Alabama’s new pro-life law signals a crucial moment in the American abortion wars

By Jonathon Van Maren

Anyone who thought the abortion debate in America was going away has been sadly mistaken. It shaped the 2016 election, will probably shape the 2020 election, and the barrage of pro-life laws passing across the United States has been virtually nonstop. Pro-lifers are testing the waters, pushing to see if this is the right moment to overturn Roe v. Wade. We don’t know if we have the SCOTUS votes yet—Roberts and Kavanaugh in particular are up in the air—but we are certainly in a better situation than we were just a few years ago. Former Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards stated that Roe is now “hanging by a thread,” abortion activists are publishing handbooks for a post-Roe America, and the abortion activists have moved on from the regular fearmongering they do to keep donors invested in their work to genuine panic.

Alexandra DeSanctis has been doing an excellent job covering the pro-life beat over at the National Review:

On Tuesday, the Alabama state senate passed H.B. 314 by a 25-6 vote with one abstention. The bill establishes the legal personhood of unborn children and prohibits nearly all abortion. If Republican governor Kay Ivey signs the legislation — which the bill’s supporters anticipate — it would be the strictest pro-life law in the entire country, though it is highly unlikely that it would survive the inevitable legal challenge from abortion-rights groups.

The bill first received national attention earlier this month, when Democratic state representative John Rogers made a gruesome remark explaining his opposition to the bill. “Some kids are unwanted,” Rogers said. “So you kill them now or you kill them later. You bring them into the world unwanted, unloved, then send them to the electric chair.”

Rogers was roundly and rightly criticized for his comments, including by Alabama’s Democratic senator Doug Jones — though Rogers attests that the senator (who was once Rogers’s attorney) called to tell him privately that he agreed with him but had to condemn him publicly. Jones denies this contention. Rogers announced last week that he’ll challenge Jones for his Senate seat.

Alabama’s effort to pass H. B. 314 takes place against the backdrop of nationwide contention over abortion policy. So far this year, Democratic legislatures in New York, Illinois, Virginia, Rhode Island, Vermont, Nevada, and New Mexico are considering or have passed bills to legalize abortion or loosen abortion restrictions during the last three months of pregnancy.

Meanwhile, in red states such as Ohio, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Georgia, legislatures have passed so-called heartbeat bills, which prohibit abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually at about six weeks’ gestation. The most recent of these bills, signed by Georgia governor Brian Kemp last week, has faced significant backlash, including a wide range of media coverage insisting that the legislation would prosecute women for having miscarriages and imprison post-abortive women for life — neither of which accurately reflects the substance of the bill. Our own David French has a great summary of why those interpretations are incorrect.

Both heartbeat bills and stricter abortion restrictions such as Alabama’s have little chance of being upheld by courts given the current framework of abortion-rights jurisprudence instantiated by Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. But the scathing media coverage that these pro-life laws receive — compared to laws that allow abortion for any reason, even after fetuses are developed enough to survive outside the womb — is telling.

We are at a crucial moment in the American abortion wars. Ramesh Ponnuru is warning the pro-life movement not to squander this opportunity after decades of work, while David French is speaking for many when he says it is time to push for the finish line and pass heartbeat bills in every state possible, taking direct aim at Roe. I honestly don’t know which strategy is more viable. My heart is with French’s proposal, of course, but I wonder if Ponnuru is right.

Let’s pray we get one more Supreme Court justice, and Roe is finally destroyed.

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For anyone interested, my book on The Culture War, which analyzes the journey our culture has taken from the way it was to the way it is and examines the Sexual Revolution, hook-up culture, the rise of the porn plague, abortion, commodity culture, euthanasia, and the gay rights movement, is available for sale here.

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