CHAREN: Pro-lifers should change tactics

This November, Pennsylvanians will elect a new judge to the state’s Supreme Court. The contest is shaping up as another donnybrook pitting pro-life and pro-choice forces against one another. It doesn’t require a Ph.D. in political science to guess how this one is going to turn out. Pro-choicers have won every single ballot contest since the Supreme Court handed down Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June of 2022.

It’s time for the pro-life movement to face reality: The attempt to limit abortions through the law is a failure.

Let’s review. Just a couple of months after Dobbs, reliably red Kansas defeated a constitutional amendment that would have denied a right to abortion. Two months later, in the 2022 midterms, Republicans barely squeaked out a victory to take control of the House of Representatives and failed to win the Senate despite high inflation and widespread predictions of a red wave. Exit polls in Michigan and Pennsylvania found voters naming abortion as more important to their vote than inflation or crime. In 2022, California, Montana, Vermont, Michigan and Kentucky bolstered the right to abortion. Wisconsin is known for razor-thin electoral margins, yet in April, the liberal judge Janet Protasiewicz defeated conservative Dan Kelly by 11 points in the Supreme Court race that shifted control of the court to the liberals.

Or consider Ohio, a state that has lately been trending red. On Aug. 8, Ohio voters blocked a measure that would have made it more difficult to pass constitutional amendments (widely perceived as enabling abortion restrictions). Pretty clear, no?

Opinion polling confirms what the elections have shown. A Pew survey found that 62% of respondents, including 39% of Republicans, believe states are making it too hard, rather than too easy, to obtain abortions. The same poll found that since the Dobbs decision, the percentage of those saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases has been rising while those saying it should be illegal in all or most cases has been falling.

The American people appear to be making up their minds. Many are queasy about a procedure that takes a human life, and yet they are unwilling to force the issue through law.

As the saying goes, there’s little education in the second kick of a mule.

Does this mean that sincere activists who want to help women and regard every abortion as a tragedy should just give up? Not at all. Just that they should consider changing their focus from legal restrictions on abortion to supporting women with crisis pregnancies.

Many organizations already exist for this purpose. I’ve been affiliated with one dedicated to Jewish women — Shifra. Since its founding 15 years ago, Shifra, led by the indefatigable Erica Pelman, has been able to transform the lives of hundreds of women and their families by offering counseling, support, advice and financial assistance to women who find themselves pregnant but facing severe obstacles.

“Ellie” was typical. Married and already the mother of two, Ellie and her husband were both working full time and distressed by the third pregnancy. Though Ellie only revealed this later, her first call to Shifra was from the parking lot of an abortion clinic. Something made her hesitate and seek another option. After counseling, Shifra offered the couple a grant so that they could transform their storage room into a nursery. Shifra also provided a year’s worth of diapers and a “smart crib” that rocks babies to sleep, so useful for families with other children — like another pair of hands. In July, they welcomed their son. Ellie wrote: “We could not feel more blessed with him joining our family and I can’t imagine life without him.”

A single, pregnant woman contacted Shifra from Hawaii — Maui, actually (though she was not caught in the fire). She was employed but had no family support. When she called Shifra, she was living out of her car. The organization found her temporary housing, paid her phone bill, got her maternity clothes and provided counseling. She suddenly felt supported and cared for.

The help is customized to each woman’s needs. Some get house-cleaning paid for. Others get clothing allowances, babysitting, or cribs, strollers and changing tables. One woman was in such dire straits when she contacted Shifra that the organization sent her care packages of food.

There are lots of church-affiliated groups doing similar work, and Shifra refers out Christian callers who might find those groups a better fit. But from the start, Shifra never lobbied to change laws. Some of the original board members were pro-choice and others pro-life, but all agreed that there needed to be an organization dedicated to helping the many, many women who only consider abortion because they’re desperate and really would choose life for their babies if they had some help.

Wouldn’t it be better for all concerned if the pro-life forces in this country, who are currently devoting so many resources to a hopeless quest to outlaw abortion, were to emulate Shifra instead?