What History Shows: The Consistent Life Ethic Works for the Pro-life Side in Referendums
by Rachel MacNair
Before the Roe v. Wade decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, there were three referendums to legalize abortion in individual U.S. states:
1970- 56% voted yes
1972 – 61% voted no
1972 – 78% voted no
So legalization won in a state where the consistent-life perspective wasn’t prominent – yet lost, and lost by a good margin, in those two campaigns where the opposition did use consistent-life arguments. See the book Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-life Movement before Roe v. Wade, by Daniel K Williams, pp. 190-194
Proposal B would have legalized abortion for any reason up to 20 weeks, but was soundly defeated. It was put on the ballot with the needed 300,000 signatures. A September poll in Michigan had abortion legalization winning by 57-37%. That suggests the campaigns against the measures may have been quite effective.
The Michigan group “Voices for the Unborn” produced a campaign brochure saying:
In Defenders of the Unborn, Daniel K Williams comments:
Voices of the Unborn’s willingness to link the pro-life cause with opposition to capital punishment may have stemmed in part from . . . its director, state representative Rosetta Ferguson, an African American Democrat from Detroit . . . She was chair of the House Civil Rights Committee [of the Michigan House of Representatives] and had authored a bill to require Michigan’s social studies textbooks to include coverage of black history, which she considered one of her proudest legislative accomplishments. Having grown up in the Deep South during the Depression, Ferguson was acutely aware of poverty and racial discrimination, and she feared the consequences of legalized abortion for women who were black and poor (page 192).
Once Proposal B was so resoundingly defeated, the Detroit Free Press said opponents had pulled off “one of the most startling and successful campaigns in Michigan political history” (November 9, 1972).
Williams says in the case of North Dakota:
[Al Fortman] enjoyed an excellent relationship with several of the state’s Catholic bishops and forged ties with some of the state’s Protestant ministers by linking the pro-life issue to other social justice causes, such as opposition to the Vietnam War, that interested mainline Protestant clergy (page 193).
Therefore . . .
While there were obviously many factors leading to success in these campaigns, the consistent-life approach seems to have real-world effectiveness in election results; the two out of the three campaigns that took this approach were the ones that pro-lifers won, and won soundly. That is, connecting abortion to other forms of violence that people oppose seems to be at least one good avenue of persuasion.
For more in our blog on a positive approach to voting, see:
For current referendums, see our website: