Making Abortion Illegal and Unthinkable

Published June 23, 2022

National Review

Abortion tears apart the bodies of unborn children, and it tears apart the bodies of their mothers. It places an act of violence at the center of the fundamental, vulnerable relationship between a mother and her child. It causes rifts between men and women, mothers and fathers. The promise of abortion — that it would set women free and make them equal, that it would improve our society — is nothing but a lie that has torn us all apart.

Abortion has enabled lethal discrimination in the womb, targeting unborn children of an “unwanted” sex and those diagnosed with a disability. The supposedly pro-choice movement has revealed itself to be merely pro-abortion, opposing every effort to help pregnant mothers choose life for their babies — the violent attacks on pregnancy resource centers being the most recent and extreme example. Abortion has corrupted our medical system, treating pregnancy as a disease to be cured and using tools meant for healing as lethal weapons. Abortion on demand, imposed by the highest court in our nation, has undermined the rule of law and constitutional self-government, turning our politics into a circus. Politicians who want to preserve Roe v. Wade and unlimited abortion have used judicial nominations as a political football and created a toxic mess out of the confirmation process. Because of how abortion has polarized our politics and corrupted Democratic politicians in their embrace of a human-rights violation, pro-life citizens have become alienated from one of our major political parties and dependent on the other. Abortion has corrupted our culture — the popular culture that increasingly glorifies abortion, the media that cover abortion with obvious bias, the virtue-signaling corporations that promote abortion as good for business, and the social-media platforms that use their moderating power to limit the spread of pro-life information.

The only proper response to the past five decades of destruction is to dismantle every part of the system that perpetuates abortion, a project that will become far more feasible if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in deciding this term’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. As it has done since Roe v. Wade, the pro-life movement must work to make abortion not only illegal but also unthinkable. There are no simple solutions to bring about that goal, but there is plenty that each of us can do. Consider the immense power that even one maternity home or pregnancy resource center has to transform the life of a mother in need, helping her reject the falsehood that abortion will solve her problems. Women deserve so much better than abortion, and babies deserve to live. 

Creating a society in which every unborn child will be welcomed into the world is going to require major shifts in our law and our culture. In each domain, our efforts should prohibit the evil of abortion and affirm the goods of life and family. Making abortion illegal and unthinkable will require the work of politicians and policy-makers, pregnancy resource centers, churches, other groups that assist families in need, and each of us in our community. 

Of course, a magazine essay is hardly enough space to solve the immense challenge ahead of the pro-life movement; here we sketch out only a few ideas, which we discuss in greater depth in our book. Much of what we offer should be a matter of charitable discussion among pro-lifers. We must agree on our final goal: abolition of abortion through both law and culture, a world where abortion is both illegal and inconceivable.

But there are a multitude of ways to achieve that goal, and prudence will be necessary. Achieving consensus will be easier on the supply side of abortion — no pro-lifer can support lethal violence in the womb — but there is a diversity of reasonable views about which measures best address the demand side. We should not establish litmus tests for what constitutes a “real” pro-life solution for any given cultural or legal proposal in this regard. Pro-lifers can hold a range of views on, for example, paid family leave or child tax credits. We should debate these policies on the merits and keep in mind that ending abortion will require a “both/and” approach in many areas, not an “either/or.” We need plans for shifting our laws and our culture, efforts to care for babies and mothers, work from state and federal governments — and all of these efforts should aim at ending the supply of abortion and the demand for it.

Should Roe and Casey be overturned, states will scramble to respond. Pro-lifers should concentrate on advancing laws as protective of unborn children as possible, keeping in mind that we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. In many states, this will require patience and incrementalism, enacting more and more protections for the unborn over time while continuing to convince our fellow citizens that nothing short of full protection will satisfy the demands of justice. 

Even if Roe and Casey are gone, abortion will remain legal in many states, either because they have “codified” a supposed right to abortion or because their state supreme court has invented such a right. Pro-lifers will need to undo these laws and rulings, as well as prevent them from being invented and passed in the future. In deep-blue states, pro-lifers may not be able to pass abortion restrictions at first, but we can focus on marginal improvements such as conscience protections for medical practitioners who don’t want to participate in abortions, ensuring that the government doesn’t fund abortions, and ensuring that employers, insurers, and taxpayers don’t have to cover abortions. In California, for example, pro-abortion lawmakers are working to require funding — including public spending — to reimburse the travel expenses of women who travel there from out of state to seek an abortion. Pro-lifers will need to aggressively oppose policies such as this one. Pro-lifers in these states should also continue doing what they already do so well: assisting women in need and looking for opportunities to pass compromise bills less protective than we might prefer but better than what we have now.

There are more than a dozen states with pro-life laws already on the books and ready to take effect should the Court finally admit its mistake in Roe. Public officials must enforce these laws, and pro-life citizens must hold them accountable if they don’t. In states with little legislation one way or another on abortion, the pro-life movement should enact pro-life policies that can take effect as soon as possible. It will be particularly important for pro-life legislators to address chemical abortion, prescribed via telemedicine, sent via mail, and self-administered by women alone in their homes. In pro-life states especially, we’ll need laws to prevent cross-state transportation of abortion pills, the new frontier for abortion-rights activists.

Though much pro-life progress will have to take place at the state level, the federal government also has an important role to play. Congress and the president — and, by extension, executive agencies — have constitutional authority to protect unborn children from the violence of abortion. That’s the premise of the federal partial-birth-abortion ban upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007 and a federal bill that would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. In a post-Roe America, there will be new possibilities for abortion regulations via congressional statute and executive action, because the 14th Amendment empowers the federal government to ensure that no person is denied the equal protection of the law or deprived of life without the due process of law. Litigators should press this line of argument in court, too.

Until hearts and minds have shifted a great deal, there will be times when pro-lifers won’t exercise control over the entire federal government. Under a pro-abortion administration, a pro-life Congress should exercise rigorous oversight of executive agencies, which would likely protect abortion and taxpayer funding for it in any way they could. If pro-lifers are in the minority in Congress, they should work to block any legislation that includes abortion funding or that attempts to preserve the Roe status quo even after the Court’s abortion jurisprudence is overturned. In September 2021, shortly after a heartbeat bill took effect in Texas and shortly before the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Dobbs, the House of Representatives passed a bill to codify Roe. The bill died in the Senate, but it is sure to return — and pro-lifers must defeat it.

Pro-life presidential administrations, meanwhile, should work within the scope of their constitutional role to treat unborn children as persons. The executive branch should enforce existing conscience protections for pro-life doctors, employers, insurers, and other groups who might otherwise be coerced into providing or funding abortions. Abortion businesses should not receive funding through programs administered by executive agencies. Presidents should lobby Congress to defund abortion and protect conscience rights and should oppose efforts to codify legal abortion or fund abortion. Pro-life candidates at both the state and federal levels must be asked whether they’ll follow through on these goals — dependent on which office they’re seeking — if elected.

But even after our laws begin to change for the better, we will never fully curtail abortion until our society is able to recognize how much abortion harms all of us. Beyond the law and politics, we must shape a culture that helps the people around us reject the lie that abortion is any kind of solution to human brokenness and pain. It is impossible to overstate the importance of marriage and stable families in that project. Many women seek abortion because they lack support from the father of their child — indeed, because far too many men behave as though pregnancy is a woman’s problem and abortion a woman’s decision. The breakdown of marriage and family since the sexual revolution, fueled by a false ideology that portrays freedom as mere license, has created conditions that make abortion appear like a solution to real cultural ailments.

Making abortion unthinkable will be possible only when our society finally comes to terms with that disaster. So long as we fail to reckon with the damage done by widespread acceptance of sex outside of marriage — from hookup culture to adultery — there will continue to be demand for abortion.

Abortion is the ultimate backstop for sex without commitment, erasing the consequences — the child — by means of lethal violence. A recovery of a sound sexual culture is the ultimate foundation for a culture of life.

While there are no big-picture ways to immediately resolve these systemic problems, pro-lifers can shape a pro-life culture through the same avenues that abortion supporters are working to dominate. We can produce TV shows and music that celebrate life and reject the logic of the sexual revolution. We suspect that, if they were well crafted to avoid that hokey Afterschool Special feel, such productions would find a receptive audience — and that an enterprising production studio and network would make a sizeable profit. Americans — more of them than Hollywood executives realize — are hungering for entertainment that respects life and the family. Likewise, we should use our Facebook and Twitter accounts to promote the truth about abortion, write letters to the editor and op-eds, and use whatever other means are at our disposal to persuade our neighbors — perhaps passing along a copy of our book. In all of these efforts, we have to focus not only on preventing abortion but on helping our fellow Americans understand how evil abortion is and how good life is — particularly family life. This will require a commitment not only to opposing abortion but to rebuilding the family and rejecting the sexual revolution. 

For every abortion clinic in our country, there should be dozens of pregnancy resource centers helping women reject abortion. Much of this project will be a continuation and expansion of what the pro-life movement has done for decades to support mothers in need. When laws protect the hundreds of thousands of unborn children killed by abortion each year, pregnancy resource centers will have to expand dramatically to meet demand. 

We can’t neglect the responsibility that each of us has to help build a culture of life, finding small ways to create the kind of pro-life society within which we want to live. None of us can do everything, but each of us can do something. We need men and women to commit to each other in marriage and then commit to their children — allowing their own family to be a witness to life. We will need pro-life doctors and journalists, lawmakers and ultrasound technicians, lawyers and engineers, parents and preachers and priests. Some of us might personally support a mother in need or welcome our own child in difficult circumstances. Some are called to give witness to life by counseling or praying on the sidewalk outside an abortion clinic. Others might volunteer at a pregnancy resource center or offer donations to support its work. And all of us, one by one, must arm ourselves with courage, resolving to help our neighbors open their eyes to the truth of what abortion is and how it harms us all.

EPPC Visiting Fellow Alexandra DeSanctis writes on abortion policy and the pro-life movement, as well as on other key topics at the intersection of politics, culture, and religion.

Image: Legoktm via Wikimedia Commons

Ryan T. Anderson, Ph.D., is the President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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