A rallying cry for we pro-lifers for 45+ years has been the Roe v. Wade (1973) decision, which determined that the “penumbras and emanations” of the Constitution implied a right to privacy and therefore abortion was legal. That SCOTUS decision refined the right by defining the first trimester to be totally unfettered from any governmental interference. Some restrictions were allowed from that point on but, ROE in a practical sense meant abortions up until delivery.
And so, the nation-wide political war began and continues today.
The National Right to Life Committee and many more groups sprung up with the goal of overturning the decision or passing a Constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion entirely. The Catholic Church has remained steadfast in its opposition while most mainstream Protestant denominations (trying to stem shrinking congregations) slowly but inevitably drifted toward accommodation of the cultural acceptance of some level of abortion tolerance.
In Arizona, the leading pro-life advocacy group is led by Cathi Herrod as president of the Center for Arizona Policy. In business since 1995, it has been effective in passing laws that restrict some avenues of abortion.
At present, the courts in Arizona are litigating which abortion law regarding restrictions will prevail: The 1864 abolition law which outlawed all abortions except to save the woman’s life is enjoined pending an appeal, or the 2022 law that made abortions legal in Arizona up to 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The 2022 elections were expected to elevate the Dobbs decision to a major campaign issue in favor of Democrats. They assumed that college educated women would rise up in droves to crush any Republican who supported anything less than pre-Dobbs rules. Republican candidates quivered in fear of their conservative base not turning out if they were not steadfastly in favor of an abortion ban. A real dilemma.
The post-election data in Arizona does not support that notion. Abortion was a consideration for some voters, but not a deciding factor.
With that in mind, my major problem with my fellow pro-life advocates and Herrod is that they had zero, nada, zip plans in place to deal with the media and the state legislatures when the issue was turned back to the states. This struck me as major political negligence and incompetence on what was the singular life goal of many pro-life advocates. What it looked like was, they never expected to see ROE overturned and instead, hoped to continue to use the issue against the abortion-on-demand Leftist Democrat candidates.
In essence, the dog caught the car and was flummoxed as to what to do next.
Practically speaking, those voters (especially women) who were not emotionally invested in the issue prior to Dobbs, felt that the Republicans via SCOTUS had taken away a right they expected and deserved. Voters might grumble over high spending but enjoy it when the benefits align with their interests. So, too, with abortion. Even voters who had no possibility of ever having or needing an abortion felt the government had intruded too far into their personal lives.
Indeed, watching the Aug. 23 debate revealed that the GOP candidates were all over the map as to how the federal government and the pro-life movement should approach this issue that will resonate with the base (our primary election voters) and simultaneously not alienate those who can be swayed in the general. In my opinion, Nikki Haley had the best answer by reciting the areas of abortion where there is a solid consensus among nearly all voters on how to approach the issue.
Herrod and her supporters in Arizona and the pro-life movement across the country had better find a message on abortion that can be supported grudgingly by the single-issue pro-life voter and simultaneously not alienate those voters who might never imagine personally needing abortion access but want it available for those who may.
Herrod may be comfortable remaining an absolutist, but the conservative candidates in marginal districts cannot afford that luxury and still get elected.
Douglas Wolf is the Pinal County assessor.