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With mixed 2023 results, pro-life activists prepare for a new round of ballot measures

Pro-life demonstrators carry a banner past the U.S. Supreme Court during the annual March for Life in Washington Jan. 20, 2023, for the first time since the high court overturned its 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision June 24, 2022. The March for Life's theme for the 2024 event will be "Pro-Life: With Every Woman, For Every Child," the group's president announced Nov. 14, 2023. (OSV News photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — The pro-life movement had a mixed record of success in its first full calendar year without Roe v. Wade in place, losing an Ohio ballot measure but also seeing the passage of new legislation limiting the procedure in some states and new streams of support for pregnancy resource centers.

Ohio voters on Nov. 7 approved a measure to codify abortion access in the state’s constitution, legalizing abortion up to the point of fetal viability — the gestational point at which a baby may be capable of living outside the uterus — and beyond, if a physician decided an abortion was necessary for the sake of the mother’s life or health.

The Ohio results were not an outlier, as they followed losses for the pro-life movement in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision, which overturned the 1973 Roe decision and related precedent establishing abortion as a constitutional right. In 2022, voters in California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Vermont and Kansas either rejected new limitations on abortion or expanded legal protections for it.

Following Ohio, abortion advocates are seeking to hold comparable votes in 2024 in states including Arizona and Florida.

But also in 2023, several states passed legislation limiting the procedure, including Nebraska and North Carolina, which both limited the procedure after 12 weeks. Other states, including South Carolina, did so after six weeks.

The U.S. Supreme Court also took up its first major abortion case post-Dobbs concerning a challenge to mifepristone, an abortion-inducing drug. A decision is expected next summer in the midst of the presidential election.

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life national organization and a Catholic, told OSV News that post-Dobbs, “states have the capacity to enact great laws.”

“So we know that nearly half of the states have enacted very life-protective laws,” Mancini said. “And that’s exciting to see. And, of course, the other half haven’t and so we certainly have our work cut out for us there.”

Emily V. Osment, SBA Pro-Life America’s vice president of communications, told OSV News that “there have been 24 states that have put pro-life protections in place.”

“That’s an amazing feat, and that means that they have pro-life protections in place for babies in the womb at 12 weeks or earlier,” she said. “So that’s wonderful.”

Both Mancini and Osment also lauded the work of pregnancy resource centers, with Osment pointing to a new 2023 study by Charlotte Lozier Institute, SBA’s research arm, finding that such centers provided at least $358 million in services in the previous year to pregnant women and families including pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, parenting education programs, baby diapers, wipes, formula, and clothing items.

Mancini also pointed to her organization’s growing number of state marches for life, with 17 such events planned for next year at state capitals across the country. The group hopes to be in all 50 states in the coming years.

“There is a lot of cultural confusion right now about this, we’re still sort of in the earthquake reverberations of what the overturn of Roe means, and so many people are confused about that,” Mancini said, explaining why state marches have become so important to the group.

The state marches, Mancini said, often have a Mass in the morning, mentioning one such event in Lansing, Michigan, as particularly impactful because it “had almost all the bishops in Michigan drive out to Lansing that day for that Mass.”

“Just that strength in numbers that they all made that drive for that Mass that morning, it was powerful,” she said.

Asked about how they are preparing for the possibility of more ballot initiatives next year, Mancini said her group will work to change hearts and minds on the issue.

“There’s also confusion over what the ballot initiatives are about, like so many people think that those ballot initiatives return the state to a pre-Dobbs sort of place policy-wise, but they take it much, much further than that,” she said.

Osment said fundraising will also be a key part of SBA’s efforts on potential ballot initiatives next year.

“We’ve learned a lot of lessons in Ohio and we are taking all of those lessons to allies in the states,” she said. “And the number one lesson that we are saying is you better start raising money now.”

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on X (formerly known as Twitter) @kgscanlon.

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