Advocates remain optimistic for more support on Capitol Hill in 2018.
This year has not gone the way pro-lifers planned.
January started with ushering in a new administration—one that made firm commitments to pro-life groups—and Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Newly sworn-in Vice President Mike Pence stood before the 2017 March for Life and declared hope for a new era in the pro-life movement: “Life is winning again in America.”
Nearly a year later, March for Life is finishing preparations for its next big event but not much has changed.
“We’re definitely moving in the right direction, slowly,” March for Life president Jeanne Mancini told me. “Cultural change takes a really long time, and so we can’t give up.”
Mancini and other pro-life advocates had high hopes for 2017: defunding Planned Parenthood, repealing Obamacare, passing legislation to limit late-term abortion. The Republican-controlled Congress did not deliver on any of those initiatives, despite promises made to voters.
But ahead of the 45th annual March for Life next month, pro-lifers remain hopeful. Mancini insists public opinion is shifting in the pro-life direction. More Americans are uncomfortable with late-term abortions, and the number of abortion centers and procedures performed each year are on the decline.
“If you’re not optimistic, you’re not pro-life,” said Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action.
Personnel is policy, and in 2017, the right people moved into positions of power, McClusky said: President Donald Trump appointed, and the Senate confirmed, 16 judges to federal courts this year—including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch; many top staff in the executive branch are sympathetic to pro-life causes, with Pence leading the way; and the United States has the most pro-life Congress since the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.
The Trump administration also filled hundreds of positions throughout the federal government with pro-lifers, particularly at the Department of Health and Human Services. “You can’t throw a stone at HHS and not hit a pro-lifer,” McClusky said.
Based on all that support, pro-life advocates expect more tangible progress in 2018.
The biggest legislative victory of the year came in March when lawmakers blocked an Obama administration rule to stop 13 states from denying Planned Parenthood Title X funding. Although it was the first abortion-related vote in the Senate in two years, it simply maintained the status quo by blocking a last-minute order from the Obama administration from taking effect—it didn’t break any new pro-life ground.
Republicans currently do not have the votes in the Senate to pass major pro-life legislation. Only 50 of the 52-member majority have a track record of supporting pro-life causes. But Congress could have defunded Planned Parenthood through reconciliation this year, and GOP leaders could have forced votes on other key pieces of pro-life legislation.
The House passed a bill in October to block abortions after 20-weeks of pregnancy, but the Senate has yet to schedule a vote on the legislation. The Conscience Protection Act, which would protect healthcare providers from being forced to participate in abortions, also awaits a vote in both the House and Senate. McClusky hopes GOP leaders will schedule a vote on one of these bills for January, in time for the March for Life.
“You need to draw a contrast,” he said. “If people are holding up this vote, voters need to know who is holding it up. And then it’s no longer convincing members to vote the right way; it’s finding people to replace them.”
— by Evan Wilt