Where to begin? Since the Dobbs decision last June, abortion has dominated the news and even made a brief return to the Supreme Court. As I write, the justices have just issued an order overturning lower-court restrictions on the abortion drug mifepristone. While this case is largely procedural—Do the plaintiffs have standing? Do statute of limitation laws apply?—eventually other cases, ones posing constitutional questions—Does the word “person” in the 14th Amendment include unborn children? Does the U.S. Constitution supersede state constitutions?—could make their way to the Court. But for now, the action is in the states, and the question on many minds is: Are pro-life defeats in elections since Dobbs evidence of a mounting backlash?
Not really, argues Thomas Clark in “The Myth of Dobbs Losing the Midterms,” our lead article. “What was most clearly shown,” he writes, “was that what abortion restrictions (or any political cause) cannot easily withstand is exposure to $5 billion in unanswered media attacks.” That’s right. Five billion. “It is estimated,” he goes on, “that Republicans and Democrats spent about $10 billion in political advertising in the midterm elections, more than in the 2020 election.” And while “Democrats went all in on abortion, spending by some estimates twenty times more than they spent on abortion in 2020,” Republicans chose “in effect to concede the field and focus on other issues” (e.g., inflation, crime, and immigration). True to form, abortion advocates flooded the airwaves with factually deceptive and emotionally charged messages, giving voters the impression that jail was just around the corner for anyone seeking to access or perform any abortion, even one to save the life of the mother.
In “Internet Giants Censor National Abortion Debate,” Julia Duin relates how “starting in June 2022, pro-abortion groups doubled down on pressuring social platforms to de-list crisis pregnancy centers or CPCs (clinics that provide sonograms, pregnancy testing, and other services but not abortions) on the grounds that they were deceptive”—deceptive because they don’t advertise that they don’t do abortions. Like her eye-opening report in our Winter issue covering record physical attacks on pregnancy centers, this is an eye-opening report on “another battle— an invisible one—on social media.” Left-wing groups are disrupting pregnancy center operations by generating thousands of “negative reviews, spammed online appointments, and false online reviews.” Social media accounts of pro-life activists have been suppressed on popular platforms like TikTok, and pro-life organizations “banned from running ads” there. “Heartbeat International,” Duin continues, “a worldwide network of 3,000 crisis pregnancy centers, says Google has refused to allow it to advertise a technique known as abortion pill reversal,” which doctors who pioneered it claim “works two out of three times” to save a pregnancy after a woman has taken mifepristone. (Recently, Colorado went so far as to ban abortion reversal, though a federal judge has temporarily halted enforcement of the law.)
As state abortion legislation (pro and con) proliferates, state-supreme-court elections, as we recently saw in Wisconsin, where the winning far-left candidate waged an extremist abortion campaign, are taking on unforeseen significance. Does the prolife movement need new strategies and tactics now that abortion is in the hands of state politicians, state courts, and state media outlets? Yes, says George McKenna in “Getting There,” a keenly insightful essay that inspired the symposium following it, in which several Human Life Foundation Great Defenders of Life respond to McKenna’s call for abortion rights supporters to be “publicly confronted and refuted just as Southern racists were sixty years ago.”
But, McKenna asks, “Where is our civil rights movement?” We need, he says, “a central command structure . . . a core of leaders to rethink our whole public face to see what works best in this new state-by-state environment.” We also “need to campaign for and put into office like-minded men and women who speak the same kind of vernacular English that ordinary Americans speak, language that will motivate and inspire voters.” Most importantly, McKenna argues that all prolifers need to get behind a prudential approach to ending abortion, one modeled on Lincoln’s approach to ending slavery. While he acknowledges “there is a logical case for shouting ‘No!’ to any proposed compromise on the life issue,” the “political fact is that we don’t have the votes to prevail—at least not now—in most of our state legislatures.” The respondents to McKenna don’t disappoint: Edward Mechmann and Clarke Forsythe provide useful historical perspective on the wisdom of McKenna’s prudential approach. Ronald Reagan, notes Carl Anderson, also sought “incremental ways to advance pro-life policies.” From Gerard Bradley and William Murchison just saying No! to “a central command structure” to Helen Alvaré urging Americans to “soulsearch their responsibility for children beginning when they make them” to Wesley Smith telling the pro-life movement “to change its (largely but not totally false) popular reputation as angry” to Marvin Olasky advising the movement to “do whatever it takes to get around the big media blackouts”—“Where Do We Go from Dobbs?” features wise and indispensable counsel from seasoned leaders, including David Quinn, who relates why Irish prolifers “took great heart” from the Dobbs decision.
Drew Letendre’s focus on language in our next article, “No Laughing Matter: The Inadvertent Pro-Life Genius of George Carlin,” dovetails nicely with McKenna’s call for using “vernacular English” in abortion debates. “In an iconic ‘set’ from his late career,” Letendre writes, the comedian “dissected a line of increasingly opaque euphemisms that were used to inure the American public, over a sixty-year period, to the awful reality of a combat-related nervous disorder originally termed ‘shellshock.’” After taking the reader through a “master class in semantic deconstruction,” in which Carlin “traces . . . the gradual fogging of a concept from its original sharp coinage in World War I to its anodyne reformulation and gassy deflation by the time of Vietnam” (i.e., from “shellshock” to “battle fatigue” to “operational exhaustion” to “post-traumatic stress disorder or PSTD”), Letendre proceeds to subject the latest euphemism for abortion—“women’s reproductive healthcare”—to the same scrutiny. “No doubt Carlin would be grieved to see the tools of his comic genius appropriated,” says Letendre. But you won’t be.
Even after multiple readings, I am agog over Ellen Wilson Fielding’s “Peddling the Pro-life Cause in the Post-Christian Age,” which in its own way wrestles with the question “Where Do We Go from Dobbs?” It is an extraordinary essay, at once easy to praise and hard to describe. But here is a taste of Fielding’s remarkable ability to elucidate the “deeply dysfunctional society” she sees most of us not only tolerating but sustaining: “Overall, in times such as ours, if a typical young woman detached from traditional religious dogma can accept that men really turn into women and women into men if they think that’s who they are, then such a woman can also consider an unborn baby sentient, conscious, and valuable if the mother wants it, and ‘a blob of tissue’ if she doesn’t.” Later in the essay, Fielding confides that “Pessimists like me often cultivate odd pockets of hopefulness.” Suffice it to say that the “pocket” she visits here has much soul-stirring content.
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Stella Morabito’s new book The Weaponization of Loneliness is “a must read,” writes Jason Morgan in Booknotes, a “Gramscian argument that it is the culture that has turned against human society.” He combines this with a review of Mattias Desmet’s The Psychology of Totalitarianism, which he predicts “will be a classic of the covid era, perhaps akin to the work of Hannah Arendt.” And John Grondelski concludes about The Story of Abortion in America: A Street-Level History, 1652-2022 by Marvin Olasky and Leah Savas: “Prolifers, who are fond of quoting Santayana on the dangers of not knowing history, would be wise to seek out this book.” (Congratulations to Stella, a longtime Review contributor and dear friend of its founding editors, and to Mr. Olasky, our 2021 Great Defender of Life.) As always, we include notable work from our online contributors in From the Website, and end with a selection of Appendices, recent commentaries from other sources we think important to share. Appendix A, however, is an evergreen as it were, a famous speech—Robert George called it “the greatest pro-life speech every given”—by the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. “We have been at this a long time,” he told a gathering of pro-life leaders in 2008, “and we are just getting started.” I daresay he would say the same thing to us today.
MEA CULPA: Raymond Adamek corrected an error in “Destined to Be Overturned” (Winter 23) before publication—unfortunately, we did not. The first sentence in the penultimate paragraph on page 52 should have read “Finally, the U.S. government reported that the number of maternal deaths from all causes of abortion at the end of 1973 was 25, having decreased from 197 in 1965.” A corrected text is available at our website (https://humanlifereview.com/destined-to-be-overturned/).