Alexandra DeSanctis Marr is a writer for National Review, fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and author, with Ryan T. Anderson, of the book Tearing Us Apart: How Abortion Harms Everything and Solves Nothing. She spoke this April at Grove City’s Institute for Faith and Freedom conference on Post-Roe America as a Cogitare-sponsored speaker.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity and was published in Cogitare’s Summer 2023 Print Edition.
SS: What does advocacy after Roe look like for you?
AS: Well, mostly it has looked like a lot of writing on the topic, which was what I was doing before, certainly. But now people are paying a lot more attention than they used to, and so it’s taken a lot of my work time. Certainly publishing the book Tearing Us Apart last year was a big part of it. I’m just trying to find ways to not only speak the truth about abortion and the pro-life argument, but also to do so in a way that helps other people understand how they can do the same thing and think through how they can best articulate the pro-life argument.
SS: How long have you been writing about the pro life movement?
AS: I started at National Review in 2016 after I graduated from college, and I had an issue before that, but I kind of took it on as one of my main topics at National Review because I had a lot of freedom to write about whatever interested me, and that was one of the big things. They really needed someone to cover it on a more regular basis, and the more I covered it, the more I learned, and the more I was relied on to do that work for National Review. So that was really where it started.
SS: On that front, you’re obviously a younger conservative in the pro life movement. And I’m just curious: how did you get started in that movement, and also how would you recommend that young conservatives who are interested join these conservative endeavors and dialogues?
AS: It’s a good question. I certainly didn’t plan out any of this, which is, I think, encouraging for younger people – that I didn’t have some kind of grand five-year-plan that led me here. I think a lot of it is definitely providential – and just being open to whatever doors you see opening in front of you and taking the next right step.
I always knew I wanted to be a writer, and so I was naturally thinking about journalism. I studied politics in college. I applied to a few different journalism programs, and I got the one at National Review. I’d always loved National Review, so it seemed like a no-brainer to say yes to that. And then once I got there, I just loved writing. I loved the people I worked with, and I learned a lot. It was just a good fit. And from there, it really was just, you know, one thing leads to the next.
So I guess my advice based on that is keep your eyes open, figure out what your talents are, what you love to do. Try to meet people who can give you advice as to where you might belong, and be willing to leave if it doesn’t.
SS: Tell me about the book Tearing Us Apart.
AS: The idea for the book actually occurred to me long before the Dobbs case even existed. I had just been kind of mulling over how to write a book about abortion, and I’d been told by several people in the publishing industry that people don’t like to publish books about abortion because people don’t read them. So I was just kind of kicking around: Is there a way to do a book?
Once the Dobbs case came about, I started thinking about it a little more seriously. I was having Ryan Anderson, my co-author, read the proposal, and he ended up saying, this is awesome; I’d love to work on this with you; I’ve published several books, and I think we’d make a good team, basically. We pitched a proposal and the publisher who ended up publishing it, Regnery, loved the idea, but wanted to try and publish it to come out around when Dobbs came out, which meant that we had to write it in about three months to get the first draft done. So it was a very, very rigorous process.
SS: So, what are some of the things that you focus on in the book?
AS: The basic argument is that if abortion is the taking of a human life – which we know, scientifically speaking, that it is, and we know that this is unjust – how could that not harm every element of our society that we’ve committed abortion legally for 50 plus years? The first chapter talks about how to make the case that abortion harms the unborn child, but then every subsequent chapter takes a look at another element of society. So the second chapter is on women. We have a chapter on the medical profession; we have a chapter on politics. Just going through on a very research-heavy and fact-based basis and explaining how the legalization of abortion has actually harmed the very people that it was supposed to help.
The argument for abortion was that this was going to improve our society and help women. And the facts bear out a very different case.
SS: How does abortion harm women specifically?
AS: The two big points we make in that chapter are that abortion harms women who have abortions, certainly. We know this both physically and psychologically – there are a lot of risks to having abortions. Although it’s portrayed as this wonderful healthcare solution, there are a lot of both immediate and long-term complications that can arise physically, and certainly long-term psychological consequences for women who have abortions. This is something that’s really brushed under the rug in the abortion debate – that many, many women really come to deeply regret having an abortion, and they suffer with that for a long time. Many don’t even ever tell anybody that they’ve had an abortion or suffer in silence, and they’re really ignored by abortion supporters.
The second point we make is that living in a pro-abortion society actually harms all women because legalized abortion perpetuates the notion that there’s something dysfunctional about the female body. It sets up the male body as an ideal and treats pregnancy and childbearing as some kind of aberration that we need to do away with. And I think that creates this climate in which women who don’t want to get abortions are somehow, you know, left alone, even more so than they were before abortion was popularized. Now men who don’t want to help raise a child that they didn’t want to have come into the world can just say, well, you can get an abortion; if you don’t want to, then you can raise the kid, and I’m out of here. And they’re legally protected, essentially, in doing so. And so I think abortion has of course created an anti-woman culture and placed more responsibility on the shoulders of women.
SS: I think one of the things that the conservative movement is asking right now is, will the end of abortion be legal, ultimately, or cultural? Will it involve other strands and ways of accomplishing its mission? What avenues should we focus on for really ending abortion, now that Roe has been overturned?
AS: The argument that Ryan and I make in the book and the one I’ve repeated since Dobbs is that we really need all three of the things you mentioned. Particularly with regard to the legal-political campaign and the cultural campaign, it’s almost like a circle, right? Our law is shaped by our culture, but our law shapes our culture. The fact that abortion has been legal is a huge part of having shaped a culture in which many people think abortion is okay. And conversely, having a state where abortion is now illegal over time is going to shape generations of people who think, well, maybe abortion is not okay because it’s illegal, right? So, it’s important, we certainly need law, we need policy, and we can’t really, we’re never going to fully end abortion without that piece of it.
But at the same time, given the way our government is structured, we’re also not going to be able to pass laws or have policies that most people don’t agree with. And so we have to have a pro-life culture. Particularly something I’ve been focusing on a lot since Dobbs is that abortion doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Abortion exists in a culture where consequence-free sex is prized as this central aspect of human flourishing. And so, of course, abortion is a logical extension of that worldview. If we think that you have to be able to go around and have sex with whoever you want to, women are obviously disadvantaged in that type of scenario, because women can become pregnant and men don’t. Women are always going to be left alone with children in that scenario. So, I can see why so many people think this is the ideal way of operating as a human being – women are kind of left in the lurch if they don’t have contraception and abortion in this scenario.
What that means for the abortion debate is that we’re never going to get rid of abortion fully or convince people that women don’t need abortion until we have a society that no longer prizes consequence-free sex as an optimal mode of being a human being. Which is a very tall order, but I think that’s an important part of what we need to think about as pro-lifers.
SS: You’ve written about technology and social media a little bit. I’m curious – especially as a younger journalist, you probably have insight into this that older journalists might not – how social media influences the abortion debate. Can we on the pro-life side use social media to better this dialogue?
AS: I think that’s a really important topic right now, particularly because so many young people just exist on social media. And I wish it were otherwise, but I don’t think we can afford to completely leave that playing field to the other side, because they’re very, very good at it. And they’ve captured the imagination that way very successfully.
But at the same time, at least in my own career, I’ve found that it’s very disruptive to spend too much time basically on screens but particularly on social media. Because the incentives are: getting your facts right is usually not important, making your argument in a charitable, compassionate way is usually not important, and in fact, you’re rewarded if you are quick to speak, if you’re uncharitable. If you say something inflammatory, rather than something that’s accurate, those types of things are typically rewarded in a social media context. And I don’t think it’s worth stooping to that level to get eyes on what you have to say.
So, I think for people who want to go into the pro life movement, it’s important to have some kind of philosophy that governs how you use those things. Both for your own personal well-being, but also to keep your integrity and to be able to get the good from being on social media and being able to share your work with people that way without falling prey to the unfortunate aspects of it.
SS: Makes sense. So what’s next for you in your writing and in your work?
AS: The main things I’m focusing on right now are: first, how to approach the post-Dobbs era as a writer who focuses on abortion. What are the big things I need to be writing about? How can I not only convince people who might read my stuff, but particularly, how can I help people who want to make the pro-life case continue learning and continue having the best facts and having the best arguments at their fingertips?
And then secondly, what other topics do I want to write about? Where do I want to go next? Not that I’ll ever fully stop writing about the pro-life issue – but it’s not the only thing out there, and It’s not the only thing I’m interested in.
And we’re definitely in a new era as a country. We’re focusing on abortion, which is still important, but I really think it’s a symptom of a larger cultural malaise and a spiritual malaise. And I want to think more about how it can play a small role in responding to that.
SS: Sounds like good work.