California Dreamin’: Pro-Life Efforts Offer Hope, Despite Legislative Setbacks

EDITORIAL: Pro-life work requires the support of every Catholic, whether we live in blue or red states.

(photo: Unsplash)
It has been a particularly rocky year for pro-lifers in California since the election of President Donald Trump. The state government, firmly in the hands of Democrats, who work closely with Planned Parenthood, is reviewing a proposed bill that requires health centers at state-run universities to provide chemical abortions.

In November, California also boosted the reimbursement rate for abortions covered in the state’s subsidized health plan, Medi-Cal.

And previously, the state ratcheted up the pressure on religious employers, when it ruled that health insurance plans offered in California must cover abortions.

Soon, the privileged status of abortion rights in the Golden State will be on display at the U.S. Supreme Court, when the justices take up National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, a legal challenge to another California law that requires pro-life pregnancy-resource centers to post information about free and subsidized abortions.

“The huge challenge in California is that the deck is so stacked against life,” said Lila Rose, president and founder of Live Action, a California-based group at the forefront of pro-life outreach on social media.

The view from Sacramento, the state’s capital, appears equally dismal. As Democrat leaders mount a campaign of sweeping “resistance” to the Trump administration, which has shown partiality to the pro-life movement, “support for abortion rights has fed into the agenda of Planned Parenthood to solidify its dominance,” said Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference.

Activists in other blue states express similar frustrations.

“It is next to impossible to get any momentum or traction on a pro-life measure here in New York,” said Kathleen Gallagher, the director of pro-life activities for the Catholic Conference in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pushed health insurers to cover abortions at no cost.

“We spend most of our time fighting against very harmful, dangerous pieces of legislation.”

Peter Wolfgang, the executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, noted that many Democrat lawmakers in his state employ anti-Trump “resistance rhetoric” to uphold abortion rights.

This strategy, he said, allows defenders of Roe v. Wade to “offset declining public support for abortion by joining ranks with progressive activists on other issues.”

Last year, the women’s marches held around the country adopted this approach. And a year later, as women’s march organizers hold protests in New York and other cities this month, their mission statement calls for “access to safe, legal, affordable abortion,” along with issues like sexual harassment and “pay inequality.”  

Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, agrees that Democrats are using the president’s low approval ratings to bolster support for legal abortion and Planned Parenthood. But she also noted that Trump’s stance on life issues has reinvigorated pro-life activism in both red and blue states.

“Pro-lifers are not giving up in blue states. They just have to be more determined,” Tobias told the Register.

Her allies in California prove this point, as they spearhead some of the most effective pro-life efforts and initiatives in the nation, from social-media campaigns to women’s resource centers and legal groups that defend pro-life activists and file challenges to state laws.

The Irvine, California-based Center for Medical Progress produced and posted a series of undercover videos alleging that Planned Parenthood and other abortion businesses engaged in the commercial trafficking of fetal tissue. The videos inspired a nationwide effort to defund Planned Parenthood.

Last year, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra charged David Daleiden, the founder of the Center for Medical Progress, and Sandra Merritt with 15 felonies, alleging that the two unlawfully filmed 14 people, including abortion providers, without their consent.

Meanwhile, Daleiden’s high-profile investigation has already scored a critical legal victory. Last month, two bio-science companies charged with illegally selling fetal tissue to companies across the globe agreed to a financial settlement with the Orange County district attorney and shuttered their offices.

“Tech-savvy young adults who are pro-life and recognize the power of social media are stepping forward to take the reins and attack the challenges ahead,” said Dolejsi.

Live Action’s Rose believes that “God is positioning people” to engage in the particularly tough, sometimes discouraging work of pro-life activism in blue states.

“It is part of his plan to go where it might seem the darkest because the need is great, but also because of what the power of light can do in the darkness,” she said. “There is no shortcut in California. We can and need to fight back against aggressive anti-life measures. But we also need to foster communities who are pro-life and pro-family.”

Live Action is raising public awareness through its extensive presence on social media and the production of animated videos that make the case against abortion and for a change of heart in the culture.

Pro-life legal groups, like the Life Legal Defense Foundation, which defends Daleiden and other activists, and pushes back against laws that quash the free-speech rights of pregnancy-resource centers, are also essential.

Truth be told, the abortion industry’s campaign to secure such laws — including the one under review at the Supreme Court — is a backhanded compliment: It signals that the centers pose a threat to the abortion industry. And now, the California-based Obria Group hopes to solidify that threat by uniting “200 of the top pregnancy centers/clinics across the country” to effectively compete with Planned Parenthood affiliates in the provision of medical and social services.

It’s an ambitious goal. And to succeed, Obria and affiliated clinics must step up their game, as Planned Parenthood ramps up its fundraising and invests in social media and telemedicine.

This vital pro-life work requires the support of every Catholic. At the same time, the exemplary witness of pro-life activists reminds us that there is much to be done, whether we live in blue or red states.

“The challenges facing us in California, and particularly in San Francisco, while formidable, are not new,” said Eva Muntean, co-founder of the Walk for Life West Coast, which is expected to draw 50,000 people on Jan. 27 to the streets of San Francisco. Still, Muntean and the tens of thousands of pro-lifers who gathered for the March for Life Jan. 19, and for the OneLife LA event on Jan. 20, are not deterred

And as they stand up for unborn children, Muntean said, they also “offer hope and healing to women who have had abortions.”

“In our opinion, the biggest deficit in our state is a deficit of hope, of faith, and hence a deficit of love,” she concluded. “We try to be good news.”