drew attention to what he called “an increasingly popular recreational activity among some Christians: Trashing the ‘old pro-life movement’ for its alleged indifference to born human life.”

Mills didn’t mean that the “old pro-life movement,” or, as I prefer, “the pro-life establishment,” is beyond criticism. Far from it: Mills (and I) “disagree with [the old pro-life movement] on prudential political matters.” and, for reasons I’ll get to in a moment, legal matters.

But, and now I’m speaking for myself, I often get the feeling that some (a lot?) of the people Klusendorf is referring to want to talk about, to use his examples, sex trafficking, economic justice, poverty, and unjust immigration laws in lieu of talking about abortion and euthanasia, a.k.a., physician-assisted suicide.

As a convinced adherent to the “Seamless Garment” or “consistent ethic of life” doctrine, let me be clear: there can be no in lieu. On Sundays we pray for the love for, and the legal protection of, every person “from conception to natural death.”

You cannot emphasize the “to” in that phrase at the expense of “conception” and “natural death.”  Without them, there is nothing to be linked. Without them, you are effectively denying any ontological basis for human dignity and instead grounding it in a kind of sentimental universalism.

At the same time I’m not convinced that the relationship between opposing abortion and addressing the concerns of groups like Rehumanize International must be zero-sum. After all, being pro-life includes the “natural death” part mentioned above. Does opposing physician-assisted suicide and just plain euthanasia constitute, to use Klusendorf’s  phrase, “diverting scarce resources from the unborn to take on issues that Christians with larger platforms and better funding are more than willing to address?”

Perhaps it does. But, in that case, the fault is with our defective moral imaginations and not intrinsic to what it means to be pro-life. If, as Klusendorf tells us, “few students hear pro-life talks at church” or have “had prior exposure to a pro-life apologetics presentation,” I suspect that even fewer have heard talks about the other subjects from a Christian perspective.

In other words, I’m not as confident as he is that there are “Christians with larger platforms and better funding are more than willing to address” these issues.

II.

Now, about my disagreements with the political and legal strategy of the pro-life movement. I’ve expressed some of these misgivings elsewhere, so I will try not to repeat myself too much.

There is no gainsaying the accomplishments of the pro-life movement. Forty-five years after Roe, abortion remains as contested as it was when the decision was announced. The same cannot be said about same-sex marriage in the aftermath of Obergefell. And the percentage of Americans who support euthanasia continues to rise.

These accomplishments have virtually nothing to do with the pro-life establishment’s political and legal strategy, certainly not at the federal level. That strategy, as described in books like “Defenders of the Unborn,” was the decision to forego attempts at passing and ratifying the Human Life Amendment or the Hatch-Eagleton (as in George McGovern’s original running mate) Amendment that would have restored the right to regulate and/or proscribe abortion to the states, in favor of “Reversing Roe v. Wade Through the Courts,” as a 1984 conference was entitled.

This required appointing Supreme Court justices who would (might?) overturn Roe and, that, in turn meant “ever closer alliances with Republicans.” (To be fair, by the 1980s, Democrats who, like Thomas Eagleton, would countenance rolling back Roe were an endangered species.) The result was a political and legal strategy in which pro-lifers would vote for Republicans — and not coincidentally, support most, if not all, of the GOP’s legislative platform — in exchange for a promise to appoint and confirm judges who would (might?) one day overturn Roe.

The arrangement has worked very well . . . for the Republican Party. For the last 30-plus years, the cost of ensuring the loyalty of pro-life voters has been very low: a post-dated check plus mostly symbolic actions that, with a few exceptions such as the Mexico City policy — which, probably not coincidentally, is only applicable outside the United States — don’t actually reduce the numbers of abortions all that much. (The other federal abortion policy with any teeth is the Hyde Amendment, which predates this strategy by nearly a decade.)

None of this is to deny that there are many individual Republican House and Senate members who are sincerely, even passionately, pro-life, although I do deny that you can say this about congressional leadership and party elites.

And I’m not certainly not denying that overturning Roe or something close to that has become a prerequisite to restarting the democratic debate over abortion that Supreme Court shut down in 1973.

My concern is that for many people being pro-life is primarily about overturning Roe. Much of the energy of the pro-life movement has been derived from anger over the peremptory way the Supreme Court declared the debate over abortion to be over. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was correct in her assessment that “Roe ‘established a target’ and that ‘a movement focused on ending access to abortion for women grew up, flourished, around that one target.’”

If Roe is eventually overturned, the question of abortion will return to the states and the terrain and rules will change quickly. This will require a different strategies and tactics. What worked at the national level won’t necessarily work at the state level.

III

Predicting what states will do after Roe is difficult. “Studies” like this one by the Center for Reproductive Rights are fundraising appeals in social-science drag. (This one by NARAL seems equally hallucinatory. Massachusetts?) The most likely outcome is that more liberal states along the coasts would preserve something akin to the status quo, while a few conservative states in the Midwest and South might ban most abortions, while the rest would enact a series of restrictions on the time, place, and manner of abortion that would drive some abortion clinics out of business and persuade some women not to have an abortion.

This would reduce the number of abortions but by how much is anyone’s guess — although it’s worth noting that the places where the current abortion regime seem most likely to continue probably (statistics on abortion are notoriously opaque) account for the lion’s share of abortions performed in the United States.

Meanwhile, as Ramesh Ponnuru has written, “Local politicians . . . would adapt to local conditions. In strongly pro-choice jurisdictions, most Republican politicians would either adopt pro-choice views or temper their pro-life ones. Most Democratic politicians would do the same in strongly pro-life areas.”

If this is at all correct, we’re not remotely ready. Obviously, there are exceptions such as Klusendorf, and the people at Care-Net and its affiliates, whose work does not rely on politics or the courts.

What they understand is that the demise of Roe won’t mark, to borrow a well-worn phrase, the “end of history” — it will mark the beginning of a very messy phase of history in which the pro-life struggle will be waged not only, or even primarily, in legislatures and courts, but on countless different fronts. It won’t be enough to be conversant about the Mexico City policy, we will also need to understand the role of Medicaid in helping women to choose life.

So, enough with the sniping, we’ve got a lot of homework to do.


Comment Policy: Commenters are welcome to argue all points of view, but they are asked to do it civilly and respectfully. Comments that call names, insult other people or groups, use profanity or obscenity, repeat the same points over and over, or make personal remarks about other commenters will be deleted. After multiple infractions, commenters may be banned.

  • gladys1071

    Breakpoint really is quite obsessed with the subject of abortion. I mean everyday their is an article on the subject. I really don’t understand the shear obsession with the pregnancies of total strangers that really are nobody’s business.

    • Timothy D Padgett

      Indeed, we are and will continue to be so. Think of it this way: If you thought, as we do, that tens of millions of people had been murdered with the consent of the US government, wouldn’t you think it important enough to keep trying to raise awareness? I know you don’t agree with our understanding of the issue, but, given what we think about abortion, it only makes moral sense to continue talking about it.

      • gladys1071

        why do you keep removing my posts? have i said something offensive? If you don’t agree with me i understand, just tell me why you keep removing my posts?

        • Timothy D Padgett

          Good morning,

          Thank you as always for being willing to discuss these important questions. We may not agree on this issue, but I appreciate your engagement with us in it.

          I appreciate your concern about your posts. It would hardly do for us to say that we’re looking to have a conversation if we only allowed “friendly” comments. We will post comments which make us look good, and we will post comments which make us look bad. We will post any comments, all else being equal, which are respectful and any conversations which are constructive.

          There are two basic reasons why a comment may not be posted.

          First, if someone is abusive to the writer or to fellow readers or is blasphemous. So, people can say, “I don’t agree with so and so because of XYZ” or “I think Christianity is wrong because of ABC.” However, people cannot say (and hope to be posted) “So and so is a Cotton-Headed Ninnymuggins” or “the God of the Bible is a [fill in the blank invective].”

          As you have noted and I have agreed, your comments have not fallen into this category.

          The second basic reason why a comment may not be posted is if a given conversation is going nowhere fast. Online conversations can be constructive, but they also can devolve into participants repeating the same talking points with no evident result. This is talking at one another instead of to one another. If a conversation is headed in this direction, I will shut it down and give notification accordingly. Any posts which are still awaiting approval at that point will not be posted. These posts have not been banned, in and of themselves, but are simply a part of larger conversations which have stopped being constructive.

          Your comments have fallen into this category.

          A rare third category of un-posted posts are follow ups to my rare interjections. I will upon occasion offer a point of clarification if I feel it would be important, but I will rarely do this and I will not pursue conversations. The only exception might be if it is a comment on one of my own articles, but even then it will be rare. This is not a venue for me to discuss things but for readers to discuss with one another.

          So, while none of your comments have been offensive and therefore blocked, some of them were not posted because they were a part of larger conversations which were going in circles and therefore blocked. In such cases it is not you, as you, who has been blocked, but the entire conversation.

          Timothy D Padgett
          Managing Editor

  • Rational Thinker

    The problem is you are arguing about a different subject and ignoring altogether the pro-life position. You are saying it is my body, my choice. Pro-life is giving the voice to the human life contained that cannot save itself. See the difference? Your argument does not acknowledge the rights of the human inside. You are only arguing and or assuming there is one body involved. (Begging the question) The real argument is whether or not that baby in the uterus is a human life. Pro-choice will never acknowledge this because if they did they would have to acknowledge the moral wrong of taking the human life.

    It is sad that we live in a country where abortion can be performed at anytime for any reason. There are only 4 countries in the world that currently place no restrictions on abortion… those countries are The United States, Canada, China, and North Korea. I do not think we need to discuss the human rights abuses of those last two countries so the fact we share anything in common when it comes to human rights is shameful.

    Fortunately we have science not to mention the moral high ground on our side. Those of us in the medical community know there is no argument when human life begins. The invention of 3-D and 4-D ultrasound is bringing the understanding these are clearly human beings to more and more people. They can no longer be described as a simple clump of cells. Science and technology will continue to prove and further this because again, it is an unarguable fact.

    There is a logical fallacy that lies beneath most if not all pro-choice arguments. Another common technique thrown in with the rhetoric is “begging the question” for good measure. I come to Breakpoint for biblical truth, why do you? To argue human life should not be protected at all stages of life is clearly not biblical.