A pro-life world can be good for women. Here's how.

Lasting protections for the unborn will be sustainable only if a majority of women nationwide can be persuaded that they want them

(Image credit: Illustrated | AP Photo/Ira Schwartz, phochi/iStock)

Right now, the fate of abortion in America is in the hands of the jurists. The Federalist Society is assembling its best lawyers, and so are NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU. Legal theorists are fine-tuning their arguments. In the months and years to come, briefs will be written, and speeches will be made. Justices will lie awake pondering weighty questions. When the dust settles, we may be living in a world substantially similar to the one we've known since 1973, when Roe v. Wade first became law. Or, things may be very different.

Already we're getting a glimpse of what might happen in a post-Roe v. Wade America. Some blue states are scrambling to ensure that abortion remains readily accessible, while red states create restrictions. Alabama's governor just signed into law the strictest abortion ban in the nation, imposing lengthy prison sentences on doctors who perform the procedure. This is the sort of future we should expect, if indeed the courts strike down abortion law. Policies will end up varying widely from state to state. On the West Coast or along the Northeast corridor, abortions will be readily attainable. In Utah, Idaho, or the Southern states, it will be a different story.

Pro-lifers are excited. We've been dreaming for decades about a post-Roe world. It's incredible to think that at long last, it will finally be possible to approach this issue through normal democratic means. We can't waste much time celebrating, however. The pro-life movement is currently standing at the foot of the mountain, not the peak. Even if the right's jurists prevail in the coming battle, the larger culture war is likely to turn against us unless abortion-restrictive states can succeed at an even more daunting task: building a pro-life culture that the rest of the nation wants to emulate. Most especially, we need to prove that a pro-life world can be good for women.

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Of course, abortion's opponents have always claimed to be pro-woman. Women have long been central to the organization of pro-life activism, and statistics suggest that women are as likely as men to favor restrictive abortion laws. It shouldn't be news to anyone that many women don't want reproductive rights.

Beyond the statistics, pro-lifers like to point out that abortion is especially helpful to men who exploit women sexually. For centuries, pimps have been intimately familiar with abortifacients, drugs that induce abortion. Modern men find it much easier to objectify women when they're confident that an inconvenient pregnancy can simply be terminated. In the earlier portion of the 20th century, most children were born to married couples, with fathers helping to support the family. Contraceptives and abortion have helped to create a culture in which mothers are far likelier to be unmarried, often parenting solo, carrying heavy responsibilities with little help. Meanwhile, it's fairly obvious that reproductive rights have not tamed men's tendency to reduce women to sex objects. Just consider the #MeToo movement, or our epidemic levels of porn addiction.

Despite all of this, it's understandably difficult to persuade the general public that abortion bans are pro-woman. Without abortion, a pregnant woman has no choice but to carry a child to term. As philosopher Judith Jarvis Thompson famously argued, we don't often see it as acceptable to foist such heavy obligations on people against their will. Pregnancy also leaves women vulnerable to other types of exploitation. If a woman needs to provide for children and prepare for the possible eventuality of being pregnant at any time, she may not have much choice but to accept whatever community or household role is offered to her.

There are other considerations, too, that lead some to question whether conservatives truly care about the well-being of women. It doesn't help when abortion-restrictive states fail to prioritize maternal and infant health more generally. It's problematic, too, when the president who paved the way to the overturning of Roe seems scornful of men who help care for their own children. Men's rights advocates can attract a significant following on the political right. All of these details make it easier for progressives to argue that abortion bans are really just a tool for keeping women under the heel of the patriarchy.

Let's imagine for a moment a world in which a Trump-influenced judiciary has given red states a reprieve from Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood. Progressives, shoring up their losses, have developed a new strategy: Their energies are now focused on protecting abortion in blue states, while they wait for Alabama, Georgia, and other deep red states to deliver a cautionary tale in the evils of abortion restriction.

This approach would be painful for progressives in the short term, but it could be a very effective way of winning the long game. Suppose Alabama bans abortion and turns into a benighted backwater, rife with domestic violence and child poverty. What will happen in purple states like Colorado and Arizona? Most likely, they'll fall easily into the progressive basket. Leftists could make generational gains as well. If credible evidence eventually suggests that red-state women are being edged out of desirable professions and social spheres, the Democrats will easily command the loyalties of a rising generation of women. After decades of jealously guarding Roe, they might ultimately conclude that its demise was the best thing that could have happened to them.

Pro-lifers need to ask ourselves: How can we head off such a future? What can we do to turn anti-abortion states into visible advertisements for the desirability of a pro-life culture?

In the first place, we must work assiduously to build a culture in which marriage and family life seem healthy. Fathers should play a central role within the family, and mothers and children should feel supported. We live in an era when marriage and birth rates are declining, and millions of Americans are suffering from crushing loneliness. At such a moment, the appeal of a pro-family culture should be obvious.

Beyond that, though, it's essential that women occupy a respected social space in a pro-life world. If sexual exploitation is tolerated, or if women are discouraged from pursuing non-domestic interests, restrictive abortion policies will remain an idiosyncrasy of a few ultra-conservative states. Real, lasting protections for the unborn will be sustainable only if a majority of women nationwide can be persuaded that they want them.

This is undeniably an exciting moment for pro-life activists, but it could be perilous as well. We've spent years agitating for the right to build a pro-life culture. Now, it's time to convince our compatriots that they want to live in one.

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