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Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was a great victory for the pro-life cause. Prior to the 2022 decision, dubious constitutional interpretation by the Supreme Court had impeded any effective limits to abortion. And it had given us a Constitution that was—as William Lloyd Garrison said of the antebellum Constitution—a covenant with death. In the aftermath of Dobbs, moral sanity returned in many jurisdictions, as abortion restrictions were imposed to protect the unborn. But the end of Roe also revealed an American public wedded to abortion as a pillar of “reproductive freedom.” This sad fact puts the pro-life cause in a difficult political position. How can we protect the unborn in a society transformed by the sexual revolution? What is the proper scope of principle, and what of prudence? Where can our pro-life witness be most effective?

We asked First Things writers and pro-life leaders to address the uncertain future of pro-life politics after Dobbs. Their reflections are presented in this symposium. We have important thinking to do. This is a start.

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health was an astonishing spiritual and legal victory. After decades of unceasing prayer, sacrifice, and advocacy by faithful Catholics and pro-lifers of all creeds (or none at all), Roe v. Wade was overturned, and the nationwide scourge of abortion lifted. But whereas some states have used their new power post-Dobbs to protect preborn children, others have enshrined extreme abortion policies. So our work is far from over, and the bishops of the United States have reaffirmed that ending legalized abortion remains our preeminent priority.

Though our advocacy must and will continue, there may be a more immediate and universal path to saving preborn children and their mothers from abortion—what Pope St. John Paul II called “radical solidarity”: “In firmly rejecting ‘pro-choice’ it is necessary to become courageously ‘pro woman,’ promoting a choice that is truly in favor of women. . . . The only honest stance, in these cases, is that of radical solidarity with the woman. It is not right to leave her alone.”

Walking with Moms in Need, the Church’s parish-based initiative to provide “radical solidarity” and hope, has taken off across the country in the past two years. Women and their children have been rescued from abortion and brought into loving community, irrespective of state policies. And women are not the only ones transformed. Walking with Moms in Need invites every Catholic parish to ask itself how it can be the hands and feet of Christ to the most vulnerable among us. As a result, hundreds of parishes have become powerhouses of life-giving assistance for mothers and children, born and preborn.

Michael F. Burbidge is bishop of Arlington, Virginia.

The battle over abortion is but one campaign in the vast contest against the modern culture of death. It is also, tragically, a battle we must fight on two fronts simultaneously. On the outside, we must fight and strategize against the forces of pro-abortion ideology and political activism; on the inside, we must contend with the conflicts that beset the pro-life movement. The inside battle requires continual concern about the solidarity of pro-life coalitions and the consistency of pro-life convictions.

With the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs, everything seemed to fall into place. Many assumed that we had safely won the inside battle and were ready to seize the moment for the outside battle.

But that was not the case. Whereas pro-lifers hoped that significant ground had been won and that the American public was increasingly pro-life, millions turned out to be far more committed to personal autonomy and sexual liberty than to the sanctity of human life.

As for the inside battle, many public figures have shown themselves to be worthless in the pro-life fight—or even worse. Many who claimed to be pro-life have either caved to political and cultural pressure or desperately want to change the subject. The defense of life now demands a full fight on both fronts. We are about to find out the hard way who is with us, and who is not.

R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and editor of WORLD Opinions.

The landscape after Dobbs is bleaker than we’d like. Women living in states with abortion bans travel to states where abortion is allowed (or “shouted”). Abortion pills can be sent by mail anywhere, following a simple telehealth “meeting”: a DIY abortion. And so the rate of abortion has actually increased since Dobbs

The fight against abortion pills, which are so easily procured and so awful a work-around to abortion restrictions, seems an uphill battle. The Supreme Court justices, in oral arguments for U.S. Food and Drug Administration v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, were concerned with legal standing, less so the merits of the case. Even if access to the pills were to be restricted, women would still be able to travel to abortion-legal states. Meaningful change must come from the heart. To be sure, good pro-life messaging, prudent politics, and court battles are worthwhile efforts. We should fight on all fronts. But a turning toward the light is paramount.

If there are any shoots of green in this landscape, they might be found with the rise of sex-realist feminism. Writers in this school ask what it might look like in our modern world for a woman to be fully a woman, attentive to her nature as oriented to the nurturing of life, not a being miserably fitted to the mold of man. Might we be seeing glimpses of what Pope John Paul II called for—a renewal of the feminine “genius”? Abortion is anti-child, but also anti-woman, a consequence of the twisted regnant narrative of womanhood. Sex-realist feminism resonates with the hearts of many. May it be cultivated and amplified.

Adeline A. Allen is associate professor of law at Trinity Law School.

The overturning of Roe has done at least two things. First, it has galvanized the pro-abortion lobby. The immediate pivot to heart-wrenching stories of rape and incest demonstrated that the real battle is not for the courts but for the popular imagination. Arguments about when life, or personhood, begins tend to trade in abstractions. But real women with unwanted pregnancies are not abstractions, and some of their stories carry tremendous emotional power. The opposition has proved brilliant in putting these stories before the public. And the stories have popular resonance because of the way sex, autonomy, and the importance of emotions are intuitively understood. If abortion is to be consigned to the trash can of history, we need to challenge and transform these intuitions. And that requires far more than victories at the Supreme Court.

Second, the fall of Roe has exposed the shallowness of much conservative thinking about life, even among evangelical Christians for whom abortion has been a key issue for many decades. Recent controversy over the ethical status of IVF reveals that many Christians have failed to connect abortion to wider questions about fertility. There is clearly a catechetical problem here: We conservative Protestants have not done a good job of thinking about abortion in a broader ethical context. Therefore, for all the wider political need for a renewed national activism, there is also a pressing need to set abortion within the context of a theological anthropology that has implications for matters such as IVF and surrogacy. These are trickier matters because, unlike abortion, their intention is creation, not destruction. But they cannot be isolated from the broader ethics of life.

Carl R. Trueman is professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College.

In the wake of the Dobbs decision, let me tentatively suggest to my more politically, legally, and economically astute fellows in the pro-life movement the following argument.

Proponents of elective abortion most often hold that a fetus is not a human being. Hence, for them, choosing to kill a fetus is as morally insignificant as choosing to remove a non-life-threatening bodily growth. It is cosmetic surgery. Elective abortion is a choice with which society should not interfere legally because what individuals do with their own bodies is not society’s business. It is society’s business to interfere only when one individual harms another, or when someone needs help and makes a reasonable public claim on others for assistance.

However, if society has a duty not to impede the exercise of one’s right to privacy, surely it has no duty to assist in the exercise of one’s private decisions either. By trivializing the status of fetuses—by according them the ethical significance of benign growths—proponents of elective abortion have weakened any claim they have on public support of an essentially private matter.

Thus, in economic terms, society has no duty to fund elective abortions, any more than it has a duty to fund weight reduction. Therefore, abortion clinics should receive no public money any more than weight reduction clinics do. Governments that should always be looking to save public money might like this argument. Insurance companies, always looking for reasons to save their money, might like it too. Taking the profit out of elective abortion, plus increasing its costs, could go a long way toward limiting the number of abortions in our society, even in places where abortion is legally permitted and politically promoted.

David Novak is J. Richard and Dorothy Shiff Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto.

Donald Trump, in announcing his support for the IVF industry and his rejection of any federal legislation to protect babies from the lethal violence of abortion, has made it clear that he is not pro-life. Nor is he exactly pro-choice. He is, quite simply, pro-Trump. As anyone who has followed Trump’s career knows, the most fundamental thing about him is that he is transactional. The art of living is the “art of the deal.”

Trump’s message to his pro-life supporters boiled down to (and here I’ll translate for you), “Hey look, gals and guys, I upheld my end of the deal I made with you in 2016. Roe v. Wade is gone.” But now, with the demise of Roe activating the Democratic Party’s extremely pro-abortion base, a politician’s being genuinely pro-life—working for actual legal protection for unborn babies—appears to be a heavy political liability. So, Trump’s message is this: “I’ve got to get elected to save the country, so I’m not going to do anything to protect unborn babies. Whatever the states want to do about abortion—permit it, forbid it, permit it up to fifteen weeks, permit it up to birth—is fine with me.”

Trump has, effectively, endorsed Stephen A. Douglas’s concept of “popular sovereignty.”

So, it is incumbent on pro-life Americans to acknowledge the tragic fact that we do not have a pro-life presidential candidate representing a major political party in 2024. Trump has made it clear that he won’t help the pro-life cause, even incrementally, and Biden is utterly beholden to the abortion lobby.

Where does that leave the pro-life movement?

Whether Trump wins or loses, the future of the pro-life cause depends on whether there is a prominent Republican leader who is prepared to do today what Abraham Lincoln did in the face of the barbarism so fiercely defended by the Democrats of his day: defend the dignity of all members of the human family. With the pro-abortion base of the Democratic party so energized, and with a compliant media doing their bidding at every turn, it would take genuine courage—and high statesmanship—for a politician to provide the leadership that our cause needs if it is to weather hard times and build a broader base of support.

Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University.

How should those of us who believe in the intrinsic equal dignity and matchless worth of every human being (born and unborn) respond to the current political landscape following the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs? We find ourselves confronted by a consistently negative (and frequently misleading) media narrative that often echoes the talking points of abortion-rights advocates, a U.S. president who has mobilized every resource of the federal executive branch to promote abortion (including by prosecuting pro-life protesters under the FACE Act), a Democratic Party that has made a full-throated case for maximal abortion access the centerpiece of the 2024 campaign cycle, and a coordinated program of legal challenges and abortion-rights referenda (both of which are supported by almost unlimited funding). On the other hand, most Republicans are unwilling or unable to mount a compelling pro-life case, preferring instead to change the subject or even change their views to neutrality or worse.

What to do? First, we must speak the truth in love. The truth at the heart of the pro-life movement is that everyone matters and deserves care and the protection of the law, regardless of condition or circumstance. This includes unborn babies, their mothers, fathers, and families. It includes those who disagree with us. The only response to this trying moment is love. Radical, unconditional, self-emptying love, especially for mothers in need. Second, we must act in a way that reflects this. In the realm of law and policy, this means combining protection of the unborn with strong measures supporting mothers and families. This is not only what love, justice, and mercy require. This is a winning public message that will change hearts and minds when delivered confidently and earnestly. Third, and finally, we must pray.

O. Carter Snead is Charles E. Rice Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame.

Pro-lifers after Dobbs need to take moral and political reality seriously. The moral reality is clear: Elective abortion is the unjust killing of a human being and should be prohibited. The political reality is harder to stomach: A majority of Americans, though ambivalent about abortion, think that elective abortion should be legally permitted at least in the first trimester of pregnancy, and will vote for a radically permissive regime of law if they think the alternative is a complete prohibition of abortion. What’s more, political elites in the so-called pro-life party are frequently insincere in their pro-life commitments and unwilling to provide the leadership needed to shift public opinion. And few in the donor class are willing to spend real money on the pro-life cause.

Fortunately, since Dobbs, pro-life politicians who have stood firm have fared well in elections. In fact, the most outspoken pro-life officeholders—senators who championed federal legislation and governors who signed into law state protections—have sailed to re-election. At the same time, every ballot initiative on abortion since Dobbs has produced a resounding defeat for the pro-life cause. There are lessons here.

With ballot initiatives, pro-abortion activists posing as media personalities control the messaging. The pro-life side is consistently outspent by wide margins. We even lose a portion of our natural base: In Ohio, one-third of voters who went to church at least once a week voted for abortion. This is why the pro-abortion side will continue to bring ballot initiatives in states that pass pro-life laws at the statehouse.

It does the pro-life cause no good to pass a protective law at the statehouse that will be replaced with abortion-on-demand at the ballot box. Our goal needs to be not simply the most protective law possible now, but the most protective law that can withstand efforts to repeal it. We need simultaneously to take current political reality seriously and work to shape it for the future.

Pro-lifers are for the most part locked out of, or forced to be silent in, every elite sector of society. The one venue in which you can be an outspoken pro-lifer and not pay a price is politics. And being outspoken here can help shape the future. We need political leaders not to run away from the abortion issue, but to speak about it intelligently, compassionately, and therefore boldly and persuasively.

Courage has two opposing vices: cowardice and rashness. Sadly, we are seeing cowardice in the refusal of some pro-lifers to enact protective laws, and rashness in the refusal of others to make such laws sustainable. Taking moral and political reality seriously entails a recognition that we must uphold moral truth but also shape political reality.

Ryan T. Anderson is president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

One reason pro-abortion stalwart Ruth Bader Ginsburg opposed Roe v. Wade was because she believed that America was democratically poised to accept legalized abortion in 1973, when the Supreme Court improbably claimed to discover a hidden constitutional right to abortion. Abortion supporters enshrined the practice in law and society for fifty years before the pro-life movement was unshackled by Dobbs. Now, the movement finds itself in an uphill battle in defense of the unborn.

Because corporate media are motivated by love for abortion, ostensibly pro-life politicians are often the only sources from whom voters hear the pro-life perspective. Unfortunately, many of these politicians either blatantly attempt to dodge the issue—which never works—or performatively recite talking points they believe pro-lifers want to hear.

The pro-life movement needs to engage in a concerted communications effort to help politicians and candidates talk about abortion. If more public leaders could speak with confidence and clarity about the moral reality of abortion as well as the politics, the pro-life movement would benefit greatly.

Leaders need to be able to cite facts about all the major life issues in interviews and not get sidetracked. Nearly everything the corporate media, Democrats, and the abortion industry say about unborn children and motherhood is a lie. Leaders must confront each lie head-on. And they need to take on the issue willingly, rather than get put on the spot by abortion activists. They must not fight on their back feet or let activists set the terms of the debate. If they allow that to happen, they will have already lost.

Polling indicates that informative messages about the truth of abortion persuade voters, including single women. Countering the abortion industry’s lies is essential to political success.

Mollie Ziegler Hemingway is editor in chief of The Federalist.

In the fifty years since Roe v. Wade, political moments (and politicians) have come and gone, but the pro-life movement endures because it is a human rights movement.

Our strategy paid off. We organized. We went door to door. We voted by the millions, electing a president and Senate who transformed the Supreme Court. The Dobbs victory was a breakthrough, restoring to the people and elected lawmakers the power and responsibility they had long been denied. Now, twenty-four states protect unborn children, affecting nearly 200,000 abortions.

In our own ranks, some would retreat to individual states. But human rights are never a question of geography. At least 750,000 babies remain unprotected. Our work continues to save them and serve their mothers.

Dobbs clearly empowers both states and Congress to act. The Fourteenth Amendment empowers Congress to pass legislation that ensures the equal protection of the laws. A consensus exists among voters for a federal minimum standard to protect babies in the womb once they can feel pain, while allowing states to be more protective.

The pro-abortion left’s vision for America consists of federal legislation to overturn pro-life protections in every state, and spending hundreds of millions of dollars to trick voters into enshrining unlimited abortion “rights” in their state constitutions. Pro-life candidates and officials must oppose this agenda, with adequate funds.

Finally, we must show compassion. Nearly 70 percent of women who’ve had abortions say their abortions were unwanted, coerced, or not in line with their values. The pro-life safety net, including more than three thousand pregnancy centers and maternity homes, offers a lifeline to mother and child; the abortion industry offers deadly drugs in the mail. Leaders must continue to build a strong culture of life, even—especially—in states where the law already protects the unborn.

It took us more than fifty years to reach this moment. We must not cede the fight, end up with complete pro-abortion control of Washington, and lose it all.

Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. 

In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope St. John Paul II provided a nuanced assessment of the moral duty of legislators: “When it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality.”

These are words to take to heart. Our aim should be to protect the sanctity of life. This cannot be achieved if proponents of unlimited abortion win elections. Therefore, measures short of full protection of the unborn can be supported, as long as we are clear that these compromises are for the sake of securing the conditions propitious to the fuller implementation of the pro-life cause in the future.

Our society has been damaged by the sexual revolution and the culture of death. As Kevin L. Flannery has observed in “Ethics of Leadership and Ethics of Teaching” (April 2021), that damage needs to be addressed by clear witness. This witness includes that of pro-life political leaders, who should never equivocate as to the moral injustice of abortion. But responsible action is also necessary, and it “requires leaders to do what can be done politically to restrain wrongdoing.”

Under these strictures, the positions adopted by Donald Trump and other politicians who must reckon with the support for abortion among American voters cannot be dismissed immediately as betrayals. Pro-life legislators in the Roe era had to function under a legal regime that gave little scope for meaningful measures to protect the unborn. Today, those running for office face significant democratic constraints. We should never tire in our witness, but it is not possible to pass laws that run counter to the desires of voters, or at least not enduring laws.

Our immediate task is to stabilize today’s volatile politics of abortion in a fashion that is maximally protective of life, given electoral realities. As we do so, we need to be clear in our thoughts and words: Abortion is a moral evil, and whatever compromises we strike are temporary, for the sake of saving those whom we can save, until such time as we can do more.

R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.

Image by trestletech from Pixabay on Wikimedia Commons, licensed via Creative Commons. Image screenshotted and cropped.

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