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Anti-abortion groups shrug off election losses, look to courts, statehouses for path forward

Rachana Pradhan, KFF Health News on

Published in News & Features

Anti-abortion groups are firing off a warning shot for 2024: We’re not going anywhere.

Their leaders say they’re undeterred by recent election setbacks and plan to plow ahead on what they’ve done for years, including working through state legislatures, federal agencies, and federal courts to outlaw abortion. And at least one prominent anti-abortion group is calling on conservative states to make it harder for voters to enact ballot measures, a tactic Republican lawmakers attempted in Ohio before voters there enshrined the right to abortion in the state’s constitution.

“For us, this is a civil rights battle. We have innocent human beings whose lives are being destroyed,” said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, one of the country’s largest anti-abortion groups. “And we’re going to keep fighting because we think those are human beings who deserve protection.”

The movement is no stranger to the long game, working over decades to get the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision establishing a constitutional right to abortion that the high court nullified last year.

But Republican lawmakers and anti-abortion candidates have struggled to coalesce around a unified message ahead of the 2024 elections. In addition to the Ohio defeat, voters in Virginia on Nov. 7 effectively rejected Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposal to ban abortion after 15 weeks by giving control of the state legislature to Democrats. Democrats are expected to keep capitalizing on anger over the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

In its aftermath, abortion rights supporters have successfully won campaigns in seven states. In Ohio, a state Donald Trump won by healthy margins in both 2016 and 2020, 57% of voters supported a constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights. Voters in 11 more states could see abortion-related initiatives on their ballots next year, including in Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

 

The Ohio vote “makes clear it’s essential that the critical work of the pro-life movement must carry on with renewed energy and enthusiasm,” Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, said in a statement following the Nov. 7 election results.

“The GOP already tried the ‘ostrich strategy’ in 2022 of ignoring the issue and hoping it would go away. It didn’t work,” Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America said in a memo after the Ohio vote that urged the Republican Party to clarify its stance.

As abortion opponents push ahead, there is some disagreement over the best tactics, said Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California-Davis and historian on the abortion debate in the U.S.

Some anti-abortion groups want to focus more on strategies that don’t depend on voters, instead “going to the points of access you have, which are state legislatures and federal courts,” Ziegler said. Other organizations insist they need to win over voters, either by doing a better job selling their positions or moderating what they’ll accept, to secure lasting change.

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©2023 KFF Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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