What Has the Pro-Life Movement Won?

This means that while overturning Roe would probably prompt a pro-choice backlash in reaction to the court’s decision, there would be ample opportunities, in a world where abortion is returned to the democratic process, to make a pro-life case.

But the anti-abortion cause is closely linked to a culturally bunkered Republican Party and a weakened religious right, it has few media megaphones and weak financial backing, and a lot of the country just seems not to want to think too much about abortion and to punish the party that forces it to do so. So it’s extremely easy to imagine the end of Roe leading to a little more state regulation over all (mostly limitations in the second trimester, along the lines of many European countries), but then for the few states that go further to find themselves boycotted and besieged, leaving the goal of ending abortion nationwide as far away as ever.

Especially because the plausibility of that goal depends on whether the pro-life movement can prove — through very literal policy demonstrations, not just rhetoric — that it can protect and support the pregnant women who would no longer get abortions in the world that it desires. The pro-choice side insists that these women’s independence and well-being and equality depends on a right to end a life that, were it wanted, would be called by name and celebrated with ultrasound photos on the fridge. Against that argument the anti-abortion movement needs more than just the ultrasound photo: It needs to prove the pro-choice premise wrong.

The movement’s wiser leaders know this. Last year, for instance, The Atlantic’s Emma Green profiled Cheryl Bachelder, the former chief executive of Popeye’s and a rare pro-lifer in the C-suite world, who was working with other anti-abortion leaders “to brainstorm all the community support systems that would need to be stronger in a world where abortion is illegal: mental health services, addiction-recovery programs, affordable child care.” Green also reported that the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, has been compiling a database of state resources for pregnant women in preparation for the hoped-for end of Roe.

But, of course — as Green noted with dry understatement — actually getting a major expansion of social services in states that might conceivably ban abortion would require a different Republican Party than the one that exists today.

Over the last month, for instance, many socially conservative Republicans have been critiquing Romney’s proposed family benefit on the grounds that it might lead to more nonworking single mothers. This a reasonable worry, but it’s definitely the case that making abortion illegal would lead, in the short run, to more women raising kids in difficult circumstances. (The long-term cultural effects are a separate question.) And then it’s also the case that family grants like the Romney plan have been shown to reduce abortion rates when used in European countries.

Put these realities together, and you get a conclusion that most Republicans have not internalized. To restrict abortion in a just and sustainable way, to reduce both the personal hardship of parenting and the incidence of illegal abortion, you probably need some kind of policies like Romney’s plan no matter what the consequences for work incentives or single motherhood. More unintended births to poor women in the near term are a necessary price of pro-life victory — with the lives of the babies themselves the reason that price is very much worth paying.

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