If criticism from the mainstream media is a good barometer of pro-life progress, then by all accounts pro-lifers are having an excellent 2011. The Washington Post, the New York Times, and other mainstream media outlets have granted supporters of legal abortion significant amounts of column space to bemoan the progress pro-lifers have made at the state level. Unfortunately, no mainstream media outlet with nationwide reach has granted a pro-lifer column space to make the case for incremental pro-life laws, document the deplorable conditions found in Kermit Gosnell’s Philadelphia abortion mill, or criticize the numerous instances of Planned Parenthood misconduct captured on the LiveAction Films videos.
The mainstream media’s latest attack on pro-life progress was authored by Yale law professor Adam Cohen and appeared on Time.com. To Professor Cohen’s credit, he details a broad range of state-level pro-life legislative initiatives. However, he insists on describing each legislative measure in the most extreme terms possible. Efforts to make women listen to the heartbeat of their unborn child are “brazen.” Ohio’s Heartbeat Bill is “extreme” and Mississippi’s Personhood Amendment is “outrageous.” Of course, states that offer no legal protection whatsoever to unborn children are spared from any criticism.
Interestingly, Cohen is selective about what he reports. He mentions the five states — Indiana, Kansas, Alabama, Idaho, and Oklahoma — that have adopted laws banning almost all abortions after the five-month mark. However, he neglects to mention the impetus for these laws — namely that there is medical evidence that unborn children can feel pain at this time. He also ignores legislative measures that clearly enjoy broad support, including Michigan’s recently signed ban on partial-birth abortions and the parental-involvement law approved by Alaska voters last year.
Furthermore, Cohen neglects to mention that pro-lifers remain divided about many of these pieces of legislation. Ohio’s Heartbeat Bill is supported by a number of local pro-life groups, but opposed by Ohio Right to Life, which feels that the timing is not right for a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade. Additionally, most Beltway pro-life groups oppose — or at least do not support — personhood amendments. Some question how effective these amendments would be in protecting the unborn. Others feel there are better legal strategies for challenging Roe.
State-level pro-life legislation serves multiple purposes for the pro-life movement. Pro-lifers are simultaneously trying to protect the unborn, educate the public about the permissive abortion policies in this country, and find effective legal challenges to Roe v. Wade. Not surprisingly, pro-lifers sometimes disagree about the proper way to proceed. Regardless, pro-lifers should take heart. The fact these efforts are generating increasing amounts of concern in newsrooms and editorial boards around the country is good evidence of pro-life progress.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan–Dearborn and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.