The pro-life movement is youthful and strong, abortion rates are falling—but House Republicans don’t seem to get it

Today is the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, and, as they do every year, hundreds of thousands descended on Washington, DC to protest the decision and call for the legal protection of unborn humans.

Today the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would ban taxpayer-funded abortions. The bigger story, though, involves the bill that was slated to be put to a vote today but was yanked by the GOP leadership late last night—that bill would have banned most abortions after 20 weeks.

The bill contained an exception allowing for abortion in cases of rape, but required that any assault be reported to authorities. A small cohort of Republicans, including Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, objected to the reporting requirement, and the party leadership eventually caved.

Rep. Ellmers said she was concerned about alienating millennials—this despite the fact that millennials (along with most other Americans) oppose late-term abortions and would support laws restricting them, even with a reporting requirement in place.

There was never any real chance of this bill becoming law; President Obama had already promised to veto the legislation should it reach his desk. But the story behind why the bill was dumped at the last minute is instructive, if depressing. Mollie Hemingway has some thorough analysis of what went down and why it could mean trouble for future pro-life legislative battles at the federal level:

…even Democrats who think late-term abortion should be legal with no restrictions didn’t make an issue of the reporting requirement in the last two elections. Last year, support for late-term abortion hurt Democratic candidates. But now Ellmers created a controversy where none existed, hereby handing Democrats a way to fight a broadly popular bill.

This sabotage of the pro-life movement over what may have been a power struggle happens at a time when many pro-life activists have grown weary of being used by the GOP for electoral victory only to be forgotten weeks later when it’s time to vote.

Pro-lifers aren’t unfamiliar with such betrayals but as more and more grassroots voters are learning that the Republican Party is loyal to corporate interests when it counts while giving weak lipservice to the base when it doesn’t, the rift widens.

Kevin D. Williamson wrote about the ill-fated bill at National Review Online, in “a note to House Republicans.” Williamson was given up for adoption after an unplanned pregnancy several months before the Roe decision; for him, the issue is personal:

People like me — we “unplanned,” the millions of us — now live the first part of our lives outside the protection of the laws of these United States. Our lives, and very often our deaths, are instruments of the convenience of others. That was different, in my case, by a matter of a few months. It is impossible for me to know whether the woman who gave birth to me would have chosen abortion if that had been a more readily available alternative in 1972. I would not bet my life, neither the good nor the bad parts of it, on her not choosing it. …

The House of Representatives and its Republican leadership had a chance to take a vote on the question of extending the protection of our nation’s laws to people like me, at least to some of us. … [I]t would have been something to have the House of Representatives at least take the vote on the question. I could respect the “No” voters, in a way. At least they’re willing to say what they think. But pulling the bill because Renee Ellmers and Jackie Walorski don’t have the guts or the principle to vote one way or the other? That is — let us all acknowledge the plain fact — cowardice.

But, along with the many thousands of fervently pro-life young people marching today in Washington, there is good news to share on the 42nd anniversary of legalized abortion. Michael J. New reports on declining abortion rates across the country, noting that in 2011 the number of abortions dropped in 42 of the 46 states that released their abortion stats:

Why are abortion numbers falling? Pro-life legislation is playing a role. This past September, State Politics and Policy released a study of mine which shows that a range of state-level pro-life laws have resulted in lower abortion rates. But abortion numbers are falling everywhereeven in states that have not been active in passing pro-life legislation. Many credit contraception, but despite increased contraceptive use, the unintended pregnancy rate has remained fairly constant over the long term. Much of the decline is due to the fact that a higher percentage of women with unintended pregnancies are carrying them to term.

What bodes especially well for the future is that the abortion rate among pregnant minors has fallen faster than the overall rate. Since repeat abortions make up a significant fraction of abortions, this decline among teens likely predicts future abortion declines. 


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About Catherine Harmon 577 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.