For pro-lifers, last night was a gut punch. No sugar coating it.
Giving up on the unborn is not an option. It’s politically dumb and morally repugnant. Instead, we need to understand why we lost this battle so we can win the war.
I was very involved in the “no” campaign for issue 1, so let me share a few insights.
First, we got creamed among voters who disliked both Issue 1 and also Ohio’s current law (heartbeat bill). We saw this consistently in polling and in conversations. “I don’t like Issue 1, but I’d rather have that extreme than the other extreme.” This is a political fact, not my opinion.
Second, we have to recognize how much voters mistrust us (meaning elected Republicans) on this issue. Having an unplanned pregnancy is scary. Best case, you’re looking at social scorn and thousands of dollars of unexpected medical bills. We need people to see us as the pro-life party, not just the anti-abortion party.
Third, as Donald Trump has said, “you’ve got to have the exceptions.” I am as pro-life as anyone, and I want to save as many babies as possible. This is not about moral legitimacy but political reality. I’ve seen dozens of good polls on the abortion question in the last few months, many of them done in Ohio. Give people a choice between abortion restrictions very early in pregnancy with exceptions, or the pro-choice position, and the pro-life view has a fighting chance. Give people a heartbeat bill with no exceptions and it loses 65-35. (The reason we didn’t lose 65-35 last night is that some people who hate “no exceptions” restrictions will still refuse to vote for things like Issue 1).
Fourth, we’ve spent so much time winning a legal argument on abortion that we’ve fallen behind on the moral argument. I talked to so many decent people who voted yes on Issue 1, and their reasons varied. Some described themselves as “pro-life” but hated the lack of a rape exception in Ohio law. Some were worried that Ohio law would prevent them from addressing an ectopic pregnancy, or a late-term miscarriage. Some didn’t understand the “viability” standard in Issue 1, and thought that of course you should be able to abort a “non-viable” pregnancy as that would be a danger to the mother. You can criticize the propaganda effort on the other side for lying to people about these issues or confusing the populace, but it suggests we have to do a much better job of persuasion. And I’m not just talking about 30-second TV commercials–I’m talking about sustained, years-long efforts to show the heart of the pro-life movement.
Fifth, money. We got outspent big time on Issue 1, and across the country. Republicans are almost always outspent by Democrats. Relatedly, Democrats are better at turning out in off-year elections. The national party should be focused on two, and only two issues: how to juice turnout in off-year elections and how to close the finance gap with Democrats.
A lot of people put their heart and soul into this campaign. The local right-to-life organizations in Ohio, The Center for Christian Virtue, SBA, Governor Dewine, and so many others. I tip my hat to them.
A lot of people are celebrating right now, and I don’t care about that. I do care about the fact that because we lost, many innocent children will never have a chance to live their dreams.
There is something sociopathic about a political movement that tells young women (and men) that it is liberating to murder their own children. So let’s keep fighting for our country’s children, and let’s find a way to win.