Pro-Life Progress in 2013

by Michael J. New

The week of the March for Life is always a good time to reflect and take stock of the current status of the pro-life movement. Overall, pro-lifers had a very good,if quiet, year in 2013. This is good news because President Obama’s reelection in 2012 was a real setback. There was a great deal of soul searching about the future of the Republican party and, unsurprisingly, many pundits were all too eager to encourage Republicans to moderate their position on abortion and focus on economic issues. However, every time the media writes the political obituary for the pro-life movement, pro-lifers always bounce back. In fact, the events of 2013 nicely demonstrate the pro-life movement’s resiliency and weight.

As I have gotten older, I have realized that pro-lifers need to be engaged in multiple fronts. Among other things, we need to expose our opponents, pass pro-life laws, and shift the culture. Solid progress was made in each of these areas in 2013. The year began with the trial of notorious Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell. Unsurprisingly, most mainstream media outlets showed little interest in the story. However, pro-lifers made effective use of social media to publicize the case. Some mainstream-media outlets eventually did cover the trial and Fox News even ran an hour-length feature. This coverage spurred many states to enact laws to strengthen the regulation of abortion clinics. Some media reports indicated that 87 abortion facilities closed in 2013.

Pro-lifers made legislative progress in other ways as well. Texas Senate Bill 5, which was signed into law by Governor Rick Perry in July, received national media coverage. This bill banned abortions after 20 weeks gestation and mandated that abortion clinics meet the same standards as other surgical health-care facilities. Two other states banned abortion after 20 weeks of gestation. Four states limited abortion coverage in the health exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act. Eight states enacted bans on tele-med abortions.

Overall, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 70 state-level pro-life measures were enacted in 2103. This makes 2013 the second most productive year on record in terms of the number of pro-life laws that were passed. Overall, there were more pro-life laws enacted between 2011 and 2013 than in the entire previous decade.

Pro-lifers also did well in the court of public opinion. When the year started, some polls indicated a slight increase in the percentage of Americans describing themselves as “pro-choice.” However, two separate polls showed significant gains in pro-life sentiment between January and April. Furthermore, many of the incremental policy objectives of the pro-life movement remain popular. This summer, three separate national polls found that a 20 week abortion ban enjoys plurality support. A January 2014 Rasmusssen poll indicated that support for a 24 hour waiting period reached a historic high. Overall, there has been a consistent long-term gain in pro-life sentiment as six of the last nine Gallup polls have shown that Americans are more likely to describe themselves as “pro-life” rather than “pro-choice.”

The calendar year ended on a positive note. The decision of Senator Lindsay Graham (R., S.C.) to sponsor a 20 week abortion ban at the federal level will likely shift the abortion debate to terrain favorable to the pro-life movement. In December, a Chinese meta-study which pooled the results of 36 separate academic studies found very strong evidence that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. Another recent study from India also offered strong empirical support for the abortion-breast cancer link. Finally, in December the Centers for Disease Control reported that the U.S. abortion rate continues to decline. The number of abortions fell by 3 percent between 2009 and 2010. Overall, abortion numbers have fallen 18 out of the past 20 year and the total number of abortions has declined by approximately 25 percent since 1990.

As most settle back home from annual March for Life, we should take heart. All of this bodes extremely well for the future.