Every year in the depths of winter, pro-lifers fill the streets of downtown Washington to make a public statement on behalf of human life. Converging on the National Mall for speeches in the shadow of the Washington Monument and the White House, they then proceed up one of the capital city’s broad avenues to the marble palace that houses the Supreme Court.
It is not recorded whether the justices take any notice of their pro-life visitors. None of them has ever stood on the steps and addressed the March for Life. On the evidence, in fact, the Supreme Court today remains the bastion of pro-abortion support that it’s been since the day in January 1973 when it abruptly and without any visible precedent legalized permissive abortion throughout the United States.
In case there was any doubt about that, the court reaffirmed its pro-choice position yet again in a decision delivered on the last day of its recently concluded term, voting 5-3 to overturn portions of a Texas law setting modest standards for abortion clinics that included physical conditions comparable to surgical centers and hospital admitting privileges for doctors who perform abortions.
These requirements, in the words of Justice Stephen Breyer, speaking for the majority, “place a substantial obstacle in the path” of women seeking abortions. Similar provisions in the laws of other states also presumably fail to meet the Supreme Court’s test. Returning the favor, pro-life Americans might reasonably say that the Supreme Court remains a substantial obstacle to the defense of unborn human life.
In a sense, the solution to that problem is obvious: replace two of the pro-choice justices with pro-life ones. If elected president, Hillary Clinton certainly will not do that. Donald Trump has said he would, and he even has issued a list of names from among which he would make his selection. But there are two problems with that: first, Trump needs to get elected — hardly a certainty now — then he needs to get two shots at filling Supreme Court vacancies that don’t now exist, and he also must have his nominees confirmed by the Senate. There is no certainty that either of those things will happen either.
To some extent, at least all of this calls into question the wisdom of the pro-life strategy that has generally prevailed up until now. It goes like this: secure the enactment of state and federal laws restricting the performance of abortion, wait for the inevitable legal challenges to work their way through the courts, then hope and pray that the Supreme Court will see the light and hand down a pro-life verdict.
Miracles do happen of course, but there’s no sign of this one happening yet, as the decision in the Texas case has again painfully reminded us.
So what to do next? More of the same-old pass laws, then hope for an about-face by the Supreme Court? Maybe so. But meanwhile, I submit, the pro-life movement needs to look for an alternative strategy built around things like education, motivation and counseling and services to women at risk, along with an expansion of the pro-life agenda to include many other issues along with battling abortion. Call it building a Culture of Life.
When those thousands of pro-lifers parade through the streets of Washington again next January, I hope to see many of them carrying banners, praying and singing not only against abortion but in favor of the Culture of Life. And to the dedicated leaders of the pro-life movement I say: Give it some thought, folks.
Russell Shaw is an OSV contributing editor.