In a bright pink, purple, and red-lit ballroom in downtown Washington, D.C., last Thursday, anti-choice activists gathered to listen to prominent activists in the anti-choice movement.
“For 49 years, our role has been to influence five people on the court,” said Maureen Ferguson, a senior fellow for The Catholic Association. “Now, we have to persuade 330 million.”
The comment marked a shift in focus for the anti-choice movement. With the dismantlement of Roe v. Wade last summer, the anti-choice movement’s focus has shifted from the Supreme Court to a bevy of other places: state legislatures, Congress, and the court of public opinion.
Of course, the movement has already been hard at work in all those arenas. Trigger laws were set in place to ban abortion in scores of states after Roe was overturned, the new Republican Congress immediately set about trying to pass national anti-abortion legislation, and the March for Life has always targeted young Catholic kids in their messaging about abortion to change public opinion for the future. But their biggest goal—getting five sympathetic justices to the high court to dismantle the right to abortion—had been completed.
The panel, dubbed “Capitol Hill 101,” was a kickoff to the March for Life being held the following day and started, of course, with celebration.
“All the justices deserve our praise,” said Robert P. George, a Princeton University professor, contributor to the Federalist Society, and the author of an amicus brief in support of anti-choice petitioners in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe.
But there were limitations, George said: Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion “only went part of the way to vindicate the Constitution. … The Supreme Court did not declare the right of the unborn, but it did declare that Roe took away the right to legislate.” He pointed to the fifth section of the 14th Amendment, arguing that that “the equal protection of the laws” applies to “any person,” including the “unborn.” In an amicus brief George had submitted in Dobbs, he argued that states should be required to treat abortion as homicide.
The next panelist, Maureen Ferguson, tackled what she called “disinformation” from abortion-rights activists. “The abortion moment has flooded the national debate with disinformation,” she said, focusing on 10 talking points.
“No. 1: Women will die,” Ferguson said. “False. Every pro-life law contains a life for the mother exception.”
This goes against what medical professionals say. Jen Villavicencio, a physician with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told Forbes that “as the forced pregnancies now continue to term”—including those with life-threatening complications—“we will see more people die.” The New York Times recently reported that exceptions to abortion bans are rarely granted, even to women who qualify under state law.
And there are plenty in the pro-life movement—including representatives of organizations sitting in that ballroom—who are seeking to do away with the life of the mother exception. As The Atlantic’s Mary Zeigler reports:
Anti-abortion-rights groups, like Pro-Life Wisconsin, have described the “life of the mother” exception as unnecessary and wrong. The Idaho GOP just approved a platform with no lifesaving exception. Republican candidates like Matthew DePerno, the Republican running to be Michigan’s attorney general, oppose all exceptions to abortion bans, and that includes to save a mother’s life. Conservative states are rushing to eliminate or narrow existing exceptions to their laws. Powerful groups like Students for Life, Feminists for Life, and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) argue that “abortion is never medically necessary” and that doctors should always be punished for intentionally taking a fetal life.
Despite numerous outlets reporting that some women are being denied miscarriage treatment because hospitals are worried of running amok of new anti-abortion laws, Ferguson claimed that nothing of the sort was happening and that “every doctor knows the difference between miscarriage and abortion.”
She also said that women would not be thrown in jail with the end of Roe. But there are male lawmakers who are seeking to do just that. Throughout the country, a faction of self-proclaimed “abolitionists” are eager to punish women who receive an abortion with prison time. In Louisiana, one piece of legislation that would land women who have abortions “with the same criminal consequences as one who drowns her baby” made it one step closer to becoming a law, CNN reported.
Ferguson also claimed in vitro fertilization was not a target of the anti-choice movement, arguing that Roe’s decision was very narrow and only applied to abortion. But the following minute, she went on to claim that we know exactly when life begins—“at the fusion of sperm and egg.” Of course, by that definition, in vitro fertilization would be a target for the anti-choice movement, as it fuses sperms and eggs in a petri dish, picks the best embryo to implant and often discards the others.
Other panelists representing the Susan B. Anthony List and the Senate Pro-Life Caucus spoke about the need to pass federal legislation to limit abortion and encouraged attendees to pester their lawmakers to pass anti-choice legislation.
As the panel wound down, George urged attendees to “keep the baby in view. And we’ll win.”
Ferguson followed his lead by encouraging attendees to download the sound of an embryo at six weeks, so they could play the sound to anyone they speak to who favors abortion rights. “Well, here’s what a baby’s heartbeat sounds like at six weeks,” she said, playing the audio for the ballroom from her phone.
As the panel closed, attendees, which included hundreds of high school students, funneled out of the ballroom to the March for Life Expo. At the entrance was a booth for Alliance Defending Freedom, a multimillion-dollar anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ litigation shop, handing out free swag to excited students. ADF was central to the overturning of Roe and represented Mississippi in the Supreme Court case; its lawyers have previously bragged that they helped write the Mississippi law as part of their strategy to ban all abortions in the country.
Across from them was the Heritage Foundation, which handed out a packet of flyers and advertised a raffle for a prize of $500. Concerned Women for America advertised their Young Women for America program. Focus on The Family—a platinum sponsor of the March for Life and whose activists worked behind the scenes to get right-wing judges nominated to the federal court—had another stand, while GiveSendGo, the Christian fundraising site, also had a booth featuring a cash grab, a handwritten prize wheel, and a timeline of its company that featured its decision to offer a crowdfunding platform for Kyle Rittenhouse.