It has been exactly one year since Bethany Bomberger gathered in an impromptu meeting outside a hotel ballroom with other anti-abortion activists, overwhelmed with gratitude and optimism when news broke that the Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade a few hours before the Pro-Life Official Opening of the Women’s Conference.
« There will be life before Roe is overthrown and life after, » Ms Bomberger said this weekend, weeping as she recalled what she described as a moment when « the impossible became possible. » She and her husband lead an anti-abortion organization that has lately branched out to fight the growing acceptance of transgender identity—what she called « gender radicalism. »
Opening this year’s conference, Ms. Bomberger took the stage in a modest suburban convention center outside of St. Louis. « Who’s here with me to let loose? » she asked the crowd, leading several hundred women into the wave. “We pro-life, we have life on our side!” She wore a small gold necklace with the inscription « mama », a gift from her son.
Last summer’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization eliminated the nation’s right to abortion and referred the matter back to the United States. It has also radically disrupted the abortion landscape in the United States, closing some clinics, prompting others to open, and igniting new battles over abortion pills, miscarriage care, and contraception. Legal abortions dropped by more than six percent in the first six months after the ruling.
For those who believe abortion is the destruction of innocent life and have spent years fighting to end it, June 24 now marks « a great day in the history of our country, » said Shawn Carney, president and chief executive officer. of 40 Days for Life. . Mr. Carney’s organization is a co-sponsor of a Dobbs anniversary rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, where crowds gathered Saturday morning to hear Mike Pence and Alveda King, the granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr.
« The work for life continues, across America, » said Pence, who has pledged to make abortion the centerpiece of his campaign for president.
Redi Degefa, who lives in Washington and works as a congressional staffer, said she came to the Saturday morning rally to demonstrate that young women are represented in the anti-abortion movement. She said she was two years out of college and she was a Catholic and she came carrying a sign that read, « Pray the rosary to end abortion. »
« It’s both a celebration and a reminder that we need to keep this energy, the energy we’ve held for the past 50 years, we need to double it now and move forward, » Ms Degefa said. « It will never be a victory until abortion is abolished in all 50 states. »
June has quickly become the new focal point of the anti-abortion calendar, a shift from the anniversary on which Roe was decided in January 1973. Mr. Carney compared Roe’s anniversary to Dred Scott’s 1857 decision, which Americans don’t celebrate , and Dobbs’ anniversary in Juneteenth, which they do. He is among those who have suggested moving the March for Life, the annual anti-abortion event held every January in Washington, to June.
More activists are observing what they’re calling « Dobbs Day » in state homes this weekend, including in Georgia and Wisconsin. Some are calling for social conservatives to rebrand June as « Life Month, » a celebration of the decision that serves as a transition to Pride Month.
In the exhibit hall this weekend in Missouri, tables displayed bumper stickers, prayer bracelets, and bright stacks of « Pro-Life Kids » coloring books. Costumed nuns mingled with young women in T-shirts reading « Love Wildly » and « Life Has Purpose. » One selfie station boasted a neon sign that read « Pro-Woman Is Pro-Life. »
Attendees were asked to « come dressed in your best dress of 1972 or 2022 » to a dance on Saturday night, a reference to the year before Roe’s decision and the year the court reversed 50 years after.
« It makes me so happy to know that I’m dancing to celebrate Roe’s flip, » Danielle Pitzer, director of human life holiness at Focus on the Family, said Friday. She’d fashioned a kaleidoscopic sequined « disco dress, » complete with platform shoes and a matching headband.
Though many American women mourned the loss of the nation’s right to abortion, conservative women—and especially young women—had fueled the anti-abortion movement and infused it with the new energy of a new generation. For them, this moment was one to celebrate and acknowledge the new challenges ahead.
American public opinion has moved toward greater support for abortion rights, making the issue a painful political liability for Republicans. The party has struggled to reach a consensus on abortion restrictions, and many GOP presidential candidates have so far avoided the issue. At the same time, women haven’t stopped getting abortions, even in states with bans: They’ve instead turned to abortion pills or traveled to other states.
« We learned this year that there is still a lot of work to be done, » said Angela Huguenin, director of operations at And Then There Were None, an organization that aims to persuade workers at abortion clinics to join the anti-abortion movement. abortion . This effort has been met with increased hostility from many clinicians over the past year, she said. Dozens of clinics have closed since Roe was overturned and many have had to uproot and relocate to neighboring states.
For true believers in Missouri, many of whom work or volunteer for anti-abortion organizations, some of the political fallout can be attributed to a failure to communicate: if the public better understood the movement’s commitments to both mothers and children would see things differently.
Some in the movement are skeptical that Dobbs represents a clear victory. Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, the founder of the small anti-abortion group New Wave Feminists, was at a conference hosted by National Right to Life last year when the court handed down her decision. The room erupted in an almost panicked euphoria, she said. Her feelings were more mixed.
« It didn’t fix anything or do anything, it just created chaos, » he said. Some of the new state laws did not include exceptions for rape or incest and, she said, Since then, « horror stories » have emerged in which women have been denied treatment for pregnancy complications.
“Prolifers may have won the battle, but they won’t win the war” unless they write better laws and advocate for a more comprehensive social safety net, he said. The missteps, she added, « could easily lead to the codification of the right to abortion. »
In Missouri, conference host Abby Johnson addressed the women from the podium Friday afternoon, sitting on a white couch next to a group of former abortion clinic employees. Ms. Johnson is a former director of the Planned Parenthood clinic who is now a prominent anti-abortion activist.
He warned the rapturous mob about the rise of medical abortion and the abortion rights movement’s dedication to « never stop killing babies. »
« We just had this big win, » he said. « We keep winning. »
Zach Montecchi contributed to this article.