Year in Review: Combating “throwaway culture”
Despite losses at the national and international levels, victories in the states and the courts have U.S. pro-lifers hopeful for the futures of the unborn
A new pro-abortion White House administration at the beginning of 2021 ended four years of simple but important executive-level advances for the pro-life movement. President Joe Biden swiftly reversed many of former President Donald Trump’s pro-life policies. But the lasting victory of Trump’s conservative Supreme Court picks brought hopes for the end of Roe v. Wade. Tensions increased at the state level as pro-life lawmakers reacted to a national political climate that is hostile to unborn babies. Meanwhile, abortion and euthanasia advanced internationally.
Biden administration advances abortion
Two days after his inauguration, President Biden released a statement pledging to codify a woman’s right to abortion into law. That promise hasn’t been fulfilled yet, but his administration has done plenty to chip away at protections for babies.
In January, Biden signed a presidential memorandum revoking the Mexico City policy, which had prevented federal funds from going to international health groups that offer abortions. That same memorandum also removed the United States from the Geneva Consensus, an international pro-life declaration, and initiated the process of reversing Trump’s Title X rule that kept abortion providers from getting federal family planning dollars.
In April, Biden’s Food and Drug Administration dealt another blow, announcing
it would not enforce the requirement for providers to dispense the abortion pill in person. That opened the floodgates for pro-abortion websites to continue sending abortive drugs to women through the mail. Biden’s administration in the following months continued to publicize its stance on abortion, releasing
in June a $6 trillion budget proposal without the Hyde Amendment, a long-standing measure keeping taxpayer money from funding the abortion industry.
Abortion advocates weren’t satisfied with those advances. The advocacy group We Testify complained that it took the Biden administration 224 days to use the word abortion in a notable public statement. “We don’t need more evasive statements from the White House that further stigmatize abortion,” the group said on its website.
A state-level fight
Effectively shut out at the federal level but simultaneously empowered by Trump’s conservative judicial nominees, pro-life activists changed tactics and focused their attention on state legislation.
The pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute called the 2021 legislative session the most “damaging” to the pro-abortion cause in decades. By April 29, states had introduced 536 pro-life bills, and 61 had become law. By the same time in 2011, the previous record-holding year, states had enacted only 42 pro-life laws.
Arkansas in March passed one of the strongest bills, protecting even babies conceived through rape or incest, with an exception if a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life. Gov. Asa Hutchinson acknowledged that the law defied Supreme Court precedent but said, “It is the intent of the legislation to set the stage for the Supreme Court overturning current case law.”
The pro-life law that made the biggest waves passed in Texas two months later. Using a controversial enforcement mechanism, it protects babies from abortions once they have a detectable heartbeat, typically at around six weeks of gestation. The law went live in September and reportedly halved the number of abortions in the state. That’s caused an influx of clients at some of the state’s pregnancy centers, where staff have seen women sometimes angry, sometimes relieved that they can’t get an abortion after the first few weeks of pregnancy. The Supreme Court has allowed the law to remain in effect as legal battles continue in the lower courts. Lawmakers in South Carolina also passed a heartbeat law in February, but that one hasn’t gone into effect due to ongoing litigation.
Abortion at the Supreme Court
In the fall, lawsuits over the Texas heartbeat law made a mad dash to the Supreme Court, which held oral arguments exactly two months after the rule went into effect. But the hearings focused on technicalities—just a sideshow to the main abortion-related event in the high court this year.
The Supreme Court shocked pro-life and pro-abortion activists alike when it announced in May that it would take up Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case of a Mississippi law protecting babies from abortion after 15 weeks of gestation. The justices agreed to consider “whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.” Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s July brief called on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and give back to states the power to regulate abortion before the point in pregnancy when a baby can survive outside the womb.
Pro-life activists saw the court’s agreement to hear the case as a signal of potential willingness to scrap its messy, decades-old abortion precedent. Pro-abortion activists thought the same, but with apprehension: Organizers of the 2021 Women’s March rebranded the nationwide October demonstrations as “abortion justice” marches, a response to the Texas heartbeat law and the arguments in Dobbs.
In oral arguments on Dec. 1, the more moderate justices implied a willingness to go against Roe’s precedent and allow the Mississippi law to stand. If nothing else, one pro-abortion attorney’s reference to a “baby” demonstrated the effect ultrasound technology has had on the national conscience.
Latin America’s pro-abortion wave
In an amicus brief filed in the Dobbs case, South African Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng for the United Nations warned that overturning Roe could have “catastrophic implications” for so-called abortion rights throughout the world. “We know that politically that what happens in the United States … does have an impact in precedents elsewhere in the world,” Mofokeng told The Guardian.
Pro-life groups in Latin America have felt the reality of that statement in the past year, but not in the way that concerned Mofokeng. In the final days of 2020, Argentina became the largest Latin American country to legalize abortion. Pro-lifers blamed the change on “international monetary pressure and political pressure.” Some speculated that the timing of the bill’s passage corresponded with the results of the U.S. election when it became clear the new Biden administration would support international abortion groups financially.
In September, the Mexican Supreme Court issued rulings that will prevent Mexican states from enforcing pro-life laws and make it easier to pass pro-abortion ones. The timing of that case coincided with meetings between Mexican government officials and pro-abortion U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.
But at least one pro-life victory came to Latin America in 2021: Honduras passed a bipartisan constitutional amendment to prevent lawmakers from legalizing abortion in the future. Pro-lifers there expect pressure from the United States to reverse the country’s position, but it would take a difficult three-fourths majority in the National Congress.
In a September radio interview, Pope Francis coupled abortion with euthanasia as signs of “throwaway culture,” calling the increasing legalization of euthanasia “one of the tragedies of today’s European culture.”
This year, the Portuguese parliament twice passed legislation that would legalize euthanasia in the country, but that bill has been held up for months by presidential vetoes and concerns from the country’s Constitutional Court. The practice advanced with more ease elsewhere. Between March and September, three of the six Australian states legalized euthanasia for people with terminal illnesses. The country expects a vote over a bill in New South Wales, the only remaining state without legal euthanasia, in early 2022.
Spain in March also legalized euthanasia but leaped down the slippery slope, allowing the procedure even for people who aren’t about to die but who are suffering from a “serious, chronic illness.” In Canada, where euthanasia has been legal for terminally ill people since 2016, a new bill passed that removes the requirement for a patient’s death to be “reasonably foreseeable.” People with disabilities in the country worry this change in the law will make it easier for culture to throw them away when they become inconvenient.
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