The quiet triumph of life

Asked by NPR last week to assess the state of the political battle over abortion, NARAL President Nancy Keenan responded, “The bottom line here is that elections matter.”

That truism was never more true for the pro-life cause than in 2010, the “Year of the Tea Party.”  The Tea Party’s purpose was to demand fiscal responsibility from lawmakers and to elect candidates who would address the country’s towering budget deficits.

But the Tea Party revolution also quietly produced perhaps the most significant gains ever for the pro-life cause.

The 2010 elections changed the number of states with both Republican-controlled legislatures and Republican governors from 10 to 15.  Consequently, 92 pro-life laws were passed by state lawmakers across the country last year, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

That’s three times as many pro-life laws as were passed in 2010, a pro-life surge that NARAL (the National Abortion Rights Action League) called “devastating” to its cause.  Abortion advocates passed only 10 laws last year.

In all, 26 states passed at least one pro-life law last year.  Three states enacted laws requiring abortion workers to offer pregnant women the chance to view an ultrasound of their unborn babies.  Eight states banned coverage of abortion in the state’s health insurance exchanges.

And five states joined Nebraska in passing laws outlawing abortion after 20 weeks based on the increasing evidence that unborn babies can feel pain at that stage of development.

Other states passed laws regulating abortion facilities.  And seven states outlawed “telemedicine,” or webcam abortions, whereby abortion drugs are administered remotely by video.

South Dakota passed a three-day waiting period for abortions.  And Arizona became the first state to enact a measure that imposes criminal penalties on doctors who provide abortion with the knowledge that race or sex was a factor in the abortion decision.

A number of states are fighting with the Obama administration over state taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood.

There were pro-life gains at the federal level too.  Congress reinstated the ban on taxpayer funding of abortion in the District of Columbia.  And in a surprise move, President Obama’s Health and Human Services rejected the FDA’s approval of over-the-counter purchase of Plan B, aka the morning-after pill, which can cause an early abortion.

Although it took partisan majorities for some of these measures to become law, support for many pro-life laws is remarkably bipartisan.

A 2011 Gallup Poll found that 87 percent of Americans support laws that require abortion practitioners to inform women of the risks associated with an abortion before performing them.  Seventy-one per cent support parental consent for adolescent abortions, and 69 percent support 24-hour waiting periods.

Gallup found that significant majorities of self-described “pro-choice” Americans favor basic restrictions on abortion, including informed consent, a ban on partial-birth abortion, parental consent for minors, 24-hour waiting periods, and ending third-trimester abortions.  A majority of “pro-choice” advocates even support a second-trimester abortion ban.

Despite abortion advocates’ best efforts, few Americans want to be associated with abortion.  The share of Americans who consider themselves “pro-life” has increased from 33 percent in 1996 to 45 percent in 2011.  Meanwhile, the percentage of “pro-choice” Americans has dropped from 56 percent in 1996 to 49 percent in 2011.

The abortion industry is struggling to attract medical professionals willing to perform or participate in abortions.

And a significant minority of Americans (39 percent, according to a May 2011 Gallup Poll) think abortion is “morally acceptable.”  Numerous polls show that young Americans comprise the most pro-life generation ever.

Abortion proponents are on the defensive.  But in some cases they aren’t playing defense at all.  Whereas abortion forces have historically gone to court to challenge every kind of pro-life law, they seem more reluctant to do so now.

For instance, abortion-rights legal organizations aren’t bringing suit against fetal pain-based abortion bans because they fear that if a legal challenge ends up in the Supreme Court, it could lead to challenging the current viability standard used by the U.S. high court to determine the constitutionality of abortion laws.  In other words, abortion advocates fear that the courts may no longer be entirely on their side.

Pro-lifers still have much work to do.  If current trends hold, one in three American women will have an abortion in her lifetime, and of those who do, more than half will have at least one more abortion.

Hundreds of thousands of pro-life Americans are joining March for Life events in Washington, D.C., and across the country today.  After 39 years of abortion-on-demand, the marchers remain an optimistic and
hopeful group.

They will be marching with an extra spring in their step today with the knowledge that even though the abortion debate doesn’t capture the headlines like it once did, their message—that all human life is
sacred and should be protected under the law—is capturing the hearts and minds of Americans like never before.