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The Pro-Life Movement Faces Unique Challenges in the Year Ahead

A pro-life protester marches during the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., January 24, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Since this year’s March for Life is taking place virtually, many pro-lifers will be participating online. Meanwhile, pro-lifers will still be busy in other ways this week, with a number of online conferences and spin-off events. Students for Life of America (SFLA) is organizing Life Chains around the country. Today, 40 Days for Life and Live Action are encouraging pro-lifers to pray outside abortion facilities in lieu of taking their usual trip to Washington, D.C. These activities will surely play a helpful role in raising awareness on life issues.

Although the pro-life movement has yet to succeed in overturning Roe v. Wade, we have made progress over the years and have succeeded in reducing the number of abortions that occur. Since 1980, the U.S. abortion rate has declined by more than 50 percent. An important reason for this decline is that a higher percentage of women choose to carry unintended pregnancies to term. This illustrates the effectiveness of pro-life educational, service, and legislative efforts.

However, this year there are more reasons for concern than usual, including three developments that are particularly troubling. First, as has been covered elsewhere on NRO, the Biden administration is making abortion policy more permissive both at home and abroad. Second, many blue states are working to weaken existing legal protections for the preborn. Finally, multiple reports indicate that the U.S. abortion rate rose slightly in 2018, partly because of an increase in chemical abortions.

In recent years, Democratic presidents have made it all but impossible for pro-lifers to enact protections for the preborn at the federal level. There are reasons to believe that President Biden might do more damage to the pro-life cause than either Bill Clinton or Barack Obama did. Like his predecessors, Biden has done away with the Mexico City policy, and U.S. foreign-aid dollars, will once again fund non-governmental organizations that perform and promote abortions overseas.

Unlike previous Democratic presidents, Biden opposes the Hyde amendment, which prevents federal Medicaid dollars from funding elective abortions. Furthermore, since the Democratic party has majority control of the House and a slim majority in the Senate, they will make a concerted push to do away with the amendment. There is a strong consensus among researchers across the political spectrum that the Hyde amendment saves lives. My 2016 Lozier Institute study found that the amendment saves 60,000 lives every year. Pro-lifers will have to work exceptionally hard this year to defend it.

There are reasons for concern at the state level as well. As Democrats have shifted to the left on life issues, they have been weakening protections for the unborn in many blue states. In recent years, both Illinois and Maine have begun to cover elective abortions through their state Medicaid programs. A few weeks ago, Massachusetts weakened its pro-life parental-involvement law, allowing 16- and 17-year-old girls to obtain abortions without informing their parents. In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy has indicated that he would sign legislation permitting non-physicians to perform abortions

Finally, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data released in November indicate that in 2018, the U.S. abortion rate rose for the first time since 2006. Some policy changes in liberal states played a role. Another concerning trend is a significant increase in chemical abortions. According to the CDC, between 2015 and 2018, the share of all abortions that were chemical abortions increased from 25 percent to 40 percent. In 2018 alone, the number of chemical abortions increased by more than 10 percent. As abortion facilities have closed down, supporters of legal abortion have used both legislation and litigation to expand access to chemical abortion.

As pro-lifers gather both in person and online to protest the tragic Roe v. Wade decision, we should certainly the celebrate the long-term gains we have made politically, legislatively, and in public opinion. However, we should also be aware that we face unique challenges this coming year. Since 1973, the pro-life movement has shown itself to be durable and resilient. In the face of setbacks, we have never stopped our advocacy on behalf of the unborn. To our credit, we have found ways to make progress even during hostile presidential administrations. This year, we need to redouble our efforts to build a culture of life and look forward to celebrating some impressive pro-life victories during next year’s March for Life.

Michael J. New is a visiting assistant professor of social research and political science at the Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.

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