From time to time I detect an undertone of dissatisfaction from prolifers who don’t like to hear our issue identified as “conservative” or “Republican.”
And I wonder: Why should prolifers think it undesirable that our movement is strong enough to be a coalition partner with one of the two major political parties?
What are the alternatives? Theoretically there are two:
- Our issue is identified as “liberal” or “Democrat” or
- Our issue has no political allies.
As to the first: Be realistic! The pro-life issue is not going to be embraced by liberals or the Democratic Party in our lifetime. A is not an option.
As to B: We’ve been there. When the pro-life movement started, our issue was not part of anybody’s coalition. And that didn’t win us any votes, and therefore did not save any lives.
Back before the pro-life issue was grafted onto the GOP agenda, prolifers were assumed to be Catholic and therefore assumed to be Democrats and therefore assumed to be liberals. When Republican Roger Jepsen of Iowa won his surprise upset against liberal Senator Dick Clark in 1978, his victory was attributed to the fact that he talked about life issues as he walked the Democratic precincts.
The Jepsen election made the political world realize that the life issue could lure voters away from their ancestral Democratic roots. Ronald Reagan picked up on this, so he made family and life issues the third support of his three-legged coalition stool. And the marriage of life issues with the Republican Party has endured ever since.
The Reagan victory was several political lifetimes ago, however. For the benefit of younger prolifers, therefore, I now offer a refresher course on coalitions.
A coalition is a group of people who agree to pursue a common course of action—for reasons of their own. Being in a coalition does not mean you endorse each other’s agenda.
Case in point: In the 1930’s Franklin Roosevelt had both the southern Democratic bosses (not a few of whom were friendly with the KKK) and African-American voters in his coalition. What did they agree on? One thing: that FDR should be elected President.
Today, both Alliance Defending Freedom and the ACLU might end up on the same side of a religious freedom lawsuit. This doesn’t mean ADF has gone soft, or that the ACLU has switched sides. It doesn’t mean they will be on the same side of the next lawsuit that comes along. It simply means that, for this case, in this instance, for reasons of their own, they both believe their goals will be advanced by working for the same outcome.
Conservatives and Republicans are the political coalition partners of the pro-life cause.
What does it mean, to be a coalition partner?
Back in 1980, prolifers brought false expectations along with hope when Ronald Reagan was elected. When pro-life goals were not achieved within four, or even eight years, some prolifers became disgusted and dropped out of politics. They had expected Reagan to solve the abortion problem.
They didn’t realize then that it was—as it is today—the job of the pro-life movement to solve the abortion problem. Not Ronald Reagan’s job, not the Republican Party’s job, not the conservative movement’s job. Our job.
Tragically, when Reagan’s Republican coalition swept the Presidency, the Senate, and the House, the movement wasn’t up to the challenge of governing—as the pages of the Human Life Review document in detail (see tabs below). But our movement survived and grew.
Today, the pro-life movement is mature and should have realistic expectations of politics. We know that we must go to the well, draw our own water, and carry it to our political allies.
Because they are our allies, they will generally vote for the measures we bring to them. We have to avoid offending them, of course, and we have to minimize the pain it costs them to vote our way—which means we need to deliver for them too. Nobody says any of it is easy.
And we have to have realistic expectations. Not every Republican is a dyed-in-the-wool prolifer, just as not every Democrat is a dyed-in-the-wool pro-choicer. But most of them vote the way their coalition dictates if they want a political future.
That’s what it means to be in a political coalition.
* * * * *
Connie Marshner organized her first pro-life meeting in 1971, among Capitol Hill staffers who sensed a drift toward legalizing abortion. She’s worked in the movement in one capacity or another ever since.