Before and after the annual March for Life on January 23, the capitol was host to a dizzying array of receptions and conferences, masses and youth summits and strategy sessions–an ingathering of the pro-life tribe. Father Frank Pavone, of Priests for Life, was making the rounds, playing the role of movement granddad. But there were newcomers, too: The women of Silent No More, who have been on the road for the past four years regretting their abortions, were a popular draw, as were the directors of A Distant Thunder, a “supernatural courtroom drama” that they promise will blow the lid off “partial-birth abortion,” and the ubiquitous brother of Terri Schiavo. This reporter found herself in a conference room at the Family Research Council on G Street at the first-ever convention of antiabortion cyberati, Blogs for Life.
It seems that while the rest of us were quixotically forwarding our Filibuster Alito action alerts and speed-dialing quivering prochoice senators, the antiabortion set had already moved on. “We’re entering into a whole new policy era,” Family Research Council vice president Charmaine Yoest told those assembled. “It’s what I call ‘post-Roe America.’ ”
For thirty-three years, overturning Roe v. Wade has been the brass ring for the pro-life movement and the annual cri de coeur of march organizer Nellie Gray. The decision was a political turning point, with most of the major players on the Christian right, from the National Right to Life Committee to the Moral Majority and Focus on the Family, forming in its immediate wake. Along with decisions restricting prayer in the public schools, Roe was what triggered the right’s decades-long obsession with remaking the federal courts. And yet at this year’s March for Life events in Washington, pro-life leaders were so confident of Roe‘s downfall that they were dismissing it as a mere historical footnote. “The question that always gets asked,” Concerned Women for America’s Wendy Wright said on the organization’s radio program on Tuesday, “is will this person vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, as if that were the end of the game…. What we’ve been explaining to the media and others for a while is, all it would do is just throw it back to the states.” Yoest even went so far as to claim that it is “prochoicers [who] try to make us believe that overturning Roe will be the end of abortion”–this from the representative of an organization that just months ago ran ads attributing a “death toll” of 43 million to the Roe decision alone.
How to mobilize support for the fait accompli named Alito never even came up at Blogs for Life. Instead the talk was of passing state legislation–a scholar with the Heritage Foundation was hawking his new study, which uses shaky statistics to show that parental consent requirements, partial-birth abortion bans and “informed consent” legislation, which often requires women to hear untruths about the medical risks of abortion before they can get one, each reduce the actual number of abortions in the states that enact them–and of reaching across the prochoice/pro-life divide. As Yoest told the crowd, “We’re on a campaign to win hearts and minds.”
What Karen Hughes is to Bush’s “war on terror,” Charmaine Yoest is to the pro-life movement. She was recently hired by the Family Research Council to develop a new web and e-mail strategy and to create an FRC blog. And just as Hughes’s public relations job has been stymied by Abu Ghraib, Yoest and her small army of conservative bloggers have to contend with a “pro-life” legacy of clinic bombings (forty-one), assassinations of doctors (seven), confrontational clinic blockades (731) and a general atmosphere of hostility toward women.