The Corner

Re: Progress after Casey

Clarke Forsythe makes a number of good points in his post about the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Casey v. Planned Parenthood. During the past 20 years pro-lifers have succeeded in passing a number of incremental laws at the state level. Additionally, the pro-life position has made some impressive gains in the court of public opinion. Most important, the abortion rate has gone down. This is progress that the pro-life movement could sometimes do a better job advertising.

When many pro-lifers look at this progress, they often forget that 20 years ago there were plenty of reasons to be pessimistic. In 1992, pro-lifers suffered a significant judicial setback with the Casey decision. The same year we also suffered a significant political setback when Bill Clinton was elected president. Even worse, public-opinion trends did not look favorable. The percentage of Americans who thought abortion should be legal in all circumstances was slowly but steadily increasing.

Demographic trends also painted a pessimistic picture. There was not much evidence to suggest that Americans were becoming more religious or politically conservative. Additionally, Americans were becoming both wealthier and better educated, and there is plenty of research to suggest that income and formal education are positively correlated with pro-choice sentiment.

Even those demographic trends that appeared to be positive offered only limited practical hope. For instance, a number of surveys showed that racial minorities were more likely to describe themselves as pro-life. But though the percentage of racial minorities was increasing, minorities are not particularly likely to support pro-life candidates. And while the percentage of Americans over the age of 65 was increasing, the pro-life sentiment of senior citizens might be more of a function of when seniors were born, rather than the aging process.

However, the story of the past 20 years has been one of pro-life progress. Progress due in part to the perseverance of pro-lifers — but also due to pro-life leaders shrewdly using the legal openings granted through Casey to advance the culture of life.

Michael New — Michael New is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, an adjunct scholar at the CATO Institute, and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute. His research has focused on ...

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