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A national strategy

What pro-lifers should do about a rise in abortions at the state level

Activists participate in the March for Life in Washington on Jan. 21, 2022. Associated Press/Photo by Jose Luis Magana

A national strategy
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Laws protecting unborn life work. New data from National Right to Life shows that there have been at least 89,000 lives saved from abortion since Roe was overturned in June 2022. Unfortunately, however, while state data show that abortions have dropped substantially in some states, other states have reported marked increases, suggesting a rise in “abortion tourism,” the practice of traveling across state lines to procure an abortion.

For example, Texas had the largest decrease in abortions nationwide, with 36,970 fewer abortions in the year after Roe’s fall. Likewise, in North Carolina, abortions dropped an astounding 31 percent after a new 12-week abortion ban took effect on July 1, 2023. However, states like Florida (+20,460), Illinois (+21,500), and California (+8,810) have seen the largest increases in abortion, suggesting women from neighboring states have sought abortions there. (While Florida has attempted to enact one of the most protective measures nationwide at six weeks, injunctions have kept the law from taking effect, leaving its previous 15-week restriction in place. Abortion restrictions at 15 weeks prevent very few abortions, as 96 percent of abortions occur before 13 weeks gestation.)

Meanwhile, the pro-life movement has continued struggling to unify on a path forward post-Roe, even as the pro-abortion movement has been scoring their own wins in the wake of Dobbs, many at the executive level.

The Biden administration has illegally eroded FDA protections surrounding the abortion drug mifepristone, breaking its own rules for safety in doing so, allowing women to dangerously “self-manage” abortions at home via telehealth services. It has allowed pharmacies to dispense abortion drugs to women without their first being seen in person by a doctor, and failed to study the danger abortion drugs pose to minors. It has recklessly expanded the availability of mifepristone from seven to 10 weeks’ gestation, and eliminated the requirement for prescribers to report non-fatal complications. It has also allowed abortion drugs to be mailed to patients, again without requiring women to have an ultrasound (or even physically see a doctor) before they receive prescriptions. (Taking abortion drugs with an ectopic pregnancy can be lethal, and ectopic pregnancies can only be diagnosed by ultrasound. One out of every 50 pregnancies is ectopic.) And to add insult to injury, the Department of Defense (DOD) continues to use taxpayer dollars to pay for service members’ abortions, something they describe as a “foundational sacred obligation.”

It’s clear that the fight against abortion is still one that should take place at the federal level.

These “wins” have been sloppy (at best), and have only hurt the women they’ve purportedly aimed at helping. “Gambling with the lives of women” is a talking-point often lobbed by the left toward pro-life politicians and activists, but Democratic policymakers truly are gambling with the lives of women (and of course also their unborn children) by recklessly abandoning safety precautions for abortion drugs. The Biden administration, along with its FDA and DOD, are putting politics ahead of the health of women and girls. Policymakers (and healthcare providers), regardless of their political opinions, should be actively advocating against endangering the lives of women, as eroding safety precautions for mifepristone does.

Given this executive overreach by the Biden administration, as well as the data showing that state-level abortions increased post-Roe due to “abortion safe havens,” the pro-life movement should coalesce around supporting national legislation to restrict abortion. And while state restrictions are certainly good, every pro-life ballot initiative at the state level has failed to date, even in conservative states. It’s clear that the fight against abortion is still one that should take place at the federal level, even (and perhaps especially) in this post-Roe era.

Christians believe that laws are for restraining evil and preserving life. As it becomes clearer that former President Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for president, it’s hopeful that he has changed his tune and now supports federal legislation against abortion. However, the 16-week restriction that he has reportedly proposed would do little to decrease the number of abortions that occur nationwide, and is only eight weeks more restrictive than Roe was itself. It would be ironic if the president credited with the overturn of Roe v. Wade, one of the most defining victories of our age, were to oversee the implementation of a federal law only slightly more restrictive than Roe. I believe the pro-life movement can do better, and I would hope that the entire nation will do better as well.

Katelyn Walls Shelton

Katelyn Walls Shelton is a Bioethics Fellow at the Paul Ramsey Institute. She is a women’s health policy consultant who previously worked to promote the well-being of women and the unborn at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She graduated from Yale Divinity School and Union University and lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, John, and their three children.


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