Salvo 05.08.2023 6 minutes

Advice for the GOP on Abortion Policy

Election Vote Button Life

Great social change takes time, courage, and charm—so get some.

In the 10 months since Roe fell, the mainstream media has built strawmen of the pro-life movement and burned them down, demonstrating to themselves and their supporters that the debate and the movement are finished. Pro-life Americans are mocked for not transforming all of American society in the time it takes to grow a baby in the womb. But after 50 years of relentless pro-abortion propaganda in politics, culture, and the media, the pro-life movement in America is the beginning of change, not the end. 

According to the dominant narrative, embracing the humanity of the preborn is a significant electoral problem today for the GOP, rather than a transformative moment for the nation. The Democrat Party has morphed into a coalition of fringe grievances, special interest groups, and promoters of abortion unto the moment of birth, using the power of law to attack anyone who dares to disagree. But the Republican Party has the opportunity now to seize the moral high ground as the protectors of the vulnerable from before birth to natural death.

The GOP needs to take a more historical perspective on social change. As I’ve written before, “The day after then-President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves, we didn’t have a black President. The day after the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the vote was ratified, we didn’t have a female Speaker of the House. The day after Roe’s inhumane ruling that disenfranchised preborn human beings was struck down, we didn’t see life protected in law and in service in every state of the union.” 

We have not achieved perfect race relations or gender equality, yet somehow, a few months after a court ruling, all questions should be answered on how to build a culture of life? That is spin, not common sense or our common history as a nation. Change takes time. Institutional injustice that hurts people doesn’t end the moment the law moves forward. But it’s a start.

Republicans need to read the polls better. Most Americans don’t want what the Democrats are selling in the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) and in their rejection of the Born Alive Protection Act. The policy goals of those two items would allow unfettered, taxpayer-funded abortion through all nine months, up to and including infanticide for any child who is born during an abortion. The WHPA even goes after the conscience rights of Americans who don’t want to participate in the abortion process.

In fact, polls support early protections for the preborn, as have legislators. A 2022 OnMessage poll found that 49 percent of GOP and 31 percent of Democrats support limits on abortion after a heartbeat is detected (often at 6 weeks) instead of unlimited abortion until birth. In 2022, a Demetree Institute for Pro-Life Advancement/YouGov poll found that more than half of Millennials and Gen Z said they would support a limit on abortion when a heartbeat is detected (52 percent to 48 percent).

Poll after poll says Americans today are uncomfortable with a shout-your-abortion mindset and look for less of what Planned Parenthood is selling. It’s naïve to expect an abortion-supportive media to acknowledge that reality. 

The GOP needs to pay attention to the fact that life is winning at the state level. In Kansas, millions were spent to confuse the electorate on a ballot initiative that was supposed to be a bellwether event, signaling the end of pro-life laws in that state. And yet this month, Kansas legislators were able to override the veto of abortion-loving Governor Laura Kelly, who fought for infanticide. The Kansas City Star reported “the House voted 87-37 and the Senate voted 31-9 Wednesday [to] override the veto on the ‘born alive’ bill. The new law will take effect in July.” 

Humanity was the issue, legislators said. “We owe it to these people to provide care to those who are weak, powerless,” said Ron Bryce, a Coffeyville Republican legislator, in reports. 

In many states, we have found state legislators to be leaders in their ability and willingness to make a principled stand, even when it doesn’t succeed.

The group I head, Students for Life Action, reports that “every state legislator who championed SFLAction-inspired pro-life bills from prohibiting Chemical Abortion to Heartbeat Abortion Prevention Acts was reelected during last year’s political cycle…. We’re currently tracking 13 Heartbeat legislation, 8 Life at Conception measures (including resolutions), 9 bills related to Chemical Abortion Pills, 9 that look at late-term limits, and 12 to address medical care for babies born during abortions.”

Pro-life legislators across the country are finding that their voters embrace real limits.

As a pro-life leader, I almost envy the Get-Out-Of-Accountability Free card handed to the abortion lobby when they lose. The ERA is still dying on the vine and the Women’s Health Protection Act is a swing and a miss every time. But the New York Times doesn’t say “game over” for the forces of abortion.

Usually, the media response comes from an activist’s point of view, celebrating the effort with calls to try again. And that’s just what the pro-life movement and our political allies will need to do to get the job done.

One loss isn’t the end. One win isn’t either. The work goes on.

Muhammad Ali once said: “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” And it will take something to make right a 50-year-old wrong. But it’s worth it, especially if you’re paying attention to who is motivated to help the GOP where it counts—the ballot box. The national Republican Party needs to have the courage of its convictions, just like its base.

The stool of the GOP balances traditionally on three legs: social conservatives, economic conservatives, and national defense conservatives. But when was the last time you saw a flat-tax coalition knocking on doors and spreading its message? Country-club conservatives may write checks, but the vigor of the grassroots is expressed by social conservatives concerned about the world in which their children will grow up.

In a column I recently wrote for The Hill, I observed that a pro-life base has been loyal for years. “Not only has the pro-life position historically provided more voter enthusiasm, it remains a core distinction between the two parties, for those with the skill and fearlessness to make the case. Here’s how they can do so: When asked about abortion, articulate a clear vision.”

The GOP needs to stop playing ostrich and get its head out of the sand. President Biden wasted no time in his 2024 campaign announcement in making abortion a front and center issue. Hiding from that is a formula for losing. Candidates who refuse to address an issue simply invite more questions, but it could be a response to some stunningly bad advice.

It’s hard to say whether it’s cowardice or lack of vision leading so many consultants to urge the GOP to not do their jobs and “to talk as little as possible” on an issue that for the last 10 months has caught the attention of Americans.

Perhaps the answer is for candidates to come to groups like the ones I lead, Students for Life of America and Students for Life Action, for candidate training and messaging, as more economically-minded talking heads seem unequipped for the task. Every day, the Students for Life team is on campuses talking with those most targeted by the abortion industry and changing their minds at a 19 percent annual rate.

Finally, the GOP needs to learn from the Gipper and respond to the life issue with charm and conviction, not fear. President Ronald Reagan’s essay, “Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation,” was first published in The Human Life Review at a time when Roe v. Wade seemed untouchable. But he didn’t shy away from the issue of abortion.

Reagan wrote, “Abraham Lincoln recognized that we could not survive as a free land when some men could decide that others were not fit to be free and should therefore be slaves. Likewise, we cannot survive as a free nation when some men decide that others are not fit to live and should be abandoned to abortion or infanticide. My administration is dedicated to the preservation of America as a free land, and there is not cause more important for preserving that freedom than affirming the transcendent right to life of all human beings, the right without which no other rights have any meaning.”

The President’s reputation as a respecter of preborn life was sometimes criticized by those who said his pro-life record didn’t match his goals. Once again, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it’s interesting—as history repeats itself—that such criticism usually comes from those gloating rather from those hoping for change.

Those who hate life in the womb are not going to give the Pro-Life Movement or any pro-life individual the benefit of the doubt. However, that doesn’t change our need to be happy warriors, welcoming women and their children born and preborn, confronting falsehood with a smile and the truth. The mission hasn’t changed, but our convictions likely mean we’ll get fewer invitations to parties hosted by MSNBC. We can live with that, so that others might live. As President Reagan said, “I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born.”

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

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