Unlike a lot of things in life, losing doesn’t get any easier the more you do it. If anything, the sting turns to despair, as pro-lifers, who’ve slogged through seven bitter defeats since June of 2022, know well. Over the last several months, the jubilation of seeing Roe fall has been replaced by a sinking feeling that the cause of the unborn is doomed in the very place the justices have entrusted it: the states. But is that true — or are we just experiencing the pains of a battle we only just started fighting?
There had been real hope that Ohio, the first conservative state to weigh in on a radical abortion measure, would reverse the string of losses since Dobbs. When that didn’t happen, and Buckeyes voted 56-43% to let parents take their child’s life right up to the moment of birth, the media’s taunts that life is a political loser felt truer. Maybe, as notorious squishes like Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) are already saying, the movement should just give up. Stop talking about abortion.
But, as the editors of National Review so powerfully write, “In the mind of anyone who knows the truth that abortion deliberately kills an innocent human being, giving up on the most important human-rights cause of our time is unthinkable. After five decades of Roe and less than two years from Dobbs, the fight for life in the democratic arena has barely begun.”
Remember, they told discouraged readers, “Advocates of same-sex marriage suffered a string of 32 losses at the ballot box before succeeding for the first time, in the bluest of states, in 2012. … Their success serves as a reminder that a string of defeats at the ballot box is no reason to believe a cause is lost.”
For a half-century, pro-lifers have marched, prayed, volunteered, voted, suffered blows, and stepped right back into the ring — not because the cause was politically advantageous, but because it was morally right. That cause didn’t end when the Supreme Court righted one wrong. It ends when every square inch of this nation is a safe place for children in the womb. Anyone who thought that would be easy has quickly forgotten the lessons of the last 50 years.
We have to do what we’ve done since the beginning — stand up, dust ourselves off, and, as the NRO editors urge, “Take the long view on the fight on life.” “Do not despair,” pro-life scholar Michael New insists. “We were never promised a smooth glide path to victory. This is an important lesson. Because history tells us, when we persist, we win!”
Does that mean we don’t have things to learn? Absolutely not. We’re in a new and volatile political environment that Dobbs created, and if we’re going to turn the tide, it’ll take time. And while we don’t need to rethink our principles, we do need to rethink how we talk about them — if, in some cases, we even are.
In one of the more astonishing statistics from Tuesday night, a whopping 24% of self-described “white evangelical or born-again Christians” supported Ohio’s Issue 1, which not only puts the Buckeyes on par with California’s abortion extremism but gives the green light to minor transgender surgery — without parental consent. We’re expecting voters to act with moral clarity when the church won’t even speak to it. Until that changes, pro-lifers will have a much steeper hill to climb. If Christians have been complacent after the Dobbs victory, we need to ensure they’re no longer complicit after defeat.
Why would Christians be voting for abortion anyway? Family Research Council’s Joseph Backholm thinks the answer “could be the silence on these issues in many parts of the church. Many churches don’t want to be divisive, so they choose to say nothing, but when you say nothing you say something. Many Christians have been left with the impression that it doesn’t really matter what Christians think about abortion because the people they look to for guidance on these issues live and act like it doesn’t matter.”
Elsewhere, in Virginia, where abortion was the only messaging point Democrats had to run on, the media rushed to gloat that conservative agendas like Governor Glenn Youngkin’s had been rebuked. Among the more creative post-election name-calling was Fox Business’s Dagen McDowell, who labeled Youngkin a “damp Dorito” for putting so much emphasis on life.
But the reality is, NRO’s Jim Geraghty points out, “Virginia is shifting from narrow GOP control of the state House and narrow Democratic control of the state Senate, to narrow Democratic control of both chambers. Control of the state legislature is probably going to come down to a couple thousand votes in a handful of districts. It’s a frustrating result for the GOP, but not a sweeping rebuke.”
That step-away-from-the-ledge rationale was echoed by politicos like John McCormick, who noted that what happened Tuesday night isn’t all that different from what happened the year Youngkin won. “The House of Delegates went 52R-48D [to] 51D-49R house now.” And let’s not forget, he posted, Virginia is “a Biden +10 state,” and voters were still “evenly divided [46-47%] on a 15-week [abortion] limit.” Oh, and by the way, the damp Dorito has a 54-38% approval rating. Biden hasn’t sniffed a percentage like that since inauguration.
So losing the legislature by 1%, especially after Democrats banked their whole campaign on the outrageous lie that Republicans want to ban “all abortions without any exceptions” isn’t exactly a death knell for conservatism in the Commonwealth. And yet, McCormack shakes his head, “Twitter is treating it like a political earthquake.”
Even more encouraging, at least in the winning hearts and minds category, is that Americans believe the Democrats’ position on abortion is more extreme — by a two-to-one margin. Pro-lifers just have to figure out a way to continue driving that point home on the road to reasonable compromise.
In other words, Geraghty emphasizes, “The results last night are no reason to panic.” “The elections in the year before the presidential election are a little odd — much lower turnout, governors’ races in a trio of Southern states with their own quirky histories and dynamics, and intense waves of advertising in state legislative races that usually fly under the radar.”
But, he continues, “If you look back eight years to 2015, you see Republicans won two governors’ races (Kentucky, Mississippi) and lost one (Louisiana). This year, Republicans won two governors’ races (Louisiana, Mississippi) and lost one (Kentucky). (Jeff Landry won the Louisiana governor’s race in the first round in October, and everyone seems to have forgotten about that.)”
Tuesday night’s results were disappointing, to be sure, but they don’t negate all of 2023’s other victories. In a year that’s seen the beat-back of Pride, a surge of anti-woke boycotts, an education revolution, the repudiation of ESG, 19 signed SAFE Acts, a nationwide parents’ revolt, and the election of House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), America is a long ways from writing social conservatives’ obituary. The cultural undercurrents continue to be strong on the Right, even if the electoral fruit doesn’t always bear that out.
The outcome in Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, and other states may not have been what we hoped for, worked for, or anticipated, but even in the midst of it, we shouldn’t once question what we did or what we stood for. In days like these, we have to keep an eternal perspective, remembering that, as Christians, we go from victory to victory. That doesn’t mean every election ends with a parade, because our battle is not temporal; it’s spiritual. Voters may reject the values that have sustained this nation for more than 240 years — but an election is not going to change the sovereignty of God.
Our charge is to not lose heart, to stay faithfully engaged in the struggle, and to pray. “In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus warned. “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
“It took us 50 years to get here,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins told TWS. “But the way forward is the same way we arrived at this point — continuing each and every day to win the hearts and minds of people by telling truth. Now, the volume has been ratcheted up where the lies are being fueled by millions of dollars, but that just means we need to speak the truth with more passion and more consistency to break through Left’s deception.” Even so, he insisted, “We’re not going to retreat. We’re not going anywhere.”
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.
EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2023 Family Research Council.
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