The Supreme Court’s ruling that overturned the precedent set by Roe v. Wade was a moment roughly 50 years in the making for many anti-abortion activists.
And while it was a monumental victory for the movement, it also marked a turning point for activists who had spent decades hoping to see the end of the landmark decision that protected access to the procedure.
Various pro-life groups had been planning extensively for the fall of Roe, seeking to lay the groundwork for the ensuing battles in state legislatures and push for a federal standard limiting abortion access.
But the reality of a post-Roe landscape has forced anti-abortion activists to recalibrate and find ways to keep supporters energized and focused at a time when the court decision reinvigorated the abortion rights movement and helped boost Democrats in 2022.
“We had been preparing for that ruling in many ways for years, because we understand that this battle plays out in state legislatures and federally, but it also plays out in the court of public opinion and hearts and minds,” said Lila Rose, president of Live Action.
“We have our work cut out for us,” she added. “It’s time not to just rest on our laurels. We need to double down on our work to pass pro-life laws.”
Shift to the states
With Democrats controlling the White House and Senate, much of the focus for anti-abortion groups for the past year has been directed toward state legislatures.
The Dobbs ruling that overturned Roe came down in June 2022. By September, Concerned Women for America, a Christian Women’s group, was holding a summit in Washington, D.C., where leaders broke down abortion laws state-by-state and determined how best to advocate for stronger pro-life protections in each one.
Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, one of the largest anti-abortion groups in the country, has taken a three-pronged approach to continuing the work of the movement. One aspect is to work with states to put pro-life protections in place; another is to support pregnancy resource centers and pass laws that provide resources for mothers, and the third is ensuring GOP lawmakers and presidential candidates communicate clearly about their views on abortion.
Live Action, another major group in that movement, turned its focus to a widespread education campaign with the ultimate goal of “complete legal protection” for a fetus, as well as pushing for additional resources for pregnant mothers and families.
A year after Dobbs, anti-abortion groups touted that 24 states have enacted some type of abortion restrictions. Rose estimated that there have been at least 24,000 fewer abortions nationally in the year since the ruling, and there have been more than 300 pro-life bills filed in state legislatures across the country.
Activists have also focused their work on improving education around the issue, seeking to frame it as a matter of human rights, and have pushed for legislation that would increase resources for mothers, including during pregnancy.
Anti-abortion groups have backed a bill introduced last year sponsored by Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that included a child tax credit, provisions that would require biological fathers to help cover health care costs during pregnancy, and a federal clearinghouse of resources for pregnant women.
Public opinion shifts in favor of access
But while anti-abortion groups have seen gains at the state level, the battle in the court of public opinion has been a separate challenge entirely.
Numerous polls have shown solidifying support for abortion access in the year since Roe fell. A Gallup poll published last week found 69 percent of Americans believe abortion should generally be legal during the first three months of pregnancy, a record-high for the survey. The poll also found record high support for legal abortions in the second and third trimesters at 37 percent and 22 percent, respectively.
The issue drove turnout in the 2022 midterms, helping Democrats to keep their majority in the Senate and minimize losses in the House. Additionally, voters in several states approved referendums to affirm abortion access, or rejected referendums that would have stripped abortion access.
But anti-abortion groups believe those results overshadow the fact that many Americans support some limits on abortion.
A poll conducted by the Tarrance Group for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America released this week found 77 percent of voters agree with at least some limits on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, while only 15 percent believe abortion should be allowed throughout pregnancy without limits.
The survey also found nearly 60 percent of voters would support Congress passing legislation to protect fetuses capable of feeling pain after 15 weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother.
Kellyanne Conway, a former senior aide in the Trump White House, said there is a “flawed perception” around public views on abortion that has become a “harsh reality.”
“It was a half-century battle for many pro-lifers,” Conway said in a virtual call with reporters to mark a year since the Dobbs ruling. “I believe that if it’s going to take 50 years for Roe v Wade to be overturned, it has to take more than 50 minutes, or 50 hours or even 50 weeks, almost a full year, to explain to many people what that decision means and what it doesn’t mean and many of the actions that have been taken in our states since.”
Abortion and the 2024 election
The next major test for the anti-abortion movement will come in the 2024 presidential election.
Groups were frustrated by the Republican approach to abortion in the 2022 midterms. Strategists and leading activists are hoping the party has learned its lesson and will tackle the issue head on moving forward.
Activists are closely watching how presidential candidates are handling the issue of abortion and are pushing those vying for the GOP nomination to embrace federal legislation that would restrict abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, like the bill introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) last year. And they are prepared to try and rally lawmakers and the public around the cause.
Grassroots leaders are prepared for that fight to be a lengthy one.
“Some people think with the repeal of Roe, now pro-life has won,” said E.V. Osment, vice president of communications at Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. “No, we have won the right to fight, the ability to sit at the table with the other side.”