How do we win the abortion battle? Maybe like this.

November 30, 2023 at 10:08 a.m.

By Greg Erlandson

For abortion’s opponents, it has been a frustrating year.

When it came to the courts, the pro-life movement scored its most significant victory when the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022 reversed its 1973 decision calling abortion a constitutional right.

When it has come to the ballot box, however, the pro-life movement has suffered a string of defeats, even in conservative-leaning states such as Kansas and Ohio.

The loss of popular support, despite Americans’ conflicted feelings about abortion itself, has resulted in some pro-life advocates arguing for renewed legal efforts, blaming the losses on lack of funding for political campaigns to win elections.

If messaging is questioned at all, the common response is that pro-lifers need to do a better job of explaining their position. The president of the U.S. bishops' conference, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, said in a news conference Nov. 15 that the bishops’ role “continues to be one of catechesis and education." He added, "I don't think the role has changed very much, other than perhaps we need to make our position clearer."

The painful truth, however, is that pretty much everyone does know what the church’s position is. Unfortunately, it is understood in the narrowest of terms: NO. What the pro-life movement in general, and unfortunately even the church, has not done is to campaign convincingly for what replaces the “safety net” of abortion in the voters’ minds.

One year ago, after a whopping 70% of Californians enshrined abortion in the state constitution, then-chair of the bishops’ pro-life committee, Archbishop William E. Lori, challenged his fellow bishops “to take stock” of the election results. The demise of Roe v. Wade “will be a Pyrrhic victory if we fail to win the minds and hearts first and foremost,” he told his brothers.

The battle at the ballot box has consumed the pro-life movement for 50 years. It has wedded the movement to one political party, and it has become odd bedfellows with a lot of positions that seem hardly pro-life.

Perhaps the way to win the abortion battle is to step away from focusing solely on the courts and constitutional amendments.

In a Washington Post opinion column a few months ago, a pro-life columnist -- Marc Thiessen -- and a pro-abortion columnist -- Alyssa Rosenberg -- outlined a pro-family agenda that both sides should and could support. What they agreed upon is that there needs to be a bipartisan effort to better support children and families. It benefits mothers by making it more possible to have and support a child.

What both Thiessen and Rosenberg understand is that in terms of family support and in terms of maternal and infant health, keeping a pregnancy involves huge risks and costs. They compiled a long series of proposals to change the equation. Their proposal addresses scandalous U.S. maternal and infant mortality rates, the lack of available medical care, the lack of job protection for pregnant women, the marriage penalties in federal welfare programs, the lack of Medicaid coverage after birth, the skyrocketing cost of childcare and the shortage of paid parental leave.

While Catholic leaders have supported many of these issues over the years, their voice is not nearly as loud, nor are these issues understood to be their preeminent political concerns. Until Catholics in the pews -- not to mention other Americans -- see pro-lifers as fiercely supportive of these programs as they are of restrictions, the battle for hearts and minds is unlikely to be won.

Abortion is a decision made often in a moment of fear. We need to acknowledge that the fears are not imaginary. There are lots of proposals available to help America become truly family friendly. Thiessen and Rosenberg have suggested where we can start making a difference.

Greg Erlandson is an award-winning Catholic publisher, editor and journalist whose column appears monthly at OSV News. Follow him on Twitter @GregErlandson.


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For abortion’s opponents, it has been a frustrating year.

When it came to the courts, the pro-life movement scored its most significant victory when the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022 reversed its 1973 decision calling abortion a constitutional right.

When it has come to the ballot box, however, the pro-life movement has suffered a string of defeats, even in conservative-leaning states such as Kansas and Ohio.

The loss of popular support, despite Americans’ conflicted feelings about abortion itself, has resulted in some pro-life advocates arguing for renewed legal efforts, blaming the losses on lack of funding for political campaigns to win elections.

If messaging is questioned at all, the common response is that pro-lifers need to do a better job of explaining their position. The president of the U.S. bishops' conference, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, said in a news conference Nov. 15 that the bishops’ role “continues to be one of catechesis and education." He added, "I don't think the role has changed very much, other than perhaps we need to make our position clearer."

The painful truth, however, is that pretty much everyone does know what the church’s position is. Unfortunately, it is understood in the narrowest of terms: NO. What the pro-life movement in general, and unfortunately even the church, has not done is to campaign convincingly for what replaces the “safety net” of abortion in the voters’ minds.

One year ago, after a whopping 70% of Californians enshrined abortion in the state constitution, then-chair of the bishops’ pro-life committee, Archbishop William E. Lori, challenged his fellow bishops “to take stock” of the election results. The demise of Roe v. Wade “will be a Pyrrhic victory if we fail to win the minds and hearts first and foremost,” he told his brothers.

The battle at the ballot box has consumed the pro-life movement for 50 years. It has wedded the movement to one political party, and it has become odd bedfellows with a lot of positions that seem hardly pro-life.

Perhaps the way to win the abortion battle is to step away from focusing solely on the courts and constitutional amendments.

In a Washington Post opinion column a few months ago, a pro-life columnist -- Marc Thiessen -- and a pro-abortion columnist -- Alyssa Rosenberg -- outlined a pro-family agenda that both sides should and could support. What they agreed upon is that there needs to be a bipartisan effort to better support children and families. It benefits mothers by making it more possible to have and support a child.

What both Thiessen and Rosenberg understand is that in terms of family support and in terms of maternal and infant health, keeping a pregnancy involves huge risks and costs. They compiled a long series of proposals to change the equation. Their proposal addresses scandalous U.S. maternal and infant mortality rates, the lack of available medical care, the lack of job protection for pregnant women, the marriage penalties in federal welfare programs, the lack of Medicaid coverage after birth, the skyrocketing cost of childcare and the shortage of paid parental leave.

While Catholic leaders have supported many of these issues over the years, their voice is not nearly as loud, nor are these issues understood to be their preeminent political concerns. Until Catholics in the pews -- not to mention other Americans -- see pro-lifers as fiercely supportive of these programs as they are of restrictions, the battle for hearts and minds is unlikely to be won.

Abortion is a decision made often in a moment of fear. We need to acknowledge that the fears are not imaginary. There are lots of proposals available to help America become truly family friendly. Thiessen and Rosenberg have suggested where we can start making a difference.

Greg Erlandson is an award-winning Catholic publisher, editor and journalist whose column appears monthly at OSV News. Follow him on Twitter @GregErlandson.

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