Last year's election results weren't just a big event. They were historic.
Republicans took over the U.S. Senate by gaining nine seats and won 247 House seats, a number not seen since the days before Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in the White House. President Obama, meanwhile, made history in a different way: No two-term president has ever seen his party lose so many congressional seats (76) in off-year elections.
On the state level, as Washington Post political writer Aaron Blake pointed out, Republicans now control more than two-thirds of state legislatures (31) and governorships (also 31). In 24 states, containing nearly half (47.8 percent) of the population, the GOP holds both legislative chambers and governorships. (Democrats control just seven states with 15.6 percent of the population.)
What impact will all this have on public policies? That remains to be seen. But for pro-lifers, there's good news—and potentially a lot of it.
In the Senate, all nine new Republican senators are avowedly pro-life. In the House, a strong pro-life majority has made net gains of eight to 12 seats. That bodes well for the advancement of bills that passed the House in the last session, but were blocked from votes by Senate leaders.
There's the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would outlaw abortions after 20 weeks—when science has shown that children in the womb feel pain. There are measures to bar federal funding of Planned Parenthood; to keep Obamacare from paying for abortion, directly or indirectly; to prevent federal dollars from training abortionists; to outlaw abortion for reasons of sex selection.
In short, measures that—even if vetoed by the president, as expected—would force senators to take stands on issues they were able to duck until now.
"The votes would show how out of step some of these elected officials are from the rest of the nation," Americans United for Life General Counsel Ovide Lamontagne tells Citizen.
"Things like Obamacare and taxpayer funding of abortion—people are recoiling from those policies. Even many who say they are pro-choice don't believe people should be coerced into paying for abortion."
And states—which have passed hundreds of pro-life laws and policies in recent years—now seem poised to pass even more.
"At the state level, we're more likely to see measures enacted that protect women—clinic regulations, hospital-admitting privileges for their personnel, chemical-abortion restrictions," Lamontagne says. "We're finding more and more states willing to enact sound, common-sense and constitutional laws that protect women as well as unborn children."
The trend toward pro-life laws, however, is a reflection of another trend: growing support for pro-life policies and candidates among the voters. And that may be the biggest reason for optimism.
Marilyn Musgrave has seen the change in attitudes firsthand. She remembers all too well what it was like when she was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 1994.
"Back then, there was an assumption that if you were a woman serving in office, you were tough and you were 'pro-choice,' " she tells Citizen. "I wanted to break that image. I wanted to let people know there are lots of women out there who are pro-life."
Musgrave went on to serve as a congresswoman from 2003-2009. Now she's vice president of government affairs for the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life group focused on electing politicians who share their values—especially women. And she's struck by how far the cause has come.
"As someone who's been in the pro-life movement for many years, even before I got into office myself, I can tell you it's a great time to be pro-life, and 2014 was a great year for pro-life candidates," she says. "In all the election cycles that I've been involved in, the pro-life issue has never been more important than it was in 2014."
In several key Senate races, for example, the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (PCUCPA) was pivotal. "This issue played heavily in races in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina—three of the most pro-life states in the nation," Musgrave says. In all three cases, pro-life candidates stressed their support for the measure while campaigning against incumbents.
In some states, pro-life candidates came under attack from opponents who sought to resurrect the "war on women" rhetoric of the 2012 elections. This time, however, the results were quite different, notes Lamontagne—who faced those attacks himself in 2012, in his New Hampshire gubernatorial bid.
"It backfired" in 2014, he says simply. "The pro-abortion candidates overplayed their hands."
His favorite example: The Colorado Senate race between Democrat Mark Udall and Republican Cory Gardner. Udall assailed Gardner over "reproductive rights" so often that even some media figures mocked him (a Denver Post writer playfully dubbed him "Mark Uterus") and many Latino voters—normally Democratic—swung toward the pro-life Gardner.
Musgrave saw the same trend. "The abortion-centered part of that strategy just flopped in 2014," she says. "What a great day when that was defeated."
Musgrave can rattle off case after case of unapologetically pro-life candidates reaping the benefits of energetic grassroots support. "It made an incredible difference," she says. "What makes a difference is old-fashioned political action: Knocking on a door, talking to someone about a candidate.
"We had a veritable army on the ground. We reached hundreds of thousands of people with committed volunteers, just walking the neighborhoods."
Already those volunteers are seeing rewards, with both the House and Senate promising action on the PCUCPA sometime this year.
Win or lose in the near term, Lamontagne believes that sets up a long-term victory.
"A national debate about a late-term abortion ban—which polling shows about 64 percent of Americans support—will help to educate the people about what abortion really means," he says.
"Most Americans know what an ultrasound looks like at five months. They know physicians encourage women at that stage to speak to their children and to sing to them and to be aware that they are, even in utero, learning from their environment. When a senator or congressman says we should be able to have abortions at that stage, it shows people who the true extremists are."
That knowledge can help produce a more pro-life culture. Polls have shown the debate over partial-birth abortion in the 1990s helped move public opinion in a pro-life direction—which in turn influenced both individual decisions and state laws. A close look at the realities of late-term abortion can accelerate that trend.
Long-time pro-lifers feel they've been bolstered by the reinforcements who've just landed. "There's some really new blood, new energy being brought to the Congress," Lamontagne says. "It's very exciting and we're looking forward to working with them."
So is Musgrave, who chokes up when asked what the enthusiastic new legislators mean to her.
"They bring tears to my eyes," she says. "It's like, 'Lord, our prayers are being answered.' "