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On Dobbs anniversary, “every day is a new fight”

Pro-life leaders reflect on what’s changed and what hasn’t since the end of Roe v. Wade

A pro-abortion demonstration in Amarillo, Texas, in February 2023 Associated Press/Photo by Justin Rex, file

On <em>Dobbs</em> anniversary, “every day is a new fight”

Two years after the Supreme Court declared there is no constitutional right to abortion, pro-life activist Ellen Sweeney still wears her Roe v. Wade commemorative bracelet from 1973.

I first interviewed Sweeney after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade with its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on June 24, 2022. She said she put on the bracelet in 1973 and had planned to take it off when Roe was reversed. But she kept wearing it as the fight over unborn lives raged in the United States after Dobbs.

Sweeney lives in Arizona, where the legislature has passed a bill repealing a law protecting unborn babies from abortion starting at conception. Abortion is now legal in the state until 15 weeks of pregnancy, and pro-abortion groups are working to put a measure on November ballots that would add a right to abortion to the state constitution. It would render even the 15-week law unenforceable.

“You’re never going to win a final victory on this,” Sweeney told me last week. “Every day is a new fight. Every day, you gotta return to the battle.”

Ten other states could hold pro-abortion referendums this November. The push for these constitutional changes is one reason pro-life leaders are toning down their celebrations of the two-year anniversary of the Dobbs decision. Some are focused on victories, while others emphasize the movement’s losses—all while gearing up for state and national battles in this fall’s election.

“A lot of people, I think, would say that the pro-life movement is losing, and they would point to electoral ballot referendum defeats,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of the national organization Students for Life of America. Since Dobbs, four pro-abortion state constitutional amendments passed, and three pro-life ballot measures failed. As the November election approaches, Students for Life says it is pouring time and money into digital ads, billboards, and door-knocking campaigns to promote pro-life votes.

Hawkins praised the victories of the past two years.

“At the top of the list is the fact that there are less abortions—more babies have been saved,” Hawkins said. A recent Students for Life blog post referenced studies that estimated an average of 5,377 fewer abortions happen per month in the United States since Dobbs. Hawkins also pointed to state laws that have been passed to protect unborn babies from abortion or restrict chemical abortions.

“Two years after Dobbs, I’m optimistic for what our future holds,” she said.

Mark Harrington, president of the Ohio-based pro-life outreach organization Created Equal, said he’s concerned about over-celebrating pro-life victories. On top of ballot measure losses in 2022 and 2023, some polls show strong support for pro-abortion measures that could be on ballots this fall. He said he worries that painting the situation too positively will give pro-lifers false hope and a lack of motivation to fight back.

“Overall, when it comes to public opinion in America, we are losing that battle,” Harrington said, pointing out the consistent support among the American public for abortions in the first trimester. “They think that. They’ve always thought that.”

Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said the pro-life movement has known for decades that polling consistently shows a majority of Americans support abortions in cases such as for rape, incest, physical health, and fetal abnormalities.

“We have too many people in this country who are just thinking, ‘If my daughter is raped, I want her to get an abortion. If my wife is going to have serious problems as a result of this pregnancy, I want her to be able to get an abortion,’” Tobias said. “So they are rationalizing that and saying, ‘I would rather have all abortions legal than no abortions legal.’”

She said she is not surprised that ballot initiatives since 2022 have resulted in pro-life losses—and that November’s potential pro-abortion amendments are polling favorably among voters. She said her organization is trying to combat those measures by pointing out that they would legalize late-term abortions and lead to taxpayer funding of abortion, two policies Tobias said most voters oppose.

Jeanne Mancini, president of the group behind the annual March for Life, said she expected the complicated mix of victories and losses in the last two years given the historic nature of the Dobbs decision.

“When you have something huge… there is a cultural earthquake for a few years,” she said. “And I think we’re still very much living within those reverberations.”

Mancini pointed to past Supreme Court decisions about racial discrimination and segregation that were unpopular at the time but are widely celebrated today. Around the time of the 1967 Loving v. Virginia ruling overturning laws against interracial marriage, only 20 percent of Americans approved of marriage between black people and white people. As of 2021, 94 percent of Americans supported it. “Changing culture takes a long time,” Mancini said.

In a Thursday press call, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America’s vice president of government affairs, Marilyn Musgrave, said her organization is spending a record $92 million on campaigning this election season. She lauded the “major ground” the pro-life movement has gained since Dobbs—including the state laws that protect unborn babies from abortion and additional legislation that creates what she called a pro-life “safety net” by funding practical assistance for pregnant moms and their families.

“Though there’s much to celebrate, we really must be knowledgeable here that this could be the last Dobbs anniversary that we celebrate if we don’t win the election,” Musgrave said. She described high stakes at the federal level: “If Joe Biden and the Democrats win, they’ll nuke the filibuster [and] pass the so-called Women’s Health Protection Act to ban states from having laws that protect unborn children.”

Harrington of Created Equal said he thinks the overturn of Roe v. Wade was a good thing because it returned the fight to the states—and the hearts and minds of voters.

“But if we lose every one of these constitutional amendment battles, we might be in a worse position than we were when Roe v. Wade was in effect,” he said.

Hawkins and Mancini, who both participated in the National Celebrate Life Conference over the weekend, said the pro-life movement should take a moment to mark its wins before moving forward.

“It’s going to be a long fight,” said Hawkins. “So I think we have to stop, celebrate the victory of lives saved, and remind ourselves what our toil produced… and that transformation is possible when you have a dedicated movement.”

Sweeney in Arizona said when her 14-year-old self put on that bracelet, she didn’t realize she was committing to a lifetime of fighting abortion. “I don’t know if I knew what was ahead if I would have said yes,” Sweeney said.

But she said the injustice of abortion still moves her today: “It’s kind of like the people that get married. You say yes initially… but then every day you have to say yes again.”

Leah Savas

Leah is the life beat reporter for WORLD News Group. She is a graduate of Hillsdale College and the World Journalism Institute and resides in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband, Stephen.


I so appreciate the fly-over picture, and the reminder of God’s faithful sovereignty. —Celina

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