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The First Fights After Roe

The Life at Conception Act is headed toward a vote, and is likely to set the tone for pro-life legislative efforts in the post-Roe future.

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Rep. Bob Good conducts a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

In the early hours of the morning in Gresham, Oregon, last Friday, the pro-life Pregnancy Resource Center went up in flames---the latest apparent target in a string of arson and other attacks carried out by a pro-abortion terrorist group calling itself "Jane's Revenge." Starting in Madison, Wisconsin, last month, the radical group has firebombed and otherwise vandalized a number of crisis pregnancy centers all over the country. All in all, over 50 centers and other pro-life targets have been subjected to violent attacks through the spring and early summer.

A statement issued by Jane's Revenge threatens more and worse violence to come if its demands are not met immediately. "We have demonstrated in the past month how easy and fun it is to attack," the missive reads. "We are versatile, we are mercurial, and we answer to no one but ourselves." This is the only terrorist group I am aware of whose manifestos read like clippings from a horoscope column. "We promised to take increasingly drastic measures against oppressive infrastructures. Rest assured that we will, and those measures may not come in the form of something so easily cleaned up as fire and graffiti." The group declares "open season" on any pro-life group that does not willingly close its doors, encouraging "everyone with the urge to paint, to burn, to cut, to jam: now is the time."

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The occasion for all this, of course, is the recent leak of Justice Samuel Alito's draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, which would overturn the Court's 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade and the federal abortion mandate it created. Just short of half a century and well over 60 million dead, the untenable settlement of Roe seems finally to be nearing its collapse. In not just the firebombings but the leak itself and the organized preparations for future lawbreaking, one side has made quite clear how it will act under an order in which states can at least determine whether or not the murder of children is legal.

How those who would see it outlawed everywhere will respond is a much less settled question. A number of pro-life legislators have offered the Life at Conception Act as an answer. Introduced by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky in the upper chamber and by Representative Alex Mooney of West Virginia in the lower, the Life at Conception Act, invoking the 14th amendment, would affirm in law "that the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being" and demand "equal protection for the right to life of each born and preborn human person." It ends with a disclaimer, however, that "nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize the prosecution of any woman for the death of her unborn child."

Though 163 of the House's 210 Republicans are signed on to the bill as cosponsors, it has remained stalled in committee since the middle of April. On the same day as the firebombing of the Gresham Pregnancy Resource Center, Rep. Bob Good of Virginia led 60 House Republicans in a petition to discharge the act, which would force an hour of debate followed by a recorded vote.

In an interview with TAC this week, Rep. Good explained the move in simple terms: "It is time for us to be bold, to seize the day, to rise to the moment, to demonstrate that we are the pro-life party." He described the Democrats in contrast as "the party of death---abortion up to the moment of birth, anytime for any reason, with no exceptions, taxpayer funded." As Good observed, "We can't get them to vote for pain-capable or born-alive---very, very, very nominal, compassionate, benign bills almost." So why attempt a compromise when we know none will ever be offered in good faith?

Some prominent pro-life institutions, such as Students for Life of America, Citizens for Renewing America, and the National Pro-Life Alliance, have publicly backed the push. Others have remained notably silent, though why is not quite clear. Every major pro-life organization at the national level recognizes the fact of fetal personhood, and they have all long been supportive of enshrining that fact in law.

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On some level, it seems that the leak from the Supreme Court caught the pro-life movement off-guard. Some groups' reticence to speak now in favor of messaging legislation could simply indicate that they have not yet formulated strategies for after the decision. Other groups, like the National Right to Life Council, have clear legislative visions but have largely stood aside from this latest fight. The NRLC, in fact, recently joined several dozen other organizations to condemn any legislation that might result in criminal punishments for women who kill their children through abortion. Though the Life at Conception Act contains explicit language to the same effect, some may now worry that blanket legislation such as this will open an avenue for prosecution under state homicide laws.

Good himself, while stating that "the enforcement of violations of law is left to the states," says he "[doesn't] know anybody who supports prosecution of the mother, or the woman involved." Yet a number of pro-life activists told TAC a different story, arguing that some women really are culpable for the killings, and thus should be held accountable under the law, while others are genuine victims of personal coercion or industry deception. Though certainly a minority opinion, it is not an insensible one: If abortion is murder (and it is) then it ought to be treated as such in every aspect.

This could be a bit of a fork. Many will be dissuaded from supporting a professedly maximalist messaging bill that contains a blanket disavowal of prosecution for any and all women who procure abortions, while just as many may be turned away by the mere possibility that legal personhood will justify homicide prosecutions.

Yet even those who steer clear of the fraught topic of enforcement measures speak of the moment in the gravest possible terms. Steve Aden, chief legal officer and general counsel of Americans United for Life, worries that the Life at Conception Act aims too low for another reason: Given the Supreme Court's authority over the interpretation of the 14th amendment (on which the act relies entirely), nothing short of a new constitutional amendment will truly guarantee the legal recognition of fetal personhood. And while Aden applauds the bill as an "aspirational, inspirational" statement of the sanctity of all human life, he believes the real fight will not begin until a pro-life majority takes over Congress---and even then may go on, like Roe, for generations.

"AUL is convinced that America is at a crossroads, like it was in the middle of the 19th century," Aden told TAC. "And like that time one wonders whether America can survive if half the states want to defend the right to kill their children and the other half of the states call it murder. I’m not sure that the republic can endure long under those circumstances.”

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