The Pro-Life Defeat That Wasn’t
Conceiving cultural reconstruction.


Kathryn Jean Lopez

What is most interesting about the hyperbolic celebration that followed the defeat — most publicly from the National Organization for Women and other presumptuously named groups of fellow-travelers — is much of its deceitful rhetoric. While trying not to let my own ideological desires color my interpretation too much, I find it hard not to notice a little bit of desperation in the champagne-bubbled overreaction. 

While supporters of the initiative were accused, yet again, of waging a war on contraception, it could be argued that those actually intent on being the controlling authority in such matters are the liberal sisterhood with megaphones. (And, currently, the White House.) And, wielding under-the-radar regulatory directives, they can be quite productive — leading, for instance, to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s lawsuit on behalf of Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina. As a Becket press release explains, new Department of Health and Human Services regulations under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act would force the college, run by Catholic monks, to cover, in its health-care plan for employees and students, all FDA-approved contraceptives, including Plan B and Ella, which are considered abortifacients by the Catholic Church. 

The monks’ concern goes beyond simple conscience rights; it doesn’t have to do with “turning back the clock,” and isn’t limited to theology. Around this time last year, none other than the glossy New York magazine featured a cover story suggesting that the contraceptive pill might not be the panacea for women it has been hailed as for all these decades now. The story didn’t constitute a well-placed public-relations boon for an incognito Vatican, but a little honest reporting. Some do consider the Pill freedom in your Gucci purse. But others wonder.

Beyond political and legal strategy, Christopher Tollefsen, co-author of Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, observes that the personhood amendment “was about whether every human being, including the youngest, deserved full moral and legal protection, a condition that could be called ‘personhood.’ If it moves debate in that direction, I think it was valuable.” 

What exactly is a person, anyway? Whether we always acknowledge it or not, we know the answer. Scientifically. Biologically. Emotionally. A tarp that had been covering an infamously unconstructive debate was lifted when sonograms became commonplace in the lives of pregnant women. That is why activists work to help crisis-pregnancy centers raise money for more such windows onto the womb. And that is why conversations about whom and what we value must be had out in the open, with a little less demonization. As well as debates about related choices we make, from the most intimate to the financial and, yes, political.

There are those who consider that women won a victory on Election Day. I agree. Somewhere, beyond misleading victory gongs, there’s a little more honesty about humans and human rights. A little victory in defeat, perhaps.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor-at-large of National Review OnlineThis column is available exclusively through United Media.