The Senate can’t codify minimal reproductive rights because of the filibuster, which gives a minority of conservatives veto power over much of national policymaking. In states like Wisconsin, legislatures are so gerrymandered that it will take more than a popular-vote majority to undo their abortion bans. The right pretends that ending Roe returns abortion to the democratic process, but Roe’s demise was made possible by democracy’s erosion.
That shouldn’t blind us, however, to the success of the anti-abortion movement, which has organized for almost 50 years to bring us to this moment. Those state-level gerrymanders didn’t just happen. As The New York Times reported, they were made possible by the 2010 Republican wave, which reduced the number of state legislatures controlled by Democrats from 27 to 16. Republicans then used redistricting to cement their hold on power even as they passed a barrage of state laws meant to chip away at Roe.
The legal and political wings of the anti-abortion movement were methodical, often biding their time until they had a friendly Supreme Court in place. As general counsel of the National Right to Life Committee, James Bopp opposed attempts to prohibit abortion outright, fearing that their rejection would only strengthen Roe. Instead, as Irin Carmon reported in 2013, he focused on wedge issues like 20-week abortion bans.
Meanwhile, grass-roots abortion opponents have remained relentless, often drawing people in for reasons of sociability as much as ideology. In “The Making of Pro-Life Activists,” the sociologist Ziad W. Munson found that many activists had been ambivalent about abortion, or even pro-choice, before being invited to a rally or meeting. The movement welcomed them, and the experience of activism converted them. Similarly, one of Lowen’s interviewees said she wasn’t opposed to abortion until she tagged along to the March for Life with some college friends. She later went to work for Students for Life.
I fear that some abortion-rights activists are learning the wrong lessons from their enemies’ triumph, taking inspiration from the most confrontational anti-abortion forces. [Continue reading…]