Being Pro-Life in a Pro-Abortion State
It is what we pro-lifers have dreamed of for 45 years. And it raises some thorny questions for those of us — like me here in Connecticut — who are pro-life activists in pro-abortion states.
Now that President Trump will be filling a second vacancy on the Supreme Court, the court may finally overturn Roe v. Wade. That will not mean the end of legal abortion. It will mean that the issue has been returned to the states, some of which are pro-life and some of which are not.
What can pro-life activists in pro-abortion states hope to accomplish in a post-Roe world, where it would be legally possible to restore the right to life of the unborn but politically impossible? And what does “pro-life” even mean under those circumstances?
What “Pro-Life” Doesn’t Mean
Let’s start with what pro-life doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean this: “Boughton said he was ‘personally pro-life,’ but said that abortion is a personal decision for a woman.”
Obey God, Not Man
From the very beginnings of the Church, the apostolic preaching reminded Christians of their duty to obey legitimately constituted public authorities, but at the same time it firmly warned that “we must obey God rather than men.”
In the Old Testament, precisely in regard to threats against life, we find a significant example of resistance to the unjust command of those in authority. After Pharaoh ordered the killing of all newborn males, the Hebrew midwives refused.
“They did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.” But the ultimate reason for their action should be noted: “the midwives feared God.” It is precisely from obedience to God — to whom alone is due that fear which is acknowledgment of his absolute sovereignty — that the strength and the courage to resist unjust human laws are born.
It is the strength and the courage of those prepared even to be imprisoned or put to the sword, in the certainty that this is what makes for “the endurance and faith of the saints.”
— Pope John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae
That is the Hartford Courant quoting Mark Boughton, the mayor of Danbury and one of five candidates running in the Republican primary for governor of Connecticut. Despite saying the magic word, Boughton is actually revealing here for the first time that he is not pro-life. But to know that, you have to know a little history.
To be pro-life is, by definition, to want to restore legal protection to the unborn. If you do not share this goal, you are not pro-life. To be pro-choice is, by definition, to support the legal right to kill an unborn child. Some pro-choicers view abortion as a good and some view it as an evil. But they all support a woman’s legal right to abort her child.
That is where the political battle line on abortion has been drawn for 45 years: Should it or should it not be legal? That is a political fact that the pro-abortion movement has spent 45 years trying to obscure.
The Key Pro-Choice Moment
The key moment in this effort was an infamous speech given by Mario Cuomo, the pro-abortion Catholic governor of New York, at Notre Dame University in 1984. He said that, as a Catholic, he was “personally” pro-life. But because he was a governor in a pluralistic society, he could not “impose” his own morality on his fellow citizens. Therefore he must support abortion rights.
Pro-abortionists hailed the speech. They thought it was brilliant. It protected their central goal — keeping abortion legal — while hopefully fooling pro-life voters into thinking that pro-choice politicians were really pro-life.
Most pro-lifers saw through it. It is because they were not fooled that we have arrived at the present moment, where we may now be on the cusp of securing the deciding vote to overturn Roe v Wade.
Connecticut’s pro-lifers should not be fooled either. When Mayor Boughton says he is “personally pro-life” but “that abortion is a personal decision for a woman” he is really saying that he is not pro-life.
“I’m against abortion but I would never interfere with someone else’s decision” is a common sentiment among moderate pro-choicers. That is essentially what Boughton is saying. But by adding the Cuomoesque “personally pro-life, but” he is hoping pro-lifers won’t notice.
Mayor Boughton claims to be pro-life. He is not.
Facing It Head-On
Still, where does that leave pro-lifers in states like Connecticut, where — even in a post-Roe world — restoring complete legal protection to the unborn seems virtually impossible?
The Courant reported the answer of another Republican candidate for Governor — one endorsed by the political action committee with which I am associated — this way: “[Tim] Herbst said, ‘Roe vs. Wade is codified in our statutes. … That’s not going to change here in the state of Connecticut.’”
Herbst is stating the current political reality in Connecticut. I said the same thing to the Associated Press a few days earlier. It is a grim reality for pro-lifers in pro-abortion states. But it is better to face it head-on than to be misled by pro-choice politicians claiming to be pro-life.
It is hardly the end of the discussion. It is the beginning of one.
Never Stop Trying
We may need fifty years to overturn Roe v. Wade. It may take another fifty years to overturn pro-abortion laws in states that are still pro-abortion.
Pro-lifers in those states should never stop trying. Again, to be pro-life is by definition to want to restore legal protection to the unborn. Politics is the art of the possible. That is all pro-lifers in pro-abortion states are attempting to do right now: whatever is possible.
In Connecticut, that means passing a parental notification law. Ours is one of only a handful of states that do not require an underage girl to even notify her parents before having an abortion.
In Connecticut, a minor needs her parents permission to get an aspirin at school or to get a tattoo. She doesn’t need it to get an abortion. Many who disagree with us on the underlying issue of abortion nonetheless agree that this is wrong and will work with us to pass parental notification.
Those are the sort of issues we should identify and work on: Issues that build consensus across the pro-life/pro-choice divide while moving the culture in a more pro-life direction. That is how pro-lifers on the front lines did it for 45 years and it is how we pro-lifers who are “behind enemy lines” must continue to do it after Roe v. Wade is overturned.
It will mean working with politicians who do not share all of our goals. It will mean passing laws to limit some evils while, in the short term, leaving other evils in place.
But blue state pro-lifers can do it all with a clear conscience, bearing in mind that Pope St. John Paul II said so in paragraph 73 of his 1995 pro-life encyclical Evangelium Vitae. And we can do it with the confidence of a pro-life movement that — please, God — will have already overturned Roe v. Wade on the national level.
If pro-lifers can do that, we can accomplish a lot more. Let’s not wait for that magic day to arrive. Let’s get started right now.
Peter Wolfgang is president of Family Institute of Connecticut.