The United States Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision in 2022 found that abortion is not a federally protected right under the U.S. Constitution. That outcome—long fought for by the pro-life movement—meant that abortion laws are now mostly being hammered out at the state level.
So as we enter 2024, what is happening in the fight to protect unborn human life?
“I would say that we have two different United States when it comes to the treatment of the unborn child,” said Ingrid Duran, director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). “Some states have taken a stand to protect unborn children and support their moms. But then you have states like New York and California that have done the complete opposite and have an enshrined right to abortion either through their state constitutions or some kind of state statute.”
That kind of radical divergence between the laws in conservative states and those in liberal ones surprised neither side.
“We knew this would happen,” said Penny Nance, CEO and president of the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization, Concerned Women for America (CWA). “When the laws go through the legislature, we see a better reflection of the will of the people of that state. Unfortunately, we have seen some ballot initiatives that have not gone our way, where the left has poured millions of dollars to mislead citizens about restrictions on abortion access.”
Both NRLC and CWA monitor legislation across the nation, tracking the progress of bills with the help of affiliates and leaders in all 50 states, which gives them a clear picture of where things are headed.
“I think 2024 will be a lot like last year,” said NRLC’s Duran. “You’re going to see bills in some states to protect unborn children or continue to have life-affirming policies. But then you’ll also have a lot of bills or ballot measures that are trying to enshrine the right to abortion in state constitutions.”
Duran said that after the Dobbs decision, some pro-abortion states not only expanded the availability of abortion but also began funding abortion with taxpayer dollars and passing laws that protect the abortion industry from litigation.
Some of those laws actually prohibit the state from cooperating with any abortion investigation or lawsuit arising from a pro-life state: “They will not obey any kind of extradition orders; they will not comply with any investigation by other governments,” Duran explained.
She describes the legislation in pro-abortion states as essentially “an abortion free-for-all—abortion on demand for all nine months. If they could sell abortion in a vending machine, they would.”
Four states have already enshrined a right to abortion in their state constitutions, and even short of such constitutional amendments, pro-abortion laws have become increasingly heavy handed. For example, at press time, the Michigan legislature had passed a bill called the Reproductive Health Act, which Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer strongly supported and was expected to sign. “This is a law that is so vaguely worded, it insulates the abortion industry from any kind of civil or criminal penalty,” Duran said. “It allows abortions for any reason, even for mental and emotional health. It repeals the partial-birth abortion ban the state had. And it prohibits the legislature or even a city council from introducing or considering any laws or passing any laws that would be life-affirming.”
If all this sounds like doom for the pro-life movement, think again.
Pro-life initiatives have made significant progress in many states. Because of the Dobbs decision, 18 states now protect the unborn child at or before 12 weeks’ gestation, Duran said.
A state policy report by Americans United for Life noted that at least 59 life-affirming bills were signed into law in 2023. “While pro-life setbacks may claim media attention and color the public’s understanding of how the defense of life is going,” the report said, “by and large these challenges have come in places where they were already expected, and the pro-life movement’s extensive wins cannot be ignored.”
And pro-life advocates measure progress not only in laws but in lives.
“Since the Dobbs decision,” Nance said, “we know at least 32,000 babies have been saved. We rejoice over this miracle! The goal of our movement all these years has always been to save lives.”
Supporting mothers and families is also a key component of pro-life efforts, contrary to the claims of opponents who say the movement cares only about seeing babies born (presumably to live a life of misery because they were not aborted).
One initiative Nance is excited about is the introduction in both the U.S. House and Senate of the Life.gov Act, which would establish a one-stop website at the Department of Health and Human Services to provide pregnant women with all the information they need, from adoption services and pregnancy care centers to education and housing resources. Toward that same end, some pro-life states have increased funding to pregnancy resource centers in order to support mothers who choose life.
But legislation can be undone. Minnesota is a state that used to have strong pro-life laws, but much of that has been reversed in recent years. And in Ohio—even though the state enacted a law that created a $14 million grant program for groups that promote alternatives to abortion—voters in November passed a constitutional amendment allowing almost unlimited abortion up to about the 24th week of pregnancy.
Ohio was just one of several states that had disappointing outcomes regarding abortion in the November 2023 elections. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA Pro-Life America, said those results were “a reminder that human rights battles are not won overnight. … In America, where you live should never determine whether you have the right to live. The pro-life movement will never tire or relent until babies and their mothers are protected from brutal abortions across our great nation.”
Entering 2024, the direction of many states is obvious, but it’s hard to predict where several other states might end up in terms of abortion legislation. “What won’t be hard to predict,” Duran said, “is that the pro-life movement has always been a movement for the long haul. We know that we stand with truth on our side.”
CWA, with its half-million members nationwide, is not taking anything for granted, Nance said. “Every state will get our full-force effort for life. This is so because the battle for life requires constantly capturing and setting a vision for a new generation.”
But she is quick to point out that the sanctity of human life goes well beyond passing laws.
“We must continue to educate and motivate Americans with the reasons we believe life should be protected in the womb,” she said. “It starts with the church. We must spread the truth that this is not a political issue, but one deeply rooted in Scripture and God’s perfect design.
“We know there is a lot of work to be done so that the appreciation of life blossoms in the hearts of every American, and our women are excited for the opportunity and up to the task. We know it will take some time, but we are committed to the task.” ©2023 BGEA
Photo: Thom Bridge/AP