On Tuesday, pro-lifers encountered a setback when Issue 1 passed in Ohio by a margin of 56.6 to 43.4 percent. This places legal abortion in Ohio’s state constitution and jeopardizes many commonsense pro-life laws in the Buckeye State. Pro-lifers had some reasons for optimism going into this election. Ohio has a more conservative electorate than Michigan and some other states where pro-abortion ballot propositions prevailed. Ohio pro-lifers got off to an earlier start and had the public support of popular Governor Mike DeWine. Unfortunately, the $35 million spent by supporters of legal abortion was too much for pro-lifers to overcome.
The mainstream media will doubtless swoon and gloat over Tuesday’s victory. They will remind everyone that supporters of legal abortion have now won seven straight ballot propositions. However, what has often been overlooked in the results of the 2022 and 2023 elections is that supporters of legal abortion have enjoyed precious little success changing public policy at the state level. Indeed, to this day, not one strong post-Dobbs pro-life law has been struck down by a pro-abortion ballot proposition. Furthermore, nearly all of the strong pro-life laws that are currently in place are in strong positions politically and are unlikely to be repealed via direct democracy.
Currently, laws protecting all preborn children are in place in 14 states. South Carolina and Georgia both have heartbeat laws in effect that protect the preborn after six weeks’ gestation. There are strong pro-life laws protecting thousands of preborn children in 16 states.
Nine of these 16 states do not have the citizen initiative. Hence, these laws are very unlikely to be repealed by direct democracy. Mississippi’s citizen-initiative provisions are being challenged in court. However, even if Mississippi regains the citizen initiative, their signature requirements are among the most difficult in the country, and so the pro-life laws in the Magnolia State are also probably safe.
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There are citizen initiatives in six other states that currently have strong pro-life laws in place. However, in five of these six, President Biden received less than 36 percent of the popular vote in the 2020 election. Since pro-abortion ballot propositions typically run anywhere from six to eleven points ahead of President Biden’s 2020 performance, these laws are in a fairly strong position politically. Missouri’s law protecting all preborn children is likely the most vulnerable. President Biden won over 41 percent of the vote in Missouri in 2020. However, Missouri has a long, storied history of effective pro-life activism. Supporters of legal abortion would be hard pressed to achieve a direct-democracy victory in the Show-Me State.
When pro-lifers encounter a political setback, it is often helpful to remember the long-term progress that the pro-life movement has made in the United States. Even before Dobbs, pro-lifers succeeded in reducing the abortion rate by more than 50 percent. After Dobbs, pro-lifers moved quickly to enact legislative protections for preborn children. Currently the preborn are protected in 14 states. Post-Dobbs, seven other states put laws in place that protect the preborn after a certain gestational age. Additionally, multiple studies analyzing birth data from Texas show that the Texas Heartbeat Act is saving thousands of lives every month. As always, pro-lifers would do well to stay the course.
LifeNews Note: Michael J. New is a Research Associate at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and is an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New
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