After being given a huge nudge from the Supreme Court declining to block Texas’ new restrictions on abortion, the main topic of conversation in the pro-life movement today is the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned or weakened. When the court rules on the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case in the coming months, many in the movement are hopeful for a big legal win.
But is the pro-life movement prepared to win?
An important lesson Americans must learn from our history is that legal victories without accompanying cultural changes are incomplete. Even after enslaved people were free in the United States, American culture and civil society did not change to secure the “blessings of liberty,” resulting in Jim Crow and other injustices for Black Americans.
Prohibition made the sale and consumption of alcohol illegal, but Americans still wanted to drink, resulting in years of organized crime and terrible violence.
Are we about to make the same mistake with abortion? Not the mistake of making it illegal, but the mistake of not making it unthinkable at the same time. If abortion is made illegal, unplanned pregnancies and sex outside of marriage won’t become illegal, so circumstances may still lead some women to seek abortions, regardless of their legal status. Additionally, is society built to care for children born out of wedlock? Are we focused on building strong, married, two-parent families when unplanned pregnancies occur? Are we equipped to support single mothers and their children in ways that help them flourish and thrive and break the intergenerational abortion cycle?
We need to explore the underlying reasons women give for having abortions in the first place. For an issue that is so steeped in the word “choice,” most women who have abortions say they felt they had no choice. Their statements may include, “I had no support from the father of the baby,” “I felt I wouldn’t be able to finish my education,” “my parents would kick me out of the house,” and “I would lose my job.”
Missing support is often a reason why women have abortions. Accordingly, reducing these underlying causes requires first pointing women to existing support so that they can see a realistic path to choosing life. The dichotomy that the pro-choice movement often tries to convince them of — they can either have their baby or their hopes and dreams — is a false dichotomy. But we need to ensure that the support networks are in place to help women, men and their children.
Currently, the pro-choice movement spends nearly all of its political and social capital on removing legal and cultural obstacles to abortion. It spends nearly no capital on removing obstacles to birth for women who face unplanned pregnancies but want to bring their children into the world. It operates as if it has no obligation to care for these women during the conception to birth phase. In other words, the pro-choice movement operates more like a “pro-abortion movement” even though it rejects that label.
Pro-life people, through church-based outreach, like Care Net’s “Making Life Disciples” initiative and the pregnancy center movement, have worked tirelessly over several decades to provide the missing support women and men need to choose life. But there are millions of women and men each year at risk for abortion, and there are only about 2,700 pregnancy centers in North America.
This is where the pro-life movement can do more. We must continue to support and expand the network of pregnancy centers in North America. And there is a lot of room for growth in church engagement. Indeed, churches must resist the temptation to see abortion as solely a political issue, but primarily as a ministry issue — like food for the hungry and clothes for the naked, ministry calls for compassion for the pregnant. There are more than 400,000 churches in the U.S. They have the potential to provide all of the missing support women and men feel they need to choose life over abortion.
Finally, given that 86% of abortions are to unmarried women, it is incumbent on the pro-life movement to emphasize the importance of healthy marriages and responsible fatherhood as deterrents to abortion. Indeed, in recent years, pregnancy centers have significantly increased their outreach to men and couples in an effort to build stronger families among those at risk for abortion.
And, once women choose life, the pro-choice movement needs to seek common ground and partner with the pro-life movement to remove any obstacles they face to bringing their babies into the world. Indeed, the pro-choice movement has just as much of obligation to support these women as the pro-life movement. If this outpouring of compassion became available to women who feel they have “no choice,” abortion becomes unthinkable.
Roland C. Warren is the president and CEO of Care Net (www.care-net.org).