In advance of the Supreme Court's much-awaited decision on the Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks, the abortion wars have heated up again.
When pro-lifers rallied in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 21 for the 49th time to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, there was by all accounts a palpable expectation that by next year, Roe may have become not "settled law" but rather "discarded law."
Should the court reverse Roe, however, that will not mean the end of the struggle since the issue will be kicked back to the states.
Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, rallied her troops for this struggle during her speech on the National Mall Jan. 21. "If Roe falls, battle lines will change, but the fight for life will need to continue," she said.
The other side is gearing up for battle too, as it faces the prospect of a reversal as dramatic as Roe was 49 years ago when it dismantled state restrictions on abortion. The gloves were off at many media outlets this anniversary.
In a particularly heated column, The Washington Post's Monica Hesse said pro-lifers bear responsibility for unplanned pregnancies and more.
"I hope you're ready for your odious brave new world," she wrote. "I presume each and every one of you is planning to adopt several kids." Hesse went on to list all the areas of parental leave and family assistance that she believes the pro-life movement will be responsible for.
Her bitter complaint can be turned on her, of course. With the legalization of abortion, many Americans felt they had little responsibility to support a woman and her child, since abortion is the obvious out. Certainly a few generations of irresponsible fathers-to-be felt that way.
Should the Supreme Court rule as the pundits predict, what the future will look like is certainly unsettled.
During a Georgetown University panel discussing where the pro-life movement is headed, Dan Williams, a history professor at the University of West Georgia, noted that "if the 16 Southern and Midwestern states who are likely to restrict abortion ... are allowed" to close all their abortion clinics, "it would not equal the number of abortion clinics in New York."
California's governor has already said he wants to make his state an "abortion sanctuary." And of course abortion by pill will continue to be available, legally or illegally.
It may serve both political parties to continue this war, keeping the divide that has served politicians well. According to James D. Robenalt, writing in The Washington Post, "The Roe ruling drew an enduring red line through American politics, where compromise was impossible, and opponents were not only wrong but wicked."
But what serves political interests may not serve the interests of women and children. The battle for hearts and minds remains the greater challenge, and that struggle will never be won in the political trenches alone.
Pro-lifers must continue their efforts to finding ways to help families. The expanded child tax credit could help mothers choose life when they might otherwise feel financially trapped.
Making every parish a resource center for struggling mothers, as Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann's "Walking with Moms in Need" program proposes, is another. Assisting the 2 million Americans a year looking for babies to adopt a third.
The pandemic has shown the weak spots in our health care and our economy. As Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley of Boston said in his Jan. 21 homily, "A land where the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer will always be fertile soil for abortion. ... What are we doing for the disenfranchised of our own country?"
Pursuing these issues may make for strange political bedfellows but could have powerful and lasting consequences for families while reducing the abortion toll.
Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at [email protected].