On Abortion, How Do We Get to Unthinkable?

A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: Every time the pro-life movement succeeds in protecting laws that save the lives of unborn children, those laws automatically will assist our mission of rebuilding a culture of life in the U.S.

A pro-lifer participates in the Celebrate Life Day Rally at the Lincoln Memorial on June 24 in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the first anniversary of the Dobbs decision, which reversed Roe v. Wade.
A pro-lifer participates in the Celebrate Life Day Rally at the Lincoln Memorial on June 24 in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the first anniversary of the Dobbs decision, which reversed Roe v. Wade. (photo: Anna Rose Layden / Getty Images)

While the ballot initiative in Ohio that failed earlier this month wasn’t specifically about abortion, it’s undeniable that the outcome in the Buckeye State marks an uphill climb for the state’s pro-life movement. 

If passed, Ohio’s Issue 1 would have raised the threshold for amending the state Constitution to 60% of total votes cast from the current 50% plus one. Issue 1 proponents stressed that the provision would apply to all future amendments, in order to better fulfill a state constitution’s purpose of providing a settled legal framework. 

But Issue 1 supporters primarily had hoped to increase the likelihood voters will reject the abortion-on-demand constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot in Ohio’s November elections. 

So it’s accurate to view Issue 1’s defeat as a momentary pro-life disappointment, even as Ohioans gear up for the vote in November that’s entirely about abortion. Pro-lifers in Ohio will face the same challenging factors — the disinformation and deep pockets of the pro-abortion lobby — that resulted in pro-life defeats in all of the six previous abortion-related state ballot measures since last year’s Dobbs decision. 

But the underlying issue in any post-Roe debate over abortion policy is something different and more significant: After more than five decades of legal abortion, the majority of Americans no longer recoil in revulsion at the very idea of killing unborn babies in their own mothers’ wombs. We haven’t only been outspent and out-messaged, we have been out-taught. 

The law is always a teacher. And, unfortunately, for far too long, courtesy of the flawed Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that Dobbs overturned in June 2022, Americans were taught that abortion is a protected constitutional right, not a deadly and horrifying legal and human travesty. 

So, for the pro-life movement, the central question going forward must be this one: How do we get back to unthinkable, when it comes to abortion? 

As a start, we must understand it’s going to be a long-term struggle to renew our national understanding of the sanctity of all unborn human life. Roe’s demise didn’t mark the conclusion of the fight against legal abortion. With authority over abortion law now shifted back to the states, we have entered an even more complicated stage of the struggle. 

This stage includes our ongoing efforts to protect and expand the pro-life legal framework in individual states. Yet even more importantly, our overarching focus must be on changing hearts and minds that have been hardened to the horror of abortion and its effects on women and society at large. 

Fortunately, despite the warped perspective that Roe’s long reign has imposed on the nation’s thinking about abortion, there are reasons for hope. For one thing, we know a strong majority of Americans already understand that a human life is at stake later in pregnancy. That’s why polls consistently indicate they oppose abortions at that time; a June 2023 Gallup poll reported that only 37% of Americans think abortion should be legal in the second three months of pregnancy, and only 22% support legal abortion in the final three months.

Our challenge is to help this majority of Americans to understand that the same life is at stake earlier, from the moment of conception onward. Here, science is on our side: Medical advances like 3D ultrasound technology and innovative educational programs like the John Paul II Life Center’s “A Glimpse Inside” initiative can join together to communicate to America’s younger generations the undeniable scientific proof about the full humanity of unborn babies. 

Perseverance is another necessary asset that the pro-life movement already possesses. In the immediate aftermath of Roe, as public opinion appeared to have turned decisively and permanently in favor of legal abortion, America’s pro-life advocates didn’t give up. Instead, faithful Catholics and their allies rolled up their sleeves and began building up the world’s foremost pro-life movement.

We are now in a time somewhat analogous to that initial post-Roe period, with numerous protracted state-level fights in store and immediate success uncertain in many of those battles. And on the federal level, the absence of political leadership and a coherent vision to protect life will likely prove to be a serious political handicap for Republicans in the upcoming 2024 presidential election cycle. These GOP divisions stand in sharp contrast to the stridently pro-abortion line currently being advanced by virtually every prominent Democrat, including President Joe Biden, who issued a triumphant White House press release hailing Issue 1’s defeat. 

Right now, we should draw lessons from what happened last year in the failed pro-life ballot initiatives, which saw pro-abortion politicians, abetted by sympathetic media and deep-pocketed activists, push disinformation campaigns exaggerating Americans’ support for abortion on demand at any stage and demonizing any restrictions. Many voters consequently did not sufficiently understand that when they cast ballots to constitutionalize a “right” to abortion in their states, what they were actually endorsing was a permanent and unrestricted open season on the killing of unborn children right up to the time of their births. 

It’s important to remember the Ohio Issue 1 vote was only an indirect setback. The decisive pro-life vote will take place in November, when Ohio’s voters decide whether to approve or reject the abortion lobby’s effort to constitutionalize on-demand abortion. 

And even though the Issue 1 outcome was disappointing from a pro-life perspective, there is cause for optimism, too. For one thing, the 1.3 million votes in favor of Issue 1 — about 200,000 more votes than anticipated — represents a very strong base the local pro-life movement can build upon. For another, Ohio has a strong recent history of voting in favor of pro-life candidates. 

Whatever the outcome, afterwards, it will be even more imperative that we fortify our efforts in the other states where similar battles loom next year. 

As I pointed out earlier, the law is a teacher. So each and every time we succeed in reestablishing or protecting pro-life laws in a given state, in turn those laws automatically will assist our mission of rebuilding a culture in America where abortion shouldn’t be merely illegal — it should be unthinkable. 

God bless you!