The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Antiabortion groups are pulling a bait-and-switch

Antiabortion advocates rally outside the Supreme Court during the March for Life last year in Washington. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

For decades, pro-life activists and politicians have called abortion “murder” and vowed to reverse — not tweak, not modify — Roe v. Wade. Let the states decide, they said. Maybe rape shouldn’t even be an exception, they argued. The abortion protests that they waged, the conscience clause exceptions that they chose to cement in the Affordable Care Act and their refusal to allow judges who did not vow to get rid of Roe v. Wade on the bench were based on the premise that this was murder. Give the power to the states, and we’ll end it.

Now that they are on the brink of achieving their dream of a 5-4 court ready to reverse Roe v. Wade — and that the opposition to outlawing abortion is growing — they are singing a far different tune. The Post reports:

Leaders of the antiabortion movement said Thursday that they are in no hurry to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision, saying they plan to stick with their long-standing strategy of pushing for incremental restrictions despite the tantalizing prospect of a more conservative Supreme Court.
Even with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s announced retirement, these activists said they are not sure the time is ripe for a wholesale reconsideration of the 1973 ruling.

C’mon on, people. We’re supposed to buy this? And even if we thought that this was the intent of these activists, they have absolutely no power to guarantee that the justice they handpicked specifically because of his commitment to reversing Roe and his insistence that there is no “right to privacy” in the Constitution would turn into a gradualist on the court. If that’s what they wanted, they shouldn’t have given the vetting over to the Federalist Society.

Moreover, not every pro-life activist is sticking to the script. (“Steven Aden, chief legal counsel for Americans United for Life, said he pines for the day when Roe v. Wade is overturned, and he believes that day is coming. But moving too quickly could bring unintended consequences, he said.” Not surprisingly, abortion rights groups are making it crystal clear what is really going on:

“This is not a drill,” NARAL Pro-Choice America President ­Ilyse Hogue said. “The lawsuits necessary to overturn Roe or to criminalize abortion are moving through.” …
Polls have shown that a majority of Americans want the next justice to uphold Roe. A CBS News poll in February found that 54 percent of those surveyed felt that way, while a 2016 Pew Research Center poll put the figure at 69 percent.
“We know that in all 50 states in this country, the majority of Americans do not want to punish women, believe in legal access to abortion, know what’s at stake and are ready to go out and fight this,” Hogue said. “It’s true in red states; it’s true in blue states.”

A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows that 67 percent of Americans — and 74 percent of women ages 18 to 44 — don’t want Roe repealed.

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No wonder pro-life activists are trying to lay low. But let’s say we take them at their word, let’s say no red state tries to ban abortion outright (though both of these are highly questionable), and let’s further say that the rock-ribbed originalist on the court suddenly says there is a right to privacy (just weaker). But even then, the pro-life groups say it is just a matter of time before abortion is banned altogether. Maybe adult women will not live in a world where abortion is criminalized, but their daughters will. That’s the reason to put a young justice on the court, isn’t it? So he’ll be there for decades. Plenty of time to make abortions a crime or to make them so difficult to perform that few doctors will do so.

Listen — pro-life activists should have the power of their convictions. They have spent their lives saying they want to eradicate abortion and that the American people were with them. Now is the time to have that fight.