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Hidden Persuaders

The unheralded gains of the pro-life movement

Nov 7, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 08 • By FRED BARNES
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Opponents of abortion are rarely interviewed on television these days. “It’s much harder to get on TV than it used to be,” says Charmaine Yoest, who heads Americans United for Life. Bookers of guests for news shows tell her, “We don’t want to talk about abortion. We’re tired of it.”

Photo of ultrasound

Perhaps the mainstream media are simply incapable of covering more than one social issue at a time. For the moment, the conflict over gay marriage and gays in the military is monopolizing media coverage, TV and print alike. Abortion is barely an afterthought.

There’s an upside to this for the pro-life movement, a benefit of benign neglect. Foes of gay rights are now seen by the press as fighting the bad war, roughly analogous to Vietnam. Pro-lifers are waging the good war, like World War II. “You get much less grief fighting against abortion than you do fighting to preserve traditional marriage,” says Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List.

If only the media knew. They have missed the most important breakthrough in the struggle over abortion in years: the resurgence of the pro-life crusade. The press elite was beaten on the story by publications such as Christianity Today (“The New Pro-Life Surge”) and Baptist Press (“5 Reasons the Pro-Life Movement is Winning”).

That the pro-life movement is bigger is a given. It’s also younger, increasingly entrepreneurial, more strategic in its thinking, better organized, tougher in dealing with allies and enemies alike, almost wildly ambitious, and more relentless than ever.

All that is dwarfed by an even bigger change. Pro-lifers have captured the high moral ground, chiefly thanks to advances in the quality of sonograms. Once fuzzy, sonograms now provide a high-resolution picture of the unborn child in the womb. Fetuses have become babies.

Abortion advocates were among the first to understand how this would alter the debate. Two pro-choice leaders, Kate Michelman and Frances Kissling, acknowledged three years ago that “antiabortionists” had gained a significant advantage. Supporters of abortion, they wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “have had a hard time dealing with the increased visibility of the fetus.” To “regain the moral high ground,” they must deal with “a world that is radically changed from 1973,” when the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide.

Pro-life groups, unlike advocates of easy access to abortion, have proved adept in accommodating to this new world. They’ve begun piling up successes. In 2011 alone, 24 states have enacted 52 new restrictions on abortion. Five now require an ultrasound before an abortion, two insisting that the screen be viewable by the mother. Four bar abortions after the baby is able to feel pain (at approximately 20 weeks). Eight have opted out of Obamacare. Five ban abortions by webcam (in which a doctor, not in person but videoconferencing with the mother, prescribes pills to induce abortion). Six trimmed or eliminated funds for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. Texas led with a $64 million cut.

The wave of state action shouldn’t be all that surprising. Republicans gained control of 26 legislatures in the 2010 election. Once advised to drop the abortion issue or suffer a certain decline, the GOP is now the nation’s pro-life party—and isn’t declining. In Congress, the House has passed two pro-life bills this year, one outlawing abortion subsidies in Obamacare, the other imposing a blanket ban on taxpayer-funded abortions. Both measures were deep-sixed in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Three pro-life trends have spiked in 2011. The first is the rise in opposition to abortion among young people. The under-30 cohort was the most pro-choice in the 1970s, second most in the 1980s and 1990s. Now they’re “markedly less pro-choice” than any other age group, scholars Clyde Wilcox and Patrick Carr have written. “Clearly, something is distinctive about the abortion attitudes of the Millennial Generation of Americans.”

Indeed there is. Millennials haven’t grown more religious, politically conservative, or queasy about gay rights. Nor do they go out of their way to vote for pro-life candidates. But they tend to see abortion as a human rights violation. Thus their resistance to abortion is gradually increasing.

You can see a manifestation of this generational shift at the March on Washington each January 22, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling. For years, the marchers were geezers, initially Catholics, then aging Protestants too. In the past few years, the march has been dominated by teenagers and people in their 20s, often carrying infants.

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