What a difference two years make.

At the end of 2004, many pro-lifers were elated by national trends indicating that the future belonged to us. “Values voters” had just provided a pro-life president with the crucial margin of victory in his re-election, Congress’ pro-life majority was 10 years strong and growing, and the popularity of The Passion of the Christ had just shown our elites that their decades-long attempt to wean the public off orthodox Christian faith had failed. Reports of a “fertility gap” between fecund pro-life Christians and sterile secularists only fed our sense of inevitable victory.

Then what happened?

Terri Schiavo was dehydrated to death with the apparent approval of most Americans, pro-lifers lost referendum fights on abortion in South Dakota and embryo destruction in Missouri, and the pro-abortion party just regained control of Congress by winning dozens of seats. The mood of many pro-lifers is almost the opposite of where it was two years ago: They feel dejected, forlorn, uncertain about the future of our cause.

But, truly, it’s not as bad as it looks.

The pro-life movement is well positioned to hold its ground, limit any damage caused by the new pro-abortion Congressional majority and continue closing in on victory after the temporary setback of the 2006 election. There are four reasons why — and they are all rooted in the election itself.

First, the same election that gave control of Congress to the pro-abortion movement also had the curious effect of making both parties more pro-life.

In order to regain control of Congress, the Democrats had to recruit several pro-life candidates, making their caucus more ideologically diverse than it has been in years. And many of the defeated Republicans were pro-abortion stalwarts like Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and my own Congresswoman, 12-term veteran Nancy Johnson, in Connecticut.

For years, the leaders Democrats sent to Congress have been passionately committed to their pro-abortion platform while the Republicans they sent have been hardly committed or uncommitted to their pro-life platform. In the last election, both sides of that equation began to change.

Second, the values voters are still the key demographic driving election results: The GOP won in 2004 because of their support and lost in 2006 because of their lack of it. Scandals made Republicans look complicit in the same downward cultural spiral that values voters had elected them to combat. Rep. Mark Foley’s interest in young male pages and Speaker Dennis Hastert’s knowledge of it evoked the Church scandals, with chilling effect. At the same time, the Democrats were willing to run social conservatives. So the values voters got to take a calculated risk. The pro-abortion takeover of Congress was not won on the strength of a pro-abortion electorate.

Third, Democrats must step gingerly, precisely because they owe their victory to a conservative electorate’s disgust with the GOP and not their support for the Democrats’ agenda. Democrats understand that, if they give in to their party’s radical elements — if they engage in antics designed to satisfy the Bush-haters or those seeking payback for the Clinton impeachment — they will confirm the values voters’ worst fears about them and their return to majority status will be brief.

But I happen to think there is a fourth reason not to expect a long reign from the party that, despite the changes, is still adamantly pro-abortion. The Democrats won’t be able to help themselves. They successfully kept their party’s crazier elements out of the public eye during the campaign, but they will not be able to do it while governing.

All that pent-up rage of the last several years — from “Bush stole the 2000 election” to “Bush lied us into war” — will finally find a governmental outlet. Those crazier elements of the Democratic Party will demand the administration be investigated on every conceivable conspiracy theory. They will also push to roll back any pro-life gains made over the last six years and to pass new laws increasing public financing for groups like Planned Parenthood.

Those who orchestrated the party’s return to power by accurately gauging public sentiment might resist these demands, but doing so will put them at odds with groups that provided much of the party’s financial and volunteer support in the last election. The result will either be a grassroots base that feels betrayed by party elders or partisan witch hunts that alienate the centrist voters who elected the new majority.

Either result could create the potential for pro-lifers to pick up seats in 2008 and beyond. And it would give a pro-life presidential candidate something to run against in 2008.

When the U.S. Supreme Court imposed the abortion-on-demand regime in 1973, The New York Times editorialized that the court had “settled” the abortion issue. When justices put on the court by pro-life presidents upheld the abortion license in 1992 and President Bill Clinton overturned those presidents’ pro-life executive orders in 1993, many said that the pro-life movement was dead. By the early ’90s, we had put in 20 years of work only to see abortion more firmly established in our politics and culture than it had ever been. 

But the last dozen years have marked some of our greatest successes in turning the public away from the “pro-choice” fallacy and toward a culture where every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. Each time the pro-life movement was written off for dead, we came roaring back.

We will again — we’re in a stronger position than we were in either 1973 or 1993 — and that impending victory we sensed a few years ago can still be ours.

Peter Wolfgang is director

of public policy for the

Family Institute of Connecticut.