Shifting pro-life tactics
Life | Pro-life organizations focus on state legislation and educating voters under a pro-abortion Biden administration
by Leah Hickman
Posted 1/25/21, 04:33 pm
Kristan Hawkins was typing in the bedroom of her family camper in Florida during President Joe Biden’s inauguration speech. The president of Students for Life was trying to write her own speech about the state of the pro-life movement to give at a private event.
“President Biden … spoke eloquently about uniting America and how we need to end the uncivil war and that he was going to be a president for all Americans,” she said when I spoke with her the next day. “They were beautiful words that I truly wanted to believe. And but yet looking at the vice president’s … tweets from the past couple of years, I don’t have any hope that those words will actually be put into action.”
Other pro-life leaders I spoke with during inauguration week echoed Hawkins’ concern that a Biden administration will only mean more marginalization of the unborn. On the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, the administration released a statement committing to codify the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling, and Planned Parenthood received money from donations to the field of flags set up for inauguration day. The administration’s pro-abortion stance coupled with slim Democratic majorities in the House and Senate will require pro-life lawmakers and lobbyists to take the defensive on Capitol Hill. But Trump’s legacy of constitutionalist judges in the federal court system strengthens state-level efforts to protect the unborn.
Under the Trump administration, the pro-life movement saw repeated victories at the federal level. Donald Trump expanded the Mexico City policy to block funding for organizations that perform abortions overseas. Revisions to Title X family planning funds prohibited recipients from referring for or offering the procedure, leading Planned Parenthood to drop out of the program. And the administration’s Health and Human Services Department protected pregnancy centers and pro-life medical professionals.
But none of these advances bear the permanence of legislation, and pro-life leaders I spoke with expect the Biden administration to swiftly roll them back. A memo circulating among activist groups and news organizations suggests Biden may rescind the Mexico City policy and order a review of the Title X rules this Thursday.
Tom McClusky of March for Life said the deadlock in Congress on pro-life issues during the Trump administration is a taste of what will continue happening on the federal legislative level. “Legislatively, the numbers aren’t there,” he said. “We’ll be looking at … switching from offense to defense.”
While pro-life activists can’t do much to oppose executive actions like revoking the Mexico City policy, McClusky said his organization is pushing back against Biden’s Cabinet nominations. The president’s pick for Health and Human Services secretary, California attorney general Xavier Becerra, has long been involved in the prosecution of pro-life activist David Daleiden. Department of Justice nominee Kristen Clarke, USAID director nominee Samantha Powers, and others also have track records of pushing abortion.
McClusky said March for Life sent bios detailing the nominees’ pro-abortion history to members of Congress. His team will also suggest people to testify for confirmation hearings.
Both McClusky and National Right to Life Executive Director David O’Steen said the coming legislative session gives the pro-life movement a chance to educate lawmakers and the public. O’Steen said the small likelihood of eliminating the Senate filibuster means pro-life lawmakers have a fighting chance of preserving the Hyde Amendment, which prevents taxpayer dollars from directly funding abortions. And votes on the issue help by putting radical pro-abortion lawmakers on the record.
Some pro-abortion members of Congress represent largely pro-life districts, and voting to codify Roe v. Wade or scrap the Hyde Amendment could challenge their chances of reelection. “When [these members] are pressed in the next election, when they’ve actually taken votes on these things, and there is a record, there may be a reckoning,” O’Steen said. “The pro-life movement will do everything we can … to make sure that citizens understand how these people are voting.”
The Biden administration’s expected pushback on religious groups, including Little Sisters of the Poor, who object to dispensing contraceptive drugs on moral grounds, will reveal its radical agenda to voters, O’Steen said.
As this shift happens in D.C., pro-life leaders expect states to go on the offensive. Empowered by the pro-life Trump appointees in the lower federal courts and the Supreme Court, state lawmakers can push for protections for the unborn and regulate abortion providers. “A lot of the states are more emboldened now, having seen the shift to maybe introduce more pieces of pro-life legislation that can go forward,” McClusky said. “That helps us on the federal level because the states are the laboratories for the federal government.”
Hawkins agreed strongly constitutionalist courts will allow states to actually enforce pro-life laws that they pass. “We saw well over 200 judges nominated and confirmed to lower court benches which will, I believe, will completely reshape the trajectory of our United States.”
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