Last night Ohioans voted for Issue 1, which enshrines the right to abortion in their state constitution. This is a major loss for the pro-life side, not least of all because it comes as part of a series of state ballot initiative defeats since Dobbs (after California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, and Vermont). And there will be plenty of additional state battles on abortion fought between now and the 2024 elections.
Many abortion advocates are optimistic about their momentum. Many pro-lifers are frustrated and demoralized. I get that.
But a few thoughts:
Don’t let recency bias mislead you.
It sucks to lose. Especially multiple times in a row. And each state loss means more lives left to a brutal, violent end, and more inertia for abortion that puts additional states in jeopardy. The losses are real and they are important.
But don’t confuse our current challenges with the idea that we are fated to defeat. We’re not.
The abortion debate is a long-term, complex battle. It’s difficult to predict what countless efforts, large and small, produce over time.
For nearly 50 years we were trapped in the seemingly intractable Roe regime. Many passionate pro-lifers dedicated years to the work and passed away before seeing Roe undone. I genuinely did not expect to be free of Roe in my lifetime. Then, in what felt like a very sudden turn of events, Dobbs meant Roe was gone.
I remember in the years leading up to Dobbs, when SPL spoke against Roe, people (pro-choice and pro-life alike) would occasionally admonish us to keep in mind that getting rid of Roe would not end the fight over abortion in the United States. Here’s a tweet responding to that banality in late 2020:
There was no need to remind us. Perhaps nominally pro-life people thought Roe was the point, but I don’t think I’ve met a pro-life activist who was working under that misperception. Dobbs wasn’t the end of the fight; it was the beginning. It took 50 years to spit out the poison that was Roe. It would be wonderful, but also incredibly wishful thinking, to expect the rest of this work to be short and sweet.
The state losses hurt. And Ohio won’t likely be the last. But the pro-life movement is still vastly further ahead now than we were when we were suffocating under Roe. Since its overturning, a dozen or so states have banned elective abortion from conception, with several more passing gestational limits earlier than Roe ever allowed (e.g. 6 weeks, 12 weeks, 15 weeks). Still more are fighting court battles to pass restrictions (outcomes remain to be seen). None of this was possible pre-Dobbs.
We have many fights ahead of us, and some of them will probably go on for decades. The fight over abortion in the United States is long standing and fierce. Abortion advocates aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. But then again, neither are we.
There’s always something you can do.
And since we aren’t going anywhere, the next question is: what can you do about this fight? There are a wide variety of ways people can help. If you haven’t already, be sure to find your niche.
If you want to go the political route, you can volunteer to do phone banking, door knocking, fundraising, or similar endeavors. If time and energy preclude all of that, you can more minimally make sure you talk with friends and family in your state about whatever battles are happening there.
You can support your favorite pro-life organizations as a donor or as a volunteer (many people do both). Contact those orgs to let them know what particular abilities and interests you have to offer or to ask them where they need help the most.
Argue online. Yeah, I said it. But do it the smart way.
If you want to avoid the abortion debate entirely, help support moms and babies locally, through a pregnancy resource center or other organizations in your community (crisis nurseries, domestic violence shelters, food pantries). Advocate for policies (local, state, national) that help protect and provide for moms and babies in difficult situations.
If you do nothing else, commit to letting people in your life know you’re pro-life. You don’t have to debate. Just memorize this sentence: “I don’t really want to argue about this, but for the record, I disagree.” Speaking up is activism.
Whether you’re broke, busy, introverted–whatever you’ve got going on–there are always ways you can contribute to the pro-life cause. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something (and enough tiny somethings add up).
We’re in this fight for life.
The pro-life movement could see defeat at every legislative attempt from here until I die, and I wouldn’t stop fighting abortion.
Of course I want us to be victorious. I want us to have expansive platforms, ample funding, and legions of voices to influence culture, transform laws, change hearts and minds–all of it. Yes, of course. But–
If I had no platform, zero dollars, and no friends alongside me in this fight–if all I had was my own, lone voice, and nothing more–then so be it. I’d use my lone voice to say “Abortion kills children. This is wrong. This should be illegal.”
My children were valuable before they were born. So were yours. So were you. So was I.
When I say I’m in the abortion fight “for life,” it’s actually a dual meaning. I’m in it to defend lives and I’m also committed for all of my life. Yesterday was disappointing, but it doesn’t dissuade me at all. We fight on.