Will the pro-life movement be a victim of its own success?
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Abortion opponents are walking in tall cotton these days.   

Congress is poised to stop sending money to the nation’s largest abortion chain and to permanently restrict federal abortion funding. The president nominated to the Supreme Court a committed originalist lauded by pro-life organizations.  Roe v. Wade may soon be one vote away from a well-deserved trip to history’s ash heap.  

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Pro-lifers are as optimistic as they’ve been in a generation.

 

But with the gains comes a massive risk that the 48-point headlines will lead policy makers and the public to overlook critical opportunities to reach the core of the problem: a society that demands abortion.  

Abortion will not end just because the Supreme Court throws out bad precedent and Congress stops subsidizing an abortion juggernaut.  It will only end when culture is transformed to support women and men facing unplanned pregnancies and value the dignity of its most oppressed class, the pre-born.

Consider the potential impact of redirecting Planned Parenthood’s financial aid to the country’s 13,540 federally-qualified health centers and rural health clinics.  Clients who typically visit Planned Parenthood for subsidized care will be better served by facilities that are not riddled with staff looking to peddle abortions to meet quotas or get an award.  

But are those clinics equipped to address the multitude of social, emotional, or material issues that lead women to seek an abortion?  

Presumably many of Planned Parenthood’s 323,999 abortion clients underwent an abortion because they believed that abortion was their best option given the circumstances.  Will those women carry to term just because they’re not going to Planned Parenthood for government-subsidized medical care?  

Even noted pro-life economist Michael New admits, addressing Texas’s 2011 Planned Parenthood defunding, the data are unclear on whether that round of defunding led to a decline in the state’s abortion rate.  Defunding Planned Parenthood will be an important victory, but we still must care for those 323,999 abortion-seeking women.   

While it’s hard to overstate the importance of overturning Roe, reversing those decisions alone will do nothing more than remove a judicial impediment to states passing pro-life laws.  How many states will pass laws restricting or prohibiting abortion, and how many abortions would those laws prevent?

In 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, around 900,000 abortions were performed in America (estimating is tricky because several states don’t report abortion incidence).  

Republicans control both houses of the legislature and the governorship or have a veto-proof legislative majority in 27 states.  Around 346,000 abortions were performed in those states that year.  In other words, 61.5 percent of abortions, or a total of 553,000 abortions every year, occur in a state where Democratic legislatures or governors can block pro-life legislation.  

Polling also shows the benefit of overturning Roe is uncertain. While 3 in 4 Americans favor at least limiting abortion to the first trimester, there are only 11 states in which a clear majority of residents oppose legalized abortion, and those states account for only 7 percent of American total.  

While it’s likely many of the 39 other states will enact some additional restrictions on abortion, it is clear that overturning Roe’s abortion cases is only a small step on the way to ending abortion.

Even if pro-life or Republican majorities are able to prohibit abortion in some states, women in those states will still seek abortions.  

For example, every year 3,400 to 4,000 women in Ireland, which prohibits abortion, travel abroad to abort their children (For comparison, Ireland is the size of Alabama, which saw 5,899 abortions in 2015).  

At Human Coalition, a recent client purchased abortion pills from a drug dealer, and we’ve heard of women seeking to overdose on vitamins to self-abort.

These data demonstrate that overturning Roe and defunding Planned Parenthood are excellent starting points but not the end-game.  Based on our records and factoring in the miscarriage rate,  we estimate there are about 1.4 million women who actively seek out an abortion annually.  

This community is largely unreached and unserved by the existing pro-life community (and by government policy).  Pro-life organizations must become effective at reaching these abortion-determined neighbors and addressing the circumstances that are driving them to seek an abortion.  

Reaching abortion-determined women is tough work.  

Over 90 percent of our clients are abortion-determined, and our work is an emotionally-grueling experience for our caregivers.  We’ve worked with pro-life organizations who became overwhelmed at the difficulty and expense of working with these clients and explicitly choose to work instead with women who aren’t intent on abortion.  

Serving any woman with an unplanned pregnancy is honorable work.  But abortion-determined women are the ones we must reach to end abortion.  These women — and their very real, very complicated needs — can’t be left behind in our rush to celebrate high-profile successes.  

Colin LeCroy is Associate General Counsel at Human Coalition. Az Rahlouni is the Research and Optimization Lead at Human Coalition. Human Coalition is an organization  committed to ending abortion in America by fusing technology, best practices, and tangible help to serve the unreached, abortion-determined woman.


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