Joseph Backholm is senior fellow for Biblical worldview and strategic engagement at the Family Research Council. This article appeared in WORLD Magazine on November 9, 2023.
The lessons of another pro-life debacle at the polls
Not only did Issue 1 pass in Ohio, amending the state constitution to allow some of the most extreme abortion laws in the country, voters approved the measure by a significant margin. As of this writing, 56 percent of Ohio voters voted yes on a proposal that could allow abortion up until birth for any reason. Issue 1 also eliminated parental notification requirements. When it comes to abortion policy, Ohio is essentially California.
Exit polling from NBC News indicated that support for the measure was sweeping across the demographic spectrum. Both men and women supported Issue 1, though women by a greater margin. A majority of white, black, and Hispanic voters also voted for it, though white support was 53 percent compared to 79 percent for nonwhite voters.
The pro-life cause must also confront the fact that a significant number of Republicans voted in favor of legal abortion. The Associated Press noted that Republican counties in Ohio opposed Issue 1 at a much lower rate than they have voted for Republican candidates, which is consistent with polling from last summer, which found that 39 percent of Republicans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Every election leads to self-reflection and debates over what should be different next time, but the pro-life cause is forced to confront the latest in a string of defeats for pro-life ballot measures since Roe v. Wade was overturned. It was not surprising when voters in California, Michigan, and Vermont voted for more abortion, but it was surprising for many when voters in Kansas, Kentucky, and Montana did the same. And now Ohio.
Is money making the difference? The abortion industry in Ohio out-raised the pro-life campaign by more than $12 million, a consistent pattern when it comes to abortion ballot measures. Were voters confused? Possibly. Ballot language is often confusing, sometimes intentionally so. Is left-wing corporate media so supportive of abortion that it is impossible to overcome the assistance they provide to the abortion cause? It is also true that Issue 1 prevailed in a low-turnout election and the outcome could have been different if the church had fully mobilized. All of these could be contributing factors.
But there’s another factor worth considering as well. Could it be the pro-life community has been tricked? While we were busy convincing the world abortion is wrong, the abortion industry, in partnership with the sexual revolution, spent all its time convincing the world abortion is essential regardless of whether it is wrong. The fact is most Americans agree with the pro-life cause that abortion is not morally good. We won that argument! So why do Americans vote for abortion anyway?
Because they view it as happiness insurance.
Thanks to Dr. Freud, the sexual revolution has convinced Americans it is impossible to be happy if you are not having sex. Because happiness, from their perspective, comes with a risk of pregnancy, abortion serves the same purpose as a fire extinguisher. You hope you never need to use it, but “break glass in case of emergency.” Of course, hook-up culture makes people miserable. So, it is both tragic and ironic that while the babies die the big people never experience the happiness they were promised. But that is the way it is.
The pro-life cause is noble and worth fighting for and, in the end, it will prevail because all lies are eventually exposed as such. But the carnage being created in the meantime is almost incalculable. Despite the irrefutable logic of the pro-life position and the winsomeness of its messengers, we are not winning the day. Perhaps that is because we have mistakenly believed the debate over abortion is really about abortion when, all along, it was primarily about sex.