Every January for the past five decades, millions of pro-life Americans have gathered in Washington, DC to protest against abortion. This year the tradition continued, but with a fundamental difference: this year’s March for Life was the first since the fall of Roe v. Wade, a momentous win for the pro-life movement. But while it was a victory lap for pro-life Americans, this march was surely not the last. The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson has spurred a need for national direction, ushering in a new, and perhaps more challenging, era for the pro-life movement.
On January 20 of this year, thousands of pro-lifers from around the country gathered once again at the US Capitol. I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in the historic event alongside several other members of the Stanford Review. Beginning at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the march weaved through the streets of downtown DC, past the Capitol Building, and ended in front of the Supreme Court—a relic from the previous marches calling for the Court to overturn Roe. On the streets of Washington DC that day, there were students from universities across the nation and all sorts of different organizations and interest groups marched side by side to advocate for the unborn.
This year’s march was an incredible opportunity to reflect on the efforts of the pro-life movement. Many Americans have advocated against abortion since the day Roe v. Wade was handed down, standing faithfully in opposition to the decision through nine U.S. presidents and nearly fifty years. For them, it was a tremendous victory and relief to finally see the day the Supreme Court reversed the decision. But with Roe finally overturned, the pro-life movement must take a new shape as the country longs for national direction.
As each state now begins to choose which path it will follow, the country will become increasingly polarized and hostile over abortion. Federal legislation or a Supreme Court decision to ban or codify abortion rights could provide national direction, but neither is likely to happen in the near future, and the makeup of Congress is likely many years away before passing legislation over fundamental abortion rights. As a result, the US will remain locked in a vicious battle over abortion rights on a state-by-state, county-by-county, and city-by-city level. These protests which were once centered in DC are now centered at most local levels of government.
States are vehemently split over abortion now. Twelve states have effectively banned abortions, while ten states have strengthened legal guarantees around the practice. The remaining states must now decide which path they will follow. Last August in Kansas, a state President Trump won by nearly fifteen points in 2020, an amendment to the state’s constitution to effectively ban abortion was defeated by nearly a 60-40 margin. But Texas, along with several other states, enforced trigger laws on the books from years ago that banned abortions in the state altogether. Elsewhere, the Florida State Supreme Court is taking up a challenge to the state’s 15-week abortion ban, and in New Mexico the Democratic state government is clashing with individual cities that have implemented their own abortion bans.
All who feel strongly about abortion know that leaving the issue merely to the states is insufficient and unsustainable in the long run. We have seen this before in American history… While Dobbs most certainly progressed the pro-life movement, it only kicked the can further down the road. Just as Roe came about at a federal level, there must once again come national direction on the issue of abortion. An issue of this stature cannot remain at the state level forever. Like it or not, whether pro-life or pro-choice, there will indubitably come a time again when Americans must reach another national consensus on abortion.
It is easy for those in the pro-life movement to believe that this year’s March for Life marked a victory lap for the movement. And while Dobbs was certainly a victory, the issue of abortion still remains at large throughout most of the United States. We can continue to march for federal action, now more important than ever, but it is vital for pro-lifers to work to change hearts and minds through advocacy at the state, city, and county levels.
My grandparents have protested abortion in the United States since Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973. It took fifty years until it was overturned. I do not know what decision America will make next, but I am certain that regardless of a Supreme Court decision or federal legislation, there will always be a group of Americans dedicated to the right to life and advocating for the unborn. I am proud to count myself among that group.