The Midterms Showed How the Pro-Life Movement Can Win

Published November 15, 2022

National Review

Is the fight for life doomed at the ballot box?

That’s the consensus from much of the media after the midterm elections. With most of the results in, abortion defenders claim that voters delivered a decisive rebuke to Dobbs and pro-life laws. But there’s little evidence that the pro-life cause is an electoral loser. In fact, the midterms demonstrated how to achieve lasting pro-life victories.

It’s true that a number of pro-life candidates narrowly lost in key state and federal races, most notably in Senate contests. It’s also true that several pro-abortion ballot measures passed while pro-life ballot measures failed, most notably in California, Kentucky, and Michigan. These losses are disheartening, but they don’t tell the whole story.

The outcome of ballot measures can be informative, but given how complex and confusing many of them are, their results don’t tell a straightforward story of how voters feel about abortion policy. Senate races are more instructive than such ballot measures, but they ultimately suffer from the same problem. They’re simply too complex to conclude that a single victory or defeat seals the fate of the fight for life in popular politics. The best indication of how voters are thinking about abortion policy from this midterm are the states where governors have already enacted laws protecting unborn children. In these states, voters were considering real policies, not hypotheticals, and voters overwhelmingly reelected pro-life leaders, including in races that were supposed to be tight.

Consider Florida. In April, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law that prohibited most abortions after 15 weeks. Abortion advocates attacked him and argued that the issue would hurt his reelection bid or even lead to the governor’s defeat. Instead, DeSantis won by a historic margin of nearly 20 points.

It was a similar story in Georgia. In 2019, Governor Brian Kemp signed a heartbeat law protecting most unborn children after six weeks of pregnancy. The media narrative held that it would be one of the key reasons he lost to Democrat Stacey Abrams. Instead, Kemp prevailed by nearly eight points, a blowout in a state that has been trending purple.

In Texas, too, Governor Greg Abbott signed a “heartbeat bill,” protecting unborn children after six weeks. At the time, it was deemed the most “extreme” bill in the country, yet Abbott won reelection by eleven points.

Finally, in Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine signed a heartbeat law in 2019, and abortion advocates hoped it would put his reelection race in jeopardy, especially after a state judge blocked the law shortly before the election. So much for that: DeWine won by a whopping 25 points.

These victories are impressive on their own and suggest that it’s overly simplistic to call the midterms a rebuke of Dobbs. But there’s even more to the story. Not only did these governors win, they outperformed high-profile Republican candidates in their own states. Ron DeSantis ran well ahead of Senator Marco Rubio. Brian Kemp ran well ahead of Senate candidate Herschel Walker. And Mike DeWine’s margin of victory was far higher than that of Senator-elect J. D. Vance.

If vocal support for pro-life laws was a clear-cut electoral loser, surely these governors’ policies would have given them more trouble. But that didn’t happen. If anything, the opposite seems much more likely: Their strong stand on life helped carry them to victory.

Pro-life advocates should take heart and ignore the media narrative that the midterms were a referendum on Dobbs. Years of polling show overwhelming support for limiting abortion, especially after the first three months of pregnancy, if not earlier. Leaders who reflect this consensus are likely to be rewarded at the ballot box, particularly if they improve their messaging on the subject.

Naturally, pro-life victories will look different in each state. In Florida, a 15-week ban may have been the best pro-lifers could do at the time, whereas a heartbeat bill was more feasible in Texas, Georgia, and Ohio. In Oklahoma, meanwhile, Governor Kevin Stitt signed a bill ending abortion from conception onward and subsequently won reelection by nearly 14 points.

In most cases, when pro-life policies lose, it’s because they are perceived as demanding an immediate end to all abortions, to the exclusion of care for the health of pregnant mothers. That’s likely why a pro-life constitutional amendment failed in Kentucky, and why pro-abortion amendments passed in Michigan and California. When abortion is framed as an all-or-nothing matter, voters are more likely to choose all than nothing.

In response to the midterms, pro-life governors should back pro-life laws that enjoy broad support in their states. At the federal level, the best bet for Republicans is to rally around Senator Lindsey Graham’s 15-week measure, which most Americans find acceptable. Though many pro-lifers would prefer a more protective policy, it would be prudent for Republicans to seriously consider the 15-week law, which the American people would find far more acceptable than the abortion-on-demand extremism of the Democratic Party. After that, pro-life groups can continue to advocate and introduce laws that protect even more unborn children.

The governors who won on their pro-life records show the way, suggesting that life can be a winning issue, no matter what abortion activists and the media argue. Now is the time to keep up the momentum and prove that abortion extremism is the real loser — both morally and electorally.

EPPC Fellow Alexandra DeSanctis writes on culture and family issues, with a particular focus on abortion policy and pro-life advocacy, as a member of the Life and Family Initiative.

EPPC Fellow Alexandra DeSanctis writes on culture and family issues, with a particular focus on abortion policy and pro-life advocacy, as a member of the Life and Family Initiative.

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