Is Now the Time for ‘Pro-Life 3.0’?
With Roe gone, some pro-lifers are advocating for an approach that emphasizes decreasing the demand for abortion through proactive government policies.
With Roe overturned and a right to abortion at the federal level eliminated, some pro-lifers are saying it’s time for a new phase of the movement: “Pro-Life 3.0.”
That’s the name given to an approach to pro-life advocacy that focuses on decreasing the demand for abortion through government programs and policies, instead of focusing more exclusively on limiting legal access to abortion.
Charles Camosy, a moral theologian who teaches at Creighton University Medical School and St. John Seminary in Yonkers, New York, is a chief proponent of the “Pro-Life 3.0” approach. He argues that this form of pro-life advocacy is more consistent with the breadth of Catholic social teaching and also includes possibilities for bipartisan collaboration.
While Pro-Life 3.0 represents a shift in approach, it builds on previous phases of the pro-life movement, as Camosy explained in a recent Religion News Service column. Pro-Life 1.0, he wrote, came before Roe v. Wade and was a “politically complex movement” that did not fit within the left-right political divide. Following Roe, Pro-Life 2.0 was defined largely by its fusionism, channeling political activism largely through a coalition of the religious right, small-government libertarians, and anti-communist hawks.
“This made for some strange bedfellows,” Camosy noted in his column.
Pro-Life 3.0, Explained
With the June 24 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision, the landscape of abortion law — and the potential for political action by the pro-life movement — has changed.
“Before Dobbs, legislators lacked the ability to take a comprehensive approach to pro-life policy-making,” Rick Garnett, a Notre Dame Law School professor, told the Register. “The court’s misguided decisions in Roe and Casey denied citizens the capacity to express in law and policy a commitment to the human dignity of both unborn children and pregnant women.”
Freed from the limitations imposed by Roe, and coinciding with the Republican Party’s populist shift, Camosy said that the pro-life movement now has the opportunity for “new and creative political arrangements that were not possible before.”
Within this possibility for new arrangements, Camosy said this is an opportunity for Catholics to support a political agenda that more fully comports with Catholic social teaching.
“[Pro-Life 3.0] combines a firm and uncompromising insistence on the radical equality of all human beings regardless of age, level of ability, wantedness, dependence, etc. — an equality that demands equal protection of the law for those who don't have it — with a deep and profound commitment to support those beyond mere equal protection of the law, including massive commitments of social welfare through redistribution of wealth,” he said.
Camosy’s approach has a greater openness to the use of government power and programs in service of mothers and children than has been typical in the previous phase of the movement, given the connection to a broader coalition that emphasized limited government.
Garnett cautioned that Pro-Life 3.0 will need to include good policy, learning from the history of previous American welfare programs and seeking insight from evidence-based evaluations and cost-benefit determinations.
“There is no virtue involved in well-meaning spending that does not accomplish its goals,” said Garnett, adding that proposals should respect the principle of subsidiarity and the rights of parents and families.
“Pro-Life 3.0 need not be ‘statist’ to be effective,” he said.
Patrick Brown, a fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center with a focus on developing a pro-family economic agenda, told the Register that the Catholic emphasis on subsidiarity, a principle that recognizes social challenges should be addressed at the most immediate level of society capable of doing so, underscores the importance of local faith-based organizations and pregnancy centers. Brown described these initiatives as “the backbone of the pro-life movement” and noted that the number of women seeking their services will likely increase post-Roe.
But Brown also noted that Church teaching on solidarity recognizes a legitimate role for the government in supporting pregnant women.
“We’re saying that the pregnant woman — and, more specifically, her child — has a claim on society’s resources to make sure that the mom isn’t economically pressured into choosing abortion and that they are happy and healthy,” Brown explained.
He suggested that states consider expanding Medicaid for pregnant mothers or funding home-visiting programs to address postpartum maternal health. Brown also noted the Providing for Life Act from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and the Family Security Act from Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, as encouraging models for pro-family legislation by Republicans.
“We don’t need to approach this with [the attitude of] ‘Let’s replicate a Scandinavian welfare state in the U.S.,’” Brown said. “But we can think about ways to be building up civil society outreach and direct funding, in some cases, to groups that are going to be building those webs of support around pregnant moms.”
Camosy, a longtime Democrat who left the party in 2020 due to its increasing extremism on abortion, also argued that the end of Roe and a shift to a Pro-Life 3.0 approach will create more opportunities for bipartisanship.
“[No]w that we got what we needed from the national GOP — judges which got us the end of Roe and Casey — the pro-life movement can be much more nimble and intentional about working with multiple players in achieving the fullness of our goals,” he told the Register.
At the national level, Camosy argued that many of the circumstantial factors that increase a woman’s likelihood to choose abortion could be addressed through bipartisan action, bringing together both Democrat and Republican policy preferences. He suggested policies like paid family leave, childcare assistance, child tax credits and additional funding for women’s shelters offering safety from domestic violence as starting points for creative pro-life policy aimed at reducing economic factors that push women toward abortion.
Camosy is not alone in envisioning a future that embraces bipartisan political arrangements. Noted legal scholars and pro-life advocates Carter Snead and Mary Ann Glendon recently wrote in The Washington Post that the “culture of life movement” must “act decisively to address the wide range of issues — from poverty to lack of support from fathers — that lead women to choose abortion in the first place.”
Attention to the issues surrounding abortion will create an opportunity for broad coalitions of citizens who, while they may disagree about abortion, nevertheless can work together to support women and children in crisis. Instead of focusing on party preferences regarding the role and size of government, Snead and Glendon suggested that the future of the pro-life movement will require both conservatives and liberals to focus on finding policies that effectively support women.
“The right answer might very well require new government programs and increased spending, greater support for and delegation to nonprofit care providers, or some combination of these approaches,” they wrote.
But not all pro-lifers are optimistic about bipartisan collaboration, especially at a time when, as Brown has noted, Democrats are increasingly presenting themselves as “pro-abortion” and not merely “pro-choice.”
For instance, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has voiced her desire to shut down pregnancy centers, which she said spread “disinformation” about abortion and the various options available to pregnant women. She has introduced a bill that would give the Federal Trade Commission regulatory power over advertising by pregnancy centers. “[W]e need to shut them down all around the country. You should not be able to torture a pregnant person like that,” she said.
“To be clear,” Brown wrote in a column responding to Warren, “the ‘torture’ she is talking about is providing baby clothes, diapers, formula, childcare and utilities assistance, job training, and other services aimed at the crucial pre- and post-natal periods in a new mom’s life.”
In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently vetoed more than $20 million in funding aimed at assisting pregnant women in need, promoting adoption as an alternative to abortion and supporting pregnancy centers that help women who choose life, reported the Michigan Catholic Conference.
“Right now, Michigan is reeling from abortion extremism,” said Rebecca Mastee, policy advocate with the Michigan Catholic Conference. She added that the Michigan Catholic Conference supports policies to limit or end abortion, while also advocating for policies that strengthen families, promote marriage and provide for children in need.
Currently, with a “Reproductive Freedom for All” constitutional amendment likely to appear on the ballot in November, Mastee said that the conference is focusing on educating Catholics and Michigan residents on the dangers the amendment poses by allowing unlimited abortion up to the moment of birth.
Although Camosy described Whitmer’s veto as “terrible,” he still sees potential for cooperation across the aisle.
“She and others like her are people we can and should cooperate with to reduce the demand for abortion,” he told the Register.
Brown suggested that the increased “fanaticism” of many Democrats on the issue of abortion may determine the political future of the pro-life movement. He said the most viable future for the pro-life movement is within the institutional conservative movement, which can work to address both supply and demand for abortion.
With the end of Roe, “Republicans have a golden opportunity to be the party that is authentically pro-life, pro-parent and pro-family,” said Brown.
Toward a Consistent Ethic
Brown recognizes that Catholics have long been frustrated by the propensity of both Republican and Democrat platforms to pick and choose aspects of the Church’s teachings, and he sees Pro-Life 3.0 as an opportunity to break down some divides between left and right.
“It’s not that the ideas [of Pro-life 3.0] are new — the ideas have been around. But they’ve just been unable to be combined because of the political realities on the ground.”
Some politicians have already implemented policies consistent with the Pro-Life 3.0 approach.
Prior to the overturning of Roe, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards — a Catholic pro-life Democrat — signed two bills into law that protect life: One updated existing state “trigger” laws to include criminal penalties for abortionists who break the law, and the other made it illegal to send abortifacients by mail. But he has also previously taken steps to bolster support for women and families, including a 2016 Medicaid expansion in his first act as governor.
Camosy described Edwards’ actions to protect life as “a beautiful witness to the Pro-Life 3.0 that is to come.” Meanwhile, the White House has denounced Louisiana’s recently passed pro-life laws as “the latest step in a growing attack against the fundamental freedoms of Americans.”
Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, said that the Pro-Life 3.0 approach reflects the “consistent ethic of life” that the Church and state Catholic conferences have always brought to questions of public policy.
“It recognizes that the decision to procure an abortion is multifaceted and that we must love and care for both the mother and the preborn child,” he told the Register.
By advocating in this way, Adkins said Catholics in the public square “are reintegrating what the world pulls apart,” noting that people often “cannot get their head around this concept [of public policy developed from principles of Catholic social teaching] because it doesn’t fit into traditional left-right binaries.”
Since at least one in five abortions are procured for economic reasons, Adkins said that the Minnesota Catholic Conference has focused its advocacy on policies that remove barriers to family formation and stability, such as a child tax credit. But he also emphasized that the shift of emphasis in the Pro-Life 3.0 approach can’t leave out working to restrict access to abortion.
“Creative policies that offer economic support for women in need and limit demand for abortion are necessary, but not sufficient,” Adkins said. “Advocating for childcare assistance, paid family leave and better health care does not absolve one of the responsibility to work for an end to legal abortion.”
Camosy takes a similar stance. “Prenatal justice is still our highest priority,” he told the Register. “Period.”
“But, one, we can walk and chew gum at the same time; and, two, lots of other interventions on other issues end up driving down the demand for abortion, supporting women and families, while saving the lives of babies.”
Mary Frances Myler is a fellow with the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government. She recently graduated from Notre Dame, where she served as the editor-in-chief of The Irish Rover.