The unity of the anti-abortion movement is cracking, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Abortion opponents have traditionally worked to pass laws adding incremental limitations to the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion throughout the country.
But a rising activist wing is pressing for legislation that does not just limit the procedure, but outlaws it — with an aim of ultimately overturning the landmark law, the Journal reported.
So far, seven states — Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Alabama, Louisiana, and Ohio — have made head-on challenges to Roe v. Wade by passing laws that move the cutoff point for a legal abortion deep into the first trimester, some making no exceptions for rape or incest.
“We need to raise our expectations in the pro-life community about what is possible,” Ohio activist Ed Sitter said at an anti-abortion meeting in the state, according to a video, the Journal reported. “We are committed to the abolition of abortion in our lifetimes.”
“We need to be pushing the envelope,” he told the Journal.
But there is a big risk: The Supreme Court could reinforce its Roe principles by leaving lower court rulings against heartbeat bills — those cutting off abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected — stalling momentum, the Journal reported.
“The last thing we want to trigger is reaffirming Roe v. Wade,” James Bopp, longtime general counsel of the traditional group National Right to Life, told the Journal. “That would be a disaster of epic proportions.”
The anti-abortion movement is still united in its end goal, Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, an abortion-rights advocacy group, told the Journal.
“The challenge they’re now facing is that one wing is explicit about their end goal and the other is trying to camouflage it,” she told the news outlet. “The incrementalists have made huge strides in undermining access to abortion largely because they did so without the vast majority of the public being aware of the attack.”
Ironically, the controversial hearbeat bills got a boost from abortion-rights advocates.
In February, a radio interview given by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, in which the Democrat appeared to endorse a physician’s right to perform an abortion after delivery, helped shift the momentum, the Journal reported. Northam has said his comments were misinterpreted.
“People were in shock and disbelief that a governor would even say such a thing. It was a turning point,” Virginia Galloway, regional field director for the Faith and Freedom Coalition in Georgia, told the Journal. “It turned up the heat everywhere.”
The Supreme Court still lacks the votes to overturn Roe v. Wade, Bopp told the Journal. During its most recent session, the Supreme Court largely avoided the issue of abortion, repeatedly denying petitions seeking review of abortion restrictions. Among the five conservatives, only Justice Clarence Thomas has expressed support for reversing Roe v. Wade.
The heartbeat bans present the court with too stark a choice, Bopp told the Journal. He thinks the court is more likely to re-examine and question Roe v. Wade than to throw it out.
But Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel with the traditional-minded Americans United for Life, sees other potential consequences, recalling the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that reaffirmed the central holding of Roe.
“We were in the wilderness for several years after that,” Forsythe told the Journal. “These losses in the court carry risks and have political fallout, loss of momentum and perceived strategic failure.”