Discovering the Real Pro-Lifers

In his recent Iowa speech, Tucker Carlson urged the audience to watch Republicans very closely “when things go sideways. That’s how you know who someone is – when things get out of control unexpectedly.” Quoting the famous line from boxer Mike Tyson, he went on: “Everybody’s got a plan until they get hit in the face.” What happens after that ends up being defining.

In the pro-life movement, as in all other worthwhile endeavors, that’s undeniably true. 

Over the past few years, a few brave choices in these punch-to-the-face moments made all the difference between a Supreme Court ready to overturn Roe v. Wade and one that would have cemented it for another half-century or more. Now that we’re in the first major abortion fight of the post-Roe era, one in which the left has spent millions of dollars on abortion attack ads, pro-lifers should be watching to see who’s still able to think clearly, and who’s running away in a panic.

After all, clarity in these moments is the only reason we’ve even gotten this far. By 2016, Republicans had long decided that they’d had enough of being attacked on abortion. The establishment was just about ready to drop the issue forever – through flip-flopping, rhetoric-softening, or unilateral disarmament. Nearly every consultant, academic, and politico advised that abortion was going to be a long-term losing issue for the Republican Party and it would be best to give it up as soon as possible.

Donald Trump refused to listen to them. Whereas the last GOP nominee had balked at pledging even pro-life Cabinet officials, Trump promised pro-life Supreme Court justices explicitly. When Hillary Clinton tried to attack him on abortion in the presidential debates, he punched back twice as hard, calling her out over her support for ripping babies out of their mother’s womb up through the ninth month of pregnancy.

Meanwhile, the Senate under Mitch McConnell had decided immediately after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death to wait to let the people weigh in before they would interview a potential replacement. All of these decisions were condemned quickly and forcefully by a wide array of “experts” across every single institution. But they ended up working. Combined, they helped usher in a Republican trifecta that November that made an anti-Roe Supreme Court possible.

Nor were the confirmation hearings any less contentious. The left, understanding what was at stake, sought to personally destroy Brett Kavanaugh by any means necessary to defend their abortion “sacred ground.” It almost worked, until Senator Lindsey Graham broke the GOP silence in the confirmation hearings. His memorable tirade reframed the debate for his wavering fellow senators: “This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics […] To my Republican colleagues, if you vote no, you’re legitimizing the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics.” Republicans held the line, and another crucial vote was secured.

These moments made the difference. In Dobbs, the Court, ignoring a wide array of personal and institutional threats themselves, finally ended the Roe regime and brought the fight back into the hands of the American people and their elected representatives. Since then, however, the fight has only escalated. The left has attacked abortion as practically their only message for the past few months now – running ads, writing angry op-eds, and firebombing abortion clinics. And the political effort has been well funded. Democrats have already spent $124 million on abortion attacks ads this cycle. 

It’s been enough to pressure most of the GOP caucus into silence. The consultant class has convinced them that it’s better to avoid the condemnation and that a good answer to an abortion attack is to point out that gas prices are still too high. Maybe if they don’t fight back, they think, the enemy will just get tired and go home. At the very least, The New York Times won’t be mad at them.

Nearly every Republican politician ended up caving – that is until Lindsey Graham decided to reframe the debate once again and take the fight to the left. Why should Republicans let the Democrats get away with running on the same abortion policy as China and North Korea? Why not call out the left’s support of gruesome late-term abortions where the baby can feel the pain of the procedure? Graham introduced his Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act, which would prevent states from allowing abortions after 15 weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.

As in the other instances, Graham was immediately and ruthlessly attacked, including by his party. But, also like the other instances, Graham is completely right. Graham’s contrast with the Democratic position is extremely popular and saves the party from its current strategy of unilateral disarmament. The strategy of Graham – and of the candidates who have followed his example – is the one chance the Republicans have to win the fight on abortion rather than lose ground for years to come.

So far, few others have shown the same resolve. Most continue to remain silent and only four others, as of now, have signed on to Senator Graham’s bill. It’s worth taking note of. Over the next few years, as these same politicians seek re-election and the more ambitious among them look for higher office, we will hear a lot from them about their political courage and their pro-life bona fides. But only one senator thus far has taken significant public action since the end of Roe to advance the cause of the unborn. Only one seems able to still think clearly, even after a hit in the face.

Under even the most pessimistic of estimates, the end of Roe has already saved tens of thousands of lives. The millions more we need to save depend, as Dobbs did, on acts of bravery from politicians willing, in the moment of crisis, to overrule the consensus of so-called experts and seize the winning chance to protect the unborn. For these babies’ sakes, let’s be grateful there’s one senator, at least, ready and willing to do what it takes.

Frank Cannon is the founding president of the American Principles Project.

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