This year’s March for Life—the 50th—occurs Friday. Half a century ago, attorney Nellie Gray was convinced the first anniversary of Roe v. Wade could not go by unmarked by prolife protest. On a shoestring budget, a wing and a prayer, she assembled the first March January 22, 1974. We’ve been marching ever since.
We’ve achieved something of a victory. Roe v. Wade did not survive until its golden anniversary. Thanks to Dobbs, many of the federal Constitutional straitjackets towards protecting the unborn are gone.
But I say “something of a victory” because, while many states have protected the unborn, many others have doubled down on the errors of Roe. And while the mainline prolife movement moved on from pursuit of a Human Life Amendment to an “incremental” approach that threw abortion back to the states, the pro-abortionists adopted Nellie’s call—“No Compromise!”—trying to ensconce abortion as a matter of “right” in state constitutions.
Each January’s March for Life is an opportunity for the prolife movement to take a survey of the political landscape from a right to life viewpoint, and 2024 is no exception. Indeed, as the first Presidential election since Dobbs, the stakes are high. The Presidency, 33 Senate seats, 435 House seats, 11 governorships, 85 of 99 state legislative chambers, and at least one state Supreme Court seat in 33 states will be decided. Prolifers need to establish priorities.
Winning the White House is important. Although the Constitution in theory vests lawmaking power in Congress, 535 people have a lot harder time working together than one. The Executive Branch frequently can take initiatives: it can issue regulations, reinterpret laws, “prioritize” enforcement or non-enforcement, advance policy initiatives, set budget priorities, and veto what it doesn’t like (i.e., prolife policies). At best, Congress can try to block those initiatives, but it is harder to stop something than start it. A prolife President would go a long way towards nailing down the achievements of Dobbs.
Keeping Republican control of at least one house of Congress. A prolife President obviously would benefit from a prolife Congress which, in the current political dispensation, means one under Republican control. Like it or not, Democratic control of either house of Congress would be an obstacle to prolife achievements. On the other hand, keeping at least one house of Congress in Republican hands is vital to stymie a Democratic President: a Democrat in the White House with Democratic majorities in both chambers would almost certainly push to create a federal “right” to abortion by “codifying” Roe v. Wade.
This year’s political map suggests Republicans could easily take control of the Senate by winning 1-2 seats in prolife states like West Virginia, Montana, and Ohio. Other potential prolife opportunities could be Pennsylvania and the open Senate seat in Michigan. Robert Menendez’s legal troubles in New Jersey could make that state a wildcard, though right-to-life organization there is anemic. Arizona poses an interesting challenge, with pro-abortion Kyrsten Sinema running as an independent against potential Democratic and Republican nominees, enabling a win by plurality in an election likely to be conducted alongside a pro-abortion state referendum endorsed by the current Democratic state government.
Republicans hold the House of Representatives by a fractious three vote majority against a lockstep Democratic minority. Democrats are hoping that the contentious nature of the current House enables them to flip it and, with the narrow change of seats required to do that, will likely focus on abortion in toss-up suburban districts to make their case.
The States. Dobbs sent the abortion issue back to the states. In 1973, Roe’s federalization of abortion caught prolifers unprepared, as abortion politics up until then were state battles. Dobbs also caught prolifers off balance, as many of our state organizations atrophied due to a federal focus. We cannot neglect state efforts, given Democratic plans to throw at least $60 million in national party money into state legislative races, especially to take control of prolife states: Arizona, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania.
Pro-abortionists will likely push state constitutional amendments enshrining abortion-on-demand in several places where they hope for easy wins (New York, Maryland) or where they think they can subvert prolife legislatures (Arizona, Nebraska, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Arkansas). These efforts are intended to shut off debate over abortion long-term: repealing abortion-on-demand amendments from state constitutions would be a challenge, while those amendments would prevent legislatures from doing anything to protect the unborn.
Prolifers probably need to ensure Republican control, where possible, of at least one house of a state legislature. Pennsylvania’s Senate is a good example: without that chamber, the lower house and governor would almost certainly bring abortion-on-demand to the Keystone State. The loss of the Virginia House of Delegates last year will almost certainly allow Democrats to push an abortion-on-demand state constitutional amendment through its first cycle in this legislature.
Most prolife and proabortion governorships will likely stay as they are. The greatest potential pickup for a prolife governorship is in North Carolina, where pro-abortion incumbent Democrat Roy Cooper is term-limited.
As pro-abortionists demonstrated in Wisconsin in 2023, they are focused on state supreme courts where voters typically pay little attention. Judicial elections and, in those ten states with attorneys-general elections, deserve prolife attention, because judges can invent “rights” to abortion and attorneys-general can neglect enforcement of prolife laws even when they are enacted, as is the case in Arizona. Prolifers should especially pay attention to attorney-general races in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, two potential prolife pickups.
There is a certain tension among prolifers today between those who would emphasize political action versus those focused on practical help to concrete individuals. In a post-Dobbs America, both efforts are vital: we need to save lives, but as long as abortion remains legally thinkable, those efforts will be applying bandages to hemorrhages. 2024 will be, in many ways, a make-or-break year for national prolife efforts. Expect many noisy “Women’s Marches” January 20, the day after the March for Life, to try to drown out prolife work.