It’s been 50 years since abortion was legalized nationwide under Roe v. Wade, and the pro-life movement has never sounded more encouraged.
The overturning of Roe in June “was like a shot of adrenaline and 40 espressos,” said Shawn Carney, president and CEO of the pro-life campaigning organization 40 Days for Life. “We grew in every area of the organization—most importantly, in volunteers and locations. Our first post-Roe 40 Days for Life campaign was the largest ever—we were in 622 cities. We added to our 1 million volunteers around the world. We had record numbers of people coming out.”
“Our volume of activity and energy has not waned,” said Jor-El Godsey, president of the pregnancy center network Heartbeat International. “In some states we had a significant increase in calls.” While that number has ebbed over time, “in almost no situation am I seeing fewer calls.”
Six months after Dobbs, TGC talked to experts about the overall state of the pro-life movement—where things stand with state and federal legislation, abortion clinic protests, pregnancy resource centers, the abortion pill, and Gen Z.
Dobbs didn’t fix everything. There have been physical attacks against pregnancy centers, surging popularity of chemical abortions, and a weaker-than-desired showing among pro-life Republicans in the Congressional midterms. But in general, the state of the pro-life movement is strong.
The problems are mostly good ones, Carney said. “It’s like we’re an NFL team in the playoffs. You might say, ‘Oh man, we have to play in cold weather!’ That’s true, but man, we’re in the playoffs!”
“I didn’t think I’d see the overturning of Roe v. Wade in my lifetime—what a great pro-life victory,” said Marilyn Musgrave, vice president of government affairs at Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.
But she was dismayed by the rhetoric that followed, especially in the fall election campaigns. Democrats spent almost $360 million on abortion-related ads, accusing Republicans of being “dangerous” and of wanting to ban abortions “without exception.”
In response, Republicans fumbled. They spent only $37 million on abortion messaging and struggled to know what to say. For example, in Arizona, Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters had a hard time defining his position on abortion. And gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake walked back her pro-life stance.
In the end, the red wave of Republican victories that had been expected before Dobbs didn’t emerge. But neither, significantly, did a “Roevember” blue wave. In the end, the Republicans picked up eight seats in the House, giving them a majority and letting them balance a Democratic-controlled Senate.
“That thin majority blocks what we feared the most, which was [codifying abortion in] the Women’s Health Protection Act or abolishing the filibuster,” Musgrave said. “We’re very grateful.”
House Republicans have already passed a resolution condemning attacks against pro-life organizations and a bill protecting infants born alive after botched abortions. Another bill banning taxpayer funding of abortion is expected to follow.
Without Republican control of the Senate or presidency, the bills are unlikely to become laws. But they still serve a key purpose, according to Musgrave.
“It’s important to have this national debate,” she said. “That’s one way we can refute the lies that have been told and expose the extremism of the other side.”
In other words, it’s a way to keep pro-life issues before the country, to have a voice in the conversation. Another way to do that is through public debate at the state level.
Dobbs tossed abortion from the judicial branch to the legislative branch. State legislatures caught the ball. Today, 14 states ban abortion in almost all circumstances, four more ban abortion in the second trimester, and another six have second-trimester bans working their way through court systems.
“We were pleased with how quickly many state officials stood up and enforced their [pro-life] laws,” said Clarke Forsythe, senior attorney at Americans United for Life. Still, “people need to settle in for a long-term cultural and political struggle.”
Why? Because about 20 states are “strongly pro-abortion”; of those, 10 to 15 are “zealously pro-abortion,” he said. That includes six states where there are no gestational limits on abortion, along with multiple states positioning themselves as havens for women living in pro-life states. Governor Gavin Newsom even rented billboards in six pro-life states, inviting women to come to California to end their pregnancies.
“The work in the states is going to be critical, because what they adopt and enforce will probably stay the law,” Forsythe said. “I don’t think the federal courts will overturn them—which is another good development. We haven’t seen state and federal judges saying Dobbs is illegitimate. They have followed Dobbs.”
Forsythe is patient, taking his cues from William Wilberforce, who worked for 20 years to ban the slave trade in Britain, then another 26 years to prohibit slavery altogether. “One strategy he used was the moral argument,” Forsythe said. “But another was the practical and pragmatic argument.”
Forsythe already knows the practical question on this issue: Can women thrive without unrestricted access to abortion?
“Pro-life states need to adopt and publish an annual women’s wellness index looking at 12 to 15 indicators—things like health, socioeconomic, employment, and life satisfaction,” he said. “The pro-abortion side is going to be looking at how women are doing in places such as Arkansas and Texas. Pro-life states need to show women can flourish without abortion.”
That sounds like a good challenge. Evidence that abortion helps women has been weak and inconsistent. Stories of life, on the other hand, are both compelling and plentiful.
Every mother who chose life has a beautiful story. But there are also other stories. One example: during the first two weeks after Abby Johnson’s story was told in the Unplanned film, nearly 100 abortion workers quit their jobs.
Johnson herself left the abortion industry during a campaign by 40 Days for Life, which has grown rapidly over the past two decades. But its fastest growth has come in the past six months.
“We’d been working on a post-Roe plan since the nomination of Justice Kavanaugh,” Shawn Carney said. “We launched our first post-Roe symposium the day after Roe was overturned. Just six weeks later, we had hundreds of people come out to get trained on how to end abortion where they live.”
Since then, 40 Days has seen a record number of people volunteer to fast and pray outside abortion clinics. As a result, 12 of those clinics have closed their doors—all but one in states where abortion is legal. That’s a jump—for the past 15 years, 40 Days was averaging about 8 clinic closures a year.
For a variety of reasons—including Johnson’s public story, social media, and Trump’s pro-life appointments to the Supreme Court—the energy around protesting has been heating up. In 2014, about 5,400 people protested abortion clinics. By 2021, that number skyrocketed to 115,000. (Those numbers, supplied by abortion clinics, include the U.S., Canada, and Colombia.)
“And now this issue has left Washington, DC, where we were weak and Planned Parenthood was strong,” Carney said, referring to the fact that abortion rights groups consistently spend more than pro-life groups on federal lobbying. “It’s going to the grassroots, where we are strong.”
He suspects that’s why multiple pro-life protesters have been indicted recently by the Department of Justice. “They now have an apparent bigotry toward pro-life Americans that we didn’t see prior to the overturning of Roe,” he said.
While 40 Days staff will continue to coordinate protests outside clinics in pro-life states that refer women for abortions, they’ll adjust their focus to places where abortion is legal, Carney said. They’ll also increasingly focus on border states, like Illinois and New Mexico, that are marketing to women from surrounding pro-life states.
Carney is even hopeful about that. “One thing we know is that distance is a deterrent for women,” he said.
If the early data after the Texas Heartbeat Act is any indication, he’s probably right. About 10,000 fewer abortions were performed in the 15 months after the law took effect. While some women traveled or ordered pills for abortions, something else happened in that same time period.
The number of Texas births rose by about 5,000 babies.
Pregnancy Resource Centers
The Texas Heartbeat Act took effect on September 1, 2021. For the next week, calls to Texas pregnancy centers in the Heartbeat International network went up by 50 percent. “We heard from women who were pregnant and from those who were concerned about being pregnant,” Heartbeat International president Jor-El Godsey said. “They were researching.”
The same thing happened in the wake of Dobbs, he said. “Almost universally, our centers saw an increase in calls. The first wave was women saying, ‘Help me understand what is going on.’ We also saw an increase from women who were pregnant and scared.”
While the volume of calls has settled down, it’s still up from where it was before Dobbs, Godsey said.
Care Net saw the same thing, and president Roland Warren wasn’t surprised. “The more successful our [political and legal] advocacy, the more we’re needed to provide care to pregnant mothers,” he said.
That job is more difficult when clients are scared, confused, or angry about the changes in the law. Or when pregnancy centers become easy targets for those frustrated by the Dobbs decision. In 2022, more than 100 pro-life facilities, groups, and churches were attacked. Windows were smashed, fires set, and graffiti spray-painted. (One message, ironically, was “Forced birth is murder.”)
“That makes people feel skittish and concerned, especially when you have a movement supported by a number of volunteers,” Godsey said. “Centers are increasing or installing security, because there’s a real and active threat.”
Over the last six months, pregnancy center staff have been through a range of emotions—excited, scared, determined, he said.
However, after one center was firebombed in New York state, “nobody failed to show up for their shift,” CompassCare Pregnancy Services president Jim Harden told TGC. “We received three offers to relocate, so we were up and running at an alternative location in Buffalo the next day. All the nurses continued serving. There was a little trepidation there, but everybody realized we serve a great God who is our protector and provider.”
The physical attacks have largely dropped off—the website for Jane’s Revenge only has blog posts for May, June, and July, and the list of attacks in the Congressional resolution ends in October. The lingering problems aren’t physical, but technological.
“Before Dobbs, when you typed in ‘abortion’ or ‘abortion near me’ on Google, returns would include abortion alternatives,” he said. Now, only abortion providers appear, unless you know to change the drop-down menu by the map.
That makes it harder for women to find pro-life centers. But from another perspective, it’s also more challenging to access an abortion clinic. The United States is home to 2,700 pregnancy centers, which, like the protesting movement, are stronger in a local context than a federal one.
In comparison, 807 abortion clinics provided 96 percent of America’s abortions in 2020. Since Dobbs, at least 66—which performed nearly 126,000 abortions in 2020—have been forced to stop those procedures.
Abortion by Mail
The first—and biggest—loophole in pro-life legislation is abortion by mail.
Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration announced that mifepristone and misoprostol, which cause first-trimester abortions, can now be sold over the counter. The move is the latest in a loosening of federal restrictions around the pills, which began to be sold by mail during COVID. They now account for more than half of abortions.
Not only is this method of abortion illegal in states that ban abortion, but abortion by mail is technically illegal in all states. In 1948, a federal statute banned mailing any “article or thing designed, adapted, or intended for producing abortion.” However, enforcement depends on the administration. And a few weeks ago, the Justice Department said the postal service can deliver abortion pills anywhere, arguing that the sender can’t know for sure the receiver will use them illegally.
“There’s still a lot you can do to regulate that,” Carney said. “If you live in Colorado, you can’t order heroin from Colombia. We prohibit drugs we deem dangerous or immoral [from coming] into our states. That’ll be the next long phase of regulation.”
The abortion pill introduces a lot of worrisome issues: Women ordering through telehealth appointments don’t need to prove their age. No medical professional ascertains how far along they are in pregnancy. And everything is done in secret, so it’s impossible to count or measure any outcomes.
But abortion by pill does have one huge advantage over surgical abortion: if you change your mind soon enough—preferably, within 72 hours—it can often be reversed. In the last year, Heartbeat’s Abortion Pill Rescue Network alone has saved more than 1,000 lives.
“God is still on his throne, showing us new ways to reach and minister to women,” Godsey said. That’s a promise to hang on to, especially as the pro-life movement encounters Gen Z.
Despite the “I Am the Pro-Life Generation” campaign by Students for Life, Gen Z seems to be more pro-choice than previous generations. In March 2022, 30 percent of those aged 18–29 told Pew researchers they thought abortion should be legal in all circumstances. In May, Gallup asked the same question, and the percentage of young people who said abortion should be legal without exceptions was up to 53 percent—more than ever before. In fact, it was up significantly from the 40 percent of 18- to-29-year-olds who supported abortion without exceptions in 2021.
That looks like a backlash to Dobbs, and it can be seen in every age group—though the older the demographic, the smaller the bounce.
Notably, it’s not the “blob of tissue” argument that’s carrying the day, even among abortion rights activists. Whether or not a fetus is a human life doesn’t even matter, argued a Slate article objecting to photos of “pregnancy tissue” published by the Guardian.
We should “allow the pregnant person to define a pregnancy’s meaning,” the Slate authors wrote. Pregnancy’s “value is determined by the person whose body is being sacrificed to carry it. Those people are what matters—not only their bodily autonomy to end a pregnancy, but also their conceptions of the fetal life that they may very much want to keep.”
The only answer is Jesus, Warren said. We value life because God does. We value marriage because God designed it.
Out of love for God, we also embrace reality. “Choosing life is very exciting, because you’re on the side of reason and science,” Carney said.
Godsey also counsels patience. Gen Z may not be the most pro-choice generation forever.
“There are things with every generation that moderate with time,” he said. “When you have children, you think differently about education. When you have grandchildren, you think differently about investing. As this generation gets older, we will see how life transforms their thinking.”
“When we look at Scripture, we realize that after a great victory, very often there is quite the rough patch,” Musgrave said. “I think of Elijah and the victories he had, and how he did away with all the false prophets and fire came down from heaven and he ran in front of Ahab’s chariot going down the mountain. And yet as soon as he got down the mountain, Jezebel said she was going to kill him.”
She sees a parallel in the rough patch after Dobbs—the violent attacks on pregnancy centers, the lies told by political campaigns, the flash of abortion support in the polls.
Still, “our hand doesn’t shake,” as Carney said. “Our hand is steady. And the dust will settle.”
As it does, Musgrave said, “We really need to be saying, ‘Lord, what would you have me do?’ In our own families, in our own churches, in our own community. God gives each of us a unique mission field.”
Whether that’s buying diapers for a pregnancy center or inviting a single mom to join your small group, “we should be doing what we can right in front of us.”