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Fighting Abortion Has Never Been a “Winning” Issue. So What?!
I find myself in frequent agreement with Alex Berenson—the former Times reporter who was permanently banned by Twitter for spreading COVID-19 misinformation. Specifically, he made the audacious claim that COVID vaccines do not stop transmission. It was a shocking assertion, but also true. Berenson’s lawsuit against Twitter ended in a settlement, in which his account was reinstated, almost a year later, and Twitter admitted his posts should never have been taken down in the first place. Berenson’s lawsuit against President Biden—for pressuringTwitter to remove his account—is still pending. And though Berenson has no love lost for the commander in chief, he thinks even less of his predecessor. Berenson has called Biden “a terrible president” (“the [worst] since at least Herbert Hoover”), but he calls Donald Trump “a terrible man and a danger to the United States.”
There’s nothing unusual about an irrational hatred for Donald Trump, but Berenson’s is a unique breed. He is no Democratic shill. He’s been hypercritical of their politicized indictments of President Trump and calls their policies on crime, immigration, energy, and spending “stunningly out-of-step with most Americans.” Berenson may be a registered independent, but his political sympathies are all running towards the same party right now, with one notable exception. Republican opposition to abortion, Berenson believes, has painted them into a corner and cost them two midterm elections. He quotes Michelle Goldberg to explain the problem:
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When abortion bans were merely theoretical, anti-abortion passion was often a boon to Republicans, powering the grass-roots organizing of the religious right. Now that the end of Roe has awakened a previously complacent pro-choice majority, anti-abortion passion has become a liability, but the Republican Party can’t jettison it without tearing itself apart.
On the one hand, it seems fairly certain that abortion is hurting Republicans at the polls. On the other hand, why should that be at all surprising? And why should it matter? Is the purpose of combatting abortion to secure wins for Republican candidates? Or is the purpose of securing wins for Republican candidates to combat abortion? I’ll grant that it’s not entirely an either/or proposition, but If combatting abortion was a popular position, abortion would have been eradicated long ago. It’s not the popular justice causes that need fighting; it’s the unpopular ones. It’s the victims who are being ignored who demand the most intervention.
Berenson, of course, sees things differently and his argument goes like this: If Republicans don’t stop making a fuss about abortion, “Democrats and the health authoritarians they support will gain more and more power, woke censorship will worsen, our failed pro-drug policies will expand, we will continue to invite millions of the world’s poorest and least productive people to make a mockery of our immigration policies and borders, and the leviathan that is the federal government - which now spends more than $6 trillion a year - will only continue to grow.” That’s a grim forecast I want no part of, but if we excise principled opposition to abortion for political gain, how are we any better than the opposition? Is simply bending to wherever the political winds are blowing a good and noble thing? Even when it includes the mass destruction of innocent human beings?
The most frustrating thing about Berenson’s position is that he entirely concedes that last point. He calls abortion “the taking of human life.” More specifically, “a very private murder” for which the state “has no responsibility and cannot interfere.” He placates abortion opponents by calling it “the ultimate betrayal of a child” and placates abortion advocates by insisting that “banning or criminalizing it will only add to the sum of human misery.” He tells one side they’re right to hate abortion and the other side they’re right to legalize abortion. Is abortion a sin? Berenson muses. Perhaps, but “Only God can judge,” he humbly concludes.
That may all sound reasonable on the surface, but has Berenson actually found a moral loophole? One which allows him to blankly condemn abortion without having to suffer the scorn and inconvenience of actually opposing it? No, of course not. The devil, as always, is in the details. Berenson hasn’t carved out any middle ground. He’s simply yielded to political expediency under the guise of moral superiority. It’s the ultimate Pontius Pilate move. “I am innocent of this man’s blood!” Pontius Pilate, you’ll remember, was privately pro-life. He wanted nothing to do with the execution of an innocent man and symbolically washed his hands of all culpability. But he was politically pro-choice. In the end, he gave the chief priests exactly what they wanted—a dead Jesus.
Berenson calls it hypocritical for conservatives to support bodily autonomy when it comes to COVID mandates but oppose it when it comes to abortion. “Your body, your choice,” he snidely suggests, “except when your choice offends me.” But then Berenson undercuts his entire position by pointing out why these two issues are not moral equivalents. Here is his explanation:
The violation of physical autonomy is the state’s greatest power. No one should propose it lightly. At least two conditions must be met.
First, the restriction must have an overwhelming theoretical justification. Not merely strong. Overwhelming.
But a mere statement of principles is not enough. The rule must have some practical hope of success.
Mandatory mRNA vaccinations for adults fail on both grounds. We have always understood that population-wide immunity is a secondary consideration for vaccination. The primary benefit of any vaccine goes to the person who receives it.
Coercing people to be injected with a powerful biotechnology for their own protection would be immoral even if the vaccines worked as promised. We don’t force adults - except for a tiny number who are judged incompetent or mentally ill - to take medicines against their will.
The fact that the shots do not work means they fail the second condition too, making mandates not merely a moral failure but repugnant. The same applies to masks and lockdowns, the other great fripperies of Covid.
Abortion restrictions satisfy the first condition. They’re morally justifiable. No one is more innocent than a fetus.
But they fail the second. They cannot survive in the real world, not without a level of police power incompatible with a democratic state.
So, here’s Berenson’s basic argument. Yes, abortion is repugnant. Yes, it should be against the law. But there’s no way to enforce that law without descending into a police state. Again, he’s rather adept at arguing from both sides of his mouth. But is he right? Is the state powerless to ban abortion without remaking itself into a totalitarian regime? As Berenson knows as well as anyone, the state is already remaking itself into a totalitarian regime, but it has nothing to do with abortion. And it’s worth remembering that abortion had zero legal protection for more than three-quarters of American history—albeit in a time before the rise of birth control and the fall of marriage. Since Roe v Wade was struck down last summer, removing the constitutional protection of abortion, two things have happened. In a stunning development no one could have seen coming, abortion has risen everywhere it is legal and fallen dramatically everywhere it is not.
I don’t think anyone would accuse Texas of being a police state, and yet Texas has managed to excise abortion from within its borders. It’s true that almost all of the national abortion news has been bad of late, but we must not lose sight of this crucial fact. Fifteen states have banned abortion, and by all indications, those bans are working. I can say that because in the aftermath of the Dobbs verdict, both Guttmacher and #WeCount have undertaken to compile and report monthly state abortion totals. Both groups are desperately devoted to abortion, and yet both groups concede—much to their dismay—that the abortion bans are holding. Here are some highlights reported by #WeCount:
Since the Dobbs decision, compared to the average monthly number of abortions observed in the pre-Dobbs period, there were 32,260 cumulative fewer abortions from July to December (2022).
States with bans in place have witnessed a cumulative total of 43,410 fewer people who had abortions.
The number of abortions provided in states with bans in place decreased to <10 in the six months following Dobbs.
While the telehealth services expanded in states where abortion was permitted, that number dropped to <10 by December in states with abortion bans.
Since the Dobbs decision, in states where abortion was permitted, there was a cumulative total of 11,150 more people who had abortions.
To summarize their findings, there were 32,260 fewer U.S. abortions during the last six months of 2022 than there were in the first six months—representing a nationwide reduction of roughly 7%. That total was arrived at thanks to a reduction of 43,000 abortions in states where it is now illegal to kill unborn children and an increase of 11,000 abortions in states where it still is. What that indicates is that approximately 25% of the women who would have aborted their children were it still legal in their state, went to another state to do so. This should come as no surprise. The demand for abortion is directly proportionate to the ease with which that abortion can be obtained. Everything else being equal, residents of counties with abortion clinics have far more abortions than residents of counties without. Some women have the means and motivation to travel for an abortion. Most do not. And the further a woman must travel to secure one, the less likely she is to do so. I count that a good thing. The abortion industry counts it a travesty. Nothing distresses them more than knowing there are “unwanted” babies out there they’re not able to eliminate. More to the point, the best evidence that these new state abortion bans are working is the increase in abortions taking place in the states that border them.
Nowhere is this more evident than in New Mexico. NM Political Report observes that “between January 2020 and June 2023, New Mexico saw a larger increase in abortion than any other state.” Thanks to its proximity to Texas—which started banning some abortions in 2021, total New Mexico abortions have increased by 227% since 2020. And while all three of the states along Texas’ northeastern border have now outlawed abortion as well, total abortions have increased by 102% in Kansas and 92% in Colorado. To that I say, good on Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. There is no shame in pushing abortion out of your state. Quite the opposite. The shame is in becoming an abortion destination.
Sadly my own state, South Carolina, became just that—at least for a time. Its abortion total increased 90% in the year following Dobbs. Some of that likely owed to the fact that so many people are moving to South Carolina in general (some 220,000 in 2022 alone, mostly from blue states), but the main impetus was a 6-week abortion ban implemented by Georgia, our neighbor to the west, in July of 2022. In fact, if you head west from South Carolina today, you won’t find a state where abortion is broadly legal until you reach New Mexico. Eleven of the fifteen states that have outlawed abortion altogether, along with Georgia, make up a continuous block in the American South and Midwest. Monthly abortions in Georgia have dropped by 1,920 since their ban went into effect while they increased by 240 in South Carolina—at least until South Carolina’s own 6-week abortion ban finally cleared the state supreme court in August. Among states that border this new abortion-free zone, monthly abortionshave increased by 960 in Virginia, 1,450 in North Carolina, 2,510 in Illinois, and 2,890 in Florida.
In June of 2022, there were 6,540 unborn children aborted in Florida. By June of 2023, that number had jumped to 8,890—despite the fact that Florida implemented a 15-week abortion ban in 2022 and a 6-week abortion ban in 2023. Neither ban has been implemented thanks to a lawsuit filed by BFFs Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. Both entities are fond of claiming that abortion bans don’t work, and yet both entities fight these purportedly useless bans as if their life depended upon it. For Planned Parenthood, it almost certainly does. Time and time again, they’ve demonstrated that abortion is the one “service” they are most unwilling to give up. Probably because that’s where the money is.
In the year following the reversal of Roe v Wade, abortion has increased in every state where it’s remained legal and decreased in every state where it is banned or restricted. Without exception—which is why these legal battles are so important. Indiana became the 15th state to successfully ban abortion in August. In a month’s time, their monthly abortion total fell from 700 to zero. I’ve already mentioned Georgia, whose abortion total has fallen by 44%. In Iowa, where a 6-week abortion ban is currently being blocked by the court, abortion has still fallen by 33%. Wyoming’s abortion ban is also being held up, but they’ve seen a 20% reduction in the meantime. Finally, Arizona—which implemented a 15-week abortion ban—has seen total abortions fall by 8%. For context, roughly 95% of U.S. abortions happen in the first 15 weeks. Approximately 45% happen in the first six weeks. Whereas 15-week abortion bans are largely symbolic in nature, 6-week bans are likely to cut a state’s abortion total in half.
The problem we’re facing today is that it’s become much harder for states to ban abortion now than it was before the fall of Roe. At the very least, the stakes were simply lower when outlawing abortion was merely hypothetical. What did it matter if a state banned abortion so long as it had no power to enforce the ban? But now people are scared, and the misinformation machine has been cranked into overdrive. I've even heard from Abort73 supporters who were suddenly fearful that OBGYNs would no longer be allowed to treat women for a spontaneous miscarriage. Confusion and fear mongering have become the abortion industry’s play of the day—as evidenced by last week’s tragic vote in Ohio. Even The New York Times observed that voters in Ohio were understandably confused—“the result of an avalanche of messaging and counter-messaging, misinformation and complicated language around what [Issue 1] would do, and even an entirely separate ballot measure with the same name just three months [before].”
In just a year’s time, Ohio went from implementing a 6-week abortion ban (which was quickly blocked by the state supreme court) to the constitutional protection of abortion through birth—and that may not even be the worst of it. Over the last year, five states have held direct votes on abortion rights, and as Politico points out, “voters sided with abortion rights in (all) five… including in Republican-leaning Kansas, Ohio and Kentucky.” To be fair, Kansas has been a late-term abortion mecca for decades, and Kentucky is helmed by a Democrat governor—but there’s no denying we’re facing an uphill slog. Since the reversal of Roe, giving to Abort73 has fallen by 58%. From what I hear, we’re not alone. Across the country, things have gotten so bad on so many fronts—both socially and economically—that combatting abortion may seem less urgent to those just trying to survive. And consciously or subconsciously, it seems clear that Roe’s demise has given some former supporters the impression that we can finally move on from abortion while causing others to conclude that too much focus on abortion will cost conservatives at the polls. It clearly has. But, again, what does that matter? Are we to only embrace causes that are politically popular? Is that what courage and conviction looks like?
Michelle Goldberg argues that “[Republican] leaders are adopting a self-soothing (and delusional) tactic sometimes seen on the left, insisting they’re being defeated because they’ve failed to make their values clear, not because their values are unpopular.” There is, of course, a sense in which opposition to abortion is unpopular. But abortion is also deeply unpopular. Ours is a divided country, but part of the problem is that one side of the debate is being institutionally silenced—and now more than ever. Until the end of last year, Abort73’s “U.S. Abortion Statistics” had been a stalwart on Google’s first page of search results for “abortion facts.” For well over a decade, we were routinely served up in the first three or four results. Then Google made what’s been reported as a concerted effort to give even more preference to the sources they deem “credible.” Sometime last December, Abort73 was removed from the first page of Google’s results. Now if you Google “abortion facts,” you won’t find Abort73 until somewhere around the 33rd entry—which no one in their right mind ever gets to. More concerning still, Google doesn’t return a single pro-life page until slot 23. The first 22 listings are a mix of 14 pro-abortion sources (including the first four returns) and eight that I would call abortion neutral. So on the issue of abortion, “credible sources” is just shorthand for pro-abortion sources.
Because of our recent red state failures, some are claiming that abortion now enjoys broad bipartisan support. This is a significant overstatement—because according to the latest findings from Pew Research, the only ones who are moving on the issue of abortion are the Democrats. Republican opposition to abortion has remained relatively unchanged while Democrat support has increased dramatically. In 2007, 39% of surveyed Republicans (and those who lean Republican) thought abortion should be legal. In 2022, that number had fallen to 38%—which is a 15 year reduction of 2.5%. By contrast, 63% of the Democrats (and those who lean Democrat) surveyed in 2007 thought abortion should be legal. But by last year that number had shot up to 84%—an increase of a third. In other words, the abortion industry is doing a much better job amping up its base than the anti-abortion industry. Of course that may be because there is no anti-abortion industry. All the money runs the other way. And that was especially true in Ohio.
Based on the evidence, it seems reasonable to conclude that for a not insignificant percentage of people, the only thing keeping them from voting against the madness of the left is the issue of abortion. If that is you, here is something to consider. What if the Democrats are wrong about abortion? What if forcibly ending the lives of the most innocent and helpless members of the human community is not a virtue but a vice? Because if you’re wavering in your support for the Democratic Party, I suspect it’s tied to some or all of the following. COVID lockdowns. Vaccine mandates. Economic collapse. Open borders. Energy dependence. Transing the kids. Destroying girls sports. Defunding the police. Politicizing education. Silencing dissent. Ruining our cities. Bowing to globalist tyrants. Weaponizing the DOJ. And blindly propping up a President who is physically-, mentally-, and morally-compromised. But at least he’s all in on abortion! At least his devotion to Planned Parenthood is unwavering! Here’s a novel thought. What if this unprecedented slew of public policy failures is indication that the judgment of those who support abortion shouldn’t be trusted? If they’re wrong about virtually everything else, isn’t it possible—or even likely—that they’re also wrong about abortion?!
For those on the other side, who oppose abortion but feel it would be in everyone’s best interest to stop making a fuss about it, here’s something for you to consider. Do you remember that story from Matthew 4? The one where Satan offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he would just bow down to him. One small compromise for a world of gain. But what would have happened if Jesus had taken Satan up on his offer? All would have been lost. Sure, it’s possible that if we just eased off on the abortion stuff, some of our other policy objectives would be more easily attainable. But what would we become in the exchange? Where would our little deal with the devil leave us? Here’s my theory. Opposition to abortion isn’t a bug; it’s a feature. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that droves of people are flooding to anti-abortion states, but maybe there’s more to it than lower taxes and warmer weather. Maybe the kind of people who oppose abortion are the kind of people who believe that life is sacred, that even a hard life is worth living, and that a good God has a plan for all of us. That may all be hogwash, of course, but even if there is no God, even if there is no right or wrong, and even if we’re all just accidental cell mutations, wouldn’t you rather live among those with a misplaced hope in the divine than among those whose nihilism is factually-impeccable? Or here’s another way to look at it. When in doubt, maybe it’s better to error on the side of not killing babies.
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