(RNS) — With the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision officially out and Roe and Casey no more, America’s pro-life movements enter phase 3.0.
You didn’t know that there were two other phases? You’re certainly not alone.
Pro-life 1.0, which has been documented in Daniel K. Williams’ magisterial book “Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. Wade,” was a politically complex movement, coming primarily neither from the right nor from the left. It drew significant strength from Catholics opposed to both the violence of the Vietnam War and the violence of abortion.
Pro-life 2.0 appeared in the late 1970s and early ’80s, formed when evangelical Christians joined a “fusionist” Republican coalition: Working-class religious folks (including so-called Reagan Democrats), small government libertarians and foreign-policy hawks. This made for some strange bedfellows.
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With Dobbs, we now have Pro-life 3.0, a movement that finds itself, post-Roe, free to be much more politically creative and nimble, particularly as it works to support women and protect prenatal children at the state level. This task is less prone to fall into the toxic left-right, life-choice fights to the death we have seen at the federal level.
I’ve used my previous three columns to highlight shifts in the pro-life movements in this regard, particularly when it comes to supporting women and families with new public policies. This newfound freedom gives pro-lifers the space to make a genuine offer of dialogue to supporters of abortion rights. In order for our democratic republic to function, we have to move beyond the catastrophic spiral of tit-for-tat power plays to find ways to exchange and make progress on these matters.
The majority in Roe determined by fiat that prenatal children didn’t count as persons. Citing the 14th Amendment, Dobbs has substituted a new context in which exchanges, arguments and dialogues about abortion actually matter.
So let’s put on our big-boy and big-girl boots and have an exchange that matters.
In a dialogue, it is important to lead with what you are for, rather than with what you’re against. The two sides should look for possible areas of common ground, which can then be used as a foundation for even more dialogue.
Pro-lifers have worked for decades to build up large networks of pregnancy help centers. Pro-choice activists could come to see how these centers offer women who feel pressured into abortions resources and therefore choices. Many would like to expand to become shelters, especially for women facing intimate partner violence (which correlates strongly with abortion). Can we work together to better fund and expand these resources and show that these centers offer resources and therefore choices to women who feel pressured into abortions?
Some readers may be uncomfortable with this suggestion, having been told that these centers try to trick women seeking abortions to come to them when, obviously, no abortion will be provided. But I’ve met hundreds of workers in these centers over the decades and not a single one had the goal of tricking women. Besides, in the states where abortion is or will soon be banned, these centers will be the primary infrastructure available for women and families who find themselves in difficult situations.
Let’s make pro-lifers uncomfortable in this dialogue as well, especially those left over from the fusionist era, wherein which many adopted “small government” sensibilities. It is a travesty that Mississippi, the state that provided the backdrop for the Dobbs case, deprives economically vulnerable mothers of Medicaid coverage 60 days after giving birth.
Indeed, the United States at large has a huge problem with maternal mortality, most of which comes into play after birth. Pro-lifers should be pushed to get on the side of expanded Medicaid services, especially (but not only) in states that significantly restrict access to abortion.
They should also be pushed to get on the side of mandatory paid family leave, childcare support, robust labor protections based on family status, health insurance that adequately cares for children with special needs, mandatory areas and times for breast-milk pumping, and more.
This, again, may make some old-school “government shouldn’t pick winners and losers” pro-lifers uncomfortable, but that’s what we should expect from a real dialogue across difference. As the Focolare teaches, uncomfortable conversations at times require adopting the posture of Jesus forsaken on the cross. The issues at stake often involve topics that touch us to our very core, and making ourselves vulnerable in this way opens us up to experiences that can be quite painful.
Happily, large numbers of those who identify as pro-life conservatives are becoming deeply skeptical of corporations that pay for abortions but are stingy about providing childcare, family leave or other supports. These profit-driven dynamics cause many pro-lifers to say the “choice” of abortion is no choice at all.
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Disagreements on abortion are very real. Balancing a woman’s bodily autonomy with justice for prenatal human beings is complicated. But, properly understood, they aren’t — or shouldn’t be — life vs. choice, right vs. left fights to the death. Most Americans have fairly complex views on abortion that don’t fit neatly into binary categories.
If we want to help women lead the lives they choose, we should start with clear and obvious common ground that is there for the taking. Right now. Let’s put aside the tribalism and animosity and go get it. Together.