WASHINGTON (OSV News) ─ After voters in states across the U.S. last November either rejected ballot measures meant to restrict abortion, or voted to codify measures protecting the procedure, some pro-life leaders have called for the movement to regroup.
Voters in California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Vermont either rejected adding new limitations on the procedure or approved adding legal protections for it. In August, voters in Kansas rejected a ballot measure that would have stripped existing protections for abortion from the state's constitution.
The measures marked the first votes on the issue following the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision in June that overturned prior rulings by the high court making abortion access a constitutional right. The losses, some pro-life leaders told OSV News, should prompt the movement to increase its focus on persuasive campaigns surrounding these initiatives.
Emily Albrecht, director of education and outreach at Equal Rights Institute, a group that trains pro-life advocates on debating abortion, told OSV News that while the reality of abortion does not change, the culture does, and opponents of abortion should adapt to cultural changes with evolved arguments.
"If we want to be persuasive, and really reach pro-choice people today, we need to understand the kinds of arguments that pro-choice people today are making, and adjust our strategy and our ways of explaining things to really reach people where they're at," Albrecht said.
The pro-life movement, Albrecht said, should focus on "helping people to truly understand what the pro-life movement is advocating for and what the pro-life movement is not advocating for."
Albrecht noted that some abortion advocates argue that some in the pro-life movement support the criminalization of miscarriage -- an argument pro-life people often dismiss rather than respond to.
"A lot of people are terrified that miscarriage for example, is going to become illegal," Albrecht said. "That's a really common narrative I hear from pro-choice people a lot. I tell pro-life people that, and they're often shocked, like, 'well, of course miscarriage wouldn't be illegal. That's not what I'm advocating for. That makes no sense.' But that isn't obvious to most pro-choice people."
Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder and president of New Wave Feminists, said her pro-life feminist group has gotten feedback from supporters that the bills on the ballots last fall "seemed very general" to voters and that they were without appropriate language reflecting grave medical circumstances like a maternal mortality risk. Herndon-De La Rosa said "vague language" in some of the measures may have prevented otherwise pro-life voters from supporting them.
"I think all pro-life legislation right now should be some of the most thorough and the most specific bills that we're seeing," Herndon-De La Rosa said. After the Dobbs ruling, the country is "seeing the fallout of when exceptions aren't being made for very specific medical cases."
OSV News obtained a draft letter New Wave Feminists circulated to its supporters for them to send to state lawmakers arguing that "pro-life laws need to be written to specifically target elective abortions."
"While I have your attention, I think it's prudent to remember there are things that can be done to help make abortion unthinkable in our state and country," the draft letter states. "A pregnant person needs resources, support, and healthcare so they don't have to question if they can support themself and their child. Some of these burdens can be relieved through the provision of universal healthcare, eliminating food deserts [in communities], and requiring paid parental leave."
A sense of fear about the unintended consequences from restricting abortion could prevent even some people who identify as pro-life from supporting those ballot measures if they do not feel the proposed legislation narrowly targets elective abortion, pro-life advocates said.
"It has become this real tangible thing [to them] that we are debating," Albrect explained, "as opposed to just some sort of legal theory."
Other pro-life leaders believe ballot measures currently are a more difficult prospect for the movement, suggesting that pro-life advocates instead put more effort into electing pro-life candidates instead.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, a group that works to elect pro-life candidates, told reporters on a Nov. 9 post-midterm press call that the pro-life movement benefits from "candidates debating the issue" over ballot initiatives.
"The value of an advocate during a campaign can't be underrated," Dannenfelser said. "It's why we're so focused on the presidential race moving ahead and will be involved in Senate and congressional races again."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' pro-life committee has called Catholics in the United States to increase both their prayer and advocacy in the fight against abortion. A nationwide pro-life vigil, with diocesan holy hours, starts at 5 p.m. on Jan. 19 and concludes on Jan. 20, the day of the national March for Life in Washington, with an 8 a.m. Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
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Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington.