For a time, it seemed that the pro-life position had a demographic advantage. The argument went something like this:
Pro-lifers and pro-choicers represent two divergent subcultures. Pro-choicers are less likely to be religiously observant and generally have fewer children. They disproportionately inhabit the large urban centres where most abortion clinics are located. They are less persuaded by arguments that the unborn child is a human being worthy of protection and have a (religious!) belief in individual autonomy. Many pro-choicers do not even bother to marry and are content to live in childless relationships with members of the opposite sex.
Pro-lifers, on the other hand, tend to be more religiously observant, marry, and have greater numbers of children. They are more likely to live outside the major metropolitan areas in middle-sized communities, smaller towns, and rural regions. They are convinced that the unborn child is indeed a human being, created in the image of God, and embrace what Thomas Sowell has called a constrained vision, namely, the recognition that we live within limits and that autonomy is a dangerous illusion tempting us to assume godlike ambitions. Because this second subculture is pro-natalist and is more committed to reproducing the next generation, they will inherit the earth by dint of superior numbers. Pro-choicers will gradually fade away, as their share of the population diminishes with the passing of time.
Under this narrative, the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v Wade in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022) should have sparked general rejoicing with pro-life majorities, reaffirming the right to life in state after state where the opportunity to do so arose. But this, of course, is not what has happened. In reality, wherever the issue has been on the ballot, as in Kansas, California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Vermont, and, most recently, Ohio, majorities have favoured abortion rights. Where abortion has not been on the ballot, the issue has aided Democrats against Republicans in key races. Writing for Forbes, Alison Durkee pointed out a surprising fact:
A Politico analysis of counties in Ohio found support for the state’s abortion ballot measure was an average of 10% higher than support for President Joe Biden in 2020 in counties that Biden lost. That suggests turnout for the ballot measure was actually driven by voters in right-leaning counties that favored former President Donald Trump. Ballot measures may thus be particularly useful for shoring up abortion rights in red and purple states, Politico notes, where voters who may not want to support Democratic candidates will nevertheless vote in favor of abortion rights.
In other words, it is wrong to assume that inhabitants of the so-called red states, that is, those dominated by the Republican Party, are necessarily pro-life on abortion. Why? Where did the demographic reasoning go astray? I believe there are at least four factors.