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A year after Roe v. Wade was overturned, anti-abortion activists are refocusing their efforts

MILES PARKS, HOST:

For decades, anti-abortion rights activists and politicians rallied around one major goal - overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. One year ago today, they succeeded, and many conservative-leaning states quickly moved to ban abortion. NPR's Sarah McCammon looks at how that victory is reshaping the movement's message.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: With the release of the Supreme Court decision last year, abortion rights opponents delivered on a long-standing promise.

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MIKE PENCE: I want to live to see the day that we put the sanctity of life back at the center of American law and we send Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history, where it belongs.

DONALD TRUMP: That'll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.

MCCAMMON: That's former Vice President Mike Pence and former President Donald Trump speaking publicly during the 2016 campaign. The ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization from a Supreme Court that included three Trump nominees was celebrated by Republican leaders. Some of them, like Texas Senator Ted Cruz, quickly adopted a cautious tone. Here he is on Fox News, stressing that the decision did not equal a nationwide abortion ban.

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TED CRUZ: That means in bright blue states, at least for the immediate, foreseeable future, there will be no restrictions whatsoever on abortion.

MCCAMMON: On Fox Business, soon after the decision was released, Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn said her office was getting calls from concerned residents saying they didn't want a ban on abortion.

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MARSHA BLACKBURN: We would say, well, it's not. This sends it back to the states. So I think we have some that are overreacting.

MCCAMMON: In August, Tennessee banned virtually all abortions. About a dozen states have implemented similar laws, and more are likely to enact other restrictions. The anti-abortion movement may be winning policy battles, but the politics are shakier for Republicans. In the months after Dobbs in states where questions about abortion were on the ballot last year, voters consistently supported abortion rights. And several new polls indicate that about 6 in 10 Americans think overturning Roe was a bad decision. In light of that public opinion, Barrett Marson, a GOP strategist from Arizona, says Republican leaders need to adjust their message.

BARRETT MARSON: They have won the fight to allow abortion policy to be decided by the states. Now they have to deal with the realities that in many of those states that are controlled by Republicans, you are going to see a lot of unwanted pregnancies come to fruition. And now policies have to catch up with that.

MCCAMMON: That may mean focusing more attention on helping parents now struggling to navigate unwanted pregnancies. Eric Scheidler with the Pro-Life Action League helped draft a statement earlier this year calling on the anti-abortion movement to promote policies like paid family leave and child care.

ERIC SCHEIDLER: If our goal in the pro-life movement is to save babies from abortion and offer real help to their mothers who don't want to go through with that procedure, then we have to be willing to put our money where our mouth is, on social programs and also private charities.

MCCAMMON: Republican governors in several states signed laws this year designed to help new parents, including Texas, which approved extending postpartum Medicaid coverage, and West Virginia, which increased a tax credit for adoptive parents and set aside $1 million for pregnancy centers that counsel patients against abortion. Sarah Standiford, national campaigns director with Planned Parenthood, notes that most of those centers do not offer a full range of reproductive health care like birth control and cancer screenings.

SARAH STANDIFORD: And so every dollar that gets allocated to essentially centers to dissuade people from having abortion means less dollars available for comprehensive health care that people rely on.

MCCAMMON: In a conference call hosted by the National Pro-Life Women's Caucus this week, pollster and former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said Republicans should advocate for more support for pregnant women. And she said in this post-Roe environment, they should not be backing down from fighting for more limits on abortion. In fact, Conway hopes Republicans will now push harder for a national abortion ban and work toward getting the votes to pass one in Congress. She notes that most Americans support some limits.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Dobbs should have clarified, not confused, pro-lifers' positions and their willingness to - let me repeat it - stand up, put up, show up, and speak up.

MCCAMMON: South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says he will reintroduce a bill to ban abortion nationwide at 15 weeks of pregnancy, which he and Conway describe as a national minimum standard or what could be a first step toward more restrictions. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF NORTH AMERICANS' "STANLEY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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