The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade was for many Republicans a classic case of the dog catching a car he doesn’t actually want to catch. It was the right decision and the GOP should have been ready. But much of the GOP establishment was insincere about opposition to abortion (also see a whole raft of other issues from border security to moving the embassy to Jerusalem) and pro-life groups proved to be almost as unready.
The death of Roe v. Wade was a legal victory, not a political, let alone a cultural victory. Yet it opened the door to both. Republicans and conservatives could have united on a 15-week ban with all the politically correct exceptions and dared the abortion lobby to fight them on that turf. And as inadequate as that may be, it would have been a good start.
And slowly that happened, but all too slowly and unevenly.
Some pro-life groups were understandably overjoyed, and some overreached. There was damaging talk of prosecuting mothers. Worse still, some in the pro-life movement proposed going after birth control and IVF. While they’re a minority, they’re not hard to find and the media made a point of playing them up. Even after a number of setbacks, the pro-life argument was not being well made. The pro-abortion argument played with extreme scenarios like rape and incest, but it was effective. The counterargument, that what the other side wanted was abortion until the moment of birth, was true, but lacked some of the effective personal stories that the pro-abortion lobby brought to the table.
But the larger issue is cultural.
The pro-abortion side is not as wide as the media makes it seem, but it is deep. These days there are fewer single issue pro-life voters than single issue pro-abortion voters. And that is a factor of the decline of religion. There are more passionate pro-abortion people in many states than there are passionate pro-life people. A whole lot of young women have been groomed by shows like Handmaid’s Tale and media propaganda that they’re one vote away from being doomed by a worst case scenario pregnancy. The pro-life movement has made efforts to reach them, but it’s hard.
There’s also a trend line.
Conservatives have lost decisively on most sexual morality issues except abortion until now. (The transgender issue may prove to be another exception, but the jury is still out on that.) The abortion except was based on the ability of conservatives to make the one argument they had trouble making in other instances: whom does it hurt.
The future of the movement rests on that argument.
Morality has imploded. Reviving it is crucial, but there are no easy answers.
Pro-life activists get a lot of credit for keeping the flame burning on abortion at a time when most Republicans didn’t want to touch the issue. And the efforts to shut it down now are wrong. But the setbacks after the fall of Roe v. Wade are an urgent warning that better arguments need to be made and that the abortion issue can’t be detached from the culture war. After a series of defeats, there also needs to be message discipline. That means an end to purity spirals, virtue signaling and proposals to ban things that even the vast majority of Republicans, never mind Americans, support.
The first rule of activism is to dream of tomorrow but to work with what you have today. Work with the people as they are, not as you imagine them to be, fight to set up beachheads from which future victories can be won.