It has been exactly a year since Bethany Bomberger gathered in an impromptu huddle outside a hotel ballroom with fellow anti-abortion activists, overcome with gratitude and optimism as news broke that the Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade just hours before the Pro-Life Women’s Conference officially opened.
“There will be life before Roe was overturned and life after,” Ms. Bomberger said this weekend, tearing up as she recalled what she described as a moment “the impossible became possible.” She and her husband lead an organization that opposes abortion, and that, lately, has branched into combating the rising acceptance of transgender identity — what she called “gender radicalism.”
As this year’s conference opened, Ms. Bomberger took to the stage at a modest suburban convention center outside St. Louis. “Who’s here with me to let loose?” she asked the crowd, leading several hundred women in the wave. “We pro-lifers, we have life on our side!” She was wearing a small gold necklace reading “mama,” a gift from her son.
The ruling last summer in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization eliminated the national right to abortion and sent the issue back to the states. It also radically scrambled the landscape of abortion in the United States, shuttering some clinics, prompting others to open, and setting up new battles over abortion pills, miscarriage care and contraception. Legal abortions declined more than six percent in the first six months after the ruling.
For those who believe that abortion is the destruction of innocent life and spent years fighting to end it, June 24 now marks “a great day in the history of our country,” said Shawn Carney, the president and chief executive of 40 Days for Life. Mr. Carney’s organization is a co-sponsor of a festive Dobbs anniversary rally that will take place at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Saturday morning, and that will be followed by a black tie-optional gala in the evening.
June has quickly become the new focal point of the anti-abortion calendar, a shift from the anniversary of when Roe was decided, in January 1973. Mr. Carney compared the Roe anniversary to the Dred Scott decision of 1857, which Americans do not celebrate, and the Dobbs anniversary to 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.
Other activists will observe what they are calling “Dobbs day” at state houses this weekend, including in Georgia and Wisconsin. Some are calling on social conservatives to rebrand June as “Life Month,” a celebration of the decision that serves as a swipe at Pride Month.
In the exhibition hall this weekend in Missouri, tables displayed bumper stickers, prayer bracelets and bright stacks of “Pro-Life Kids” coloring books. Nuns in habits mingled with young women in T-shirts reading “Love Wildly” and “Life Has Purpose.” A selfie station boasted a neon sign reading “Pro-Woman Is Pro-Life.”
Attendees were invited to “come dressed in your best 1972 or 2022 outfit” to a dance party on Saturday night, referencing the year before Roe was decided and the year the court reversed itself 50 years later.
“It makes me so happy to know I’m dancing to celebrate the overturning of Roe,” Danielle Pitzer, director of sanctity of human life at Focus on the Family, said on Friday. She had packed a kaleidoscopic spangled “disco dress,” complete with platform shoes and a matching headband.
Though many American women mourned the loss of the national right to abortion, conservative women — and especially young women — had powered the movement against abortion and infused it with the fresh 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 more support for abortion rights, making the issue a painful political liability for Republicans. The party struggled to come to a consensus on abortion restrictions, and many G.O.P. presidential candidates have avoided the issue so far. At the same time, women have not stopped having abortions, even in states with bans: Instead they have turned to abortion pills or traveled to other states.
“We’ve learned this year that there’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Angela Huguenin, the director of operations for And Then There Were None, an organization that aims to persuade abortion clinic workers to join the anti-abortion movement. That effort has been greeted with more hostility from many clinic workers over the last year, she said. Dozens of clinics have closed since Roe was overturned, and many have had to uproot and move to neighboring states.
To the true believers in Missouri, many of whom work or volunteer for anti-abortion organizations, some of the political fallout can be chalked up to a communication failure: If the public better understood the movement’s commitments to both mothers and babies, it would see things differently.
Some in the movement are skeptical that Dobbs represents a clear-cut 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 its decision. The room erupted into almost panicked elation, she said. Her own feelings were more mixed.
“It didn’t solve anything or do anything, it just created chaos,” she said. Some of the new state laws did not include exceptions for rape or incest, and “horror stories” have since emerged in which women have been denied care for pregnancy complications.
“Pro-lifers might have won the battle but they’re not going to win the war” unless they write better laws and advocate a more comprehensive social safety net, she said. Missteps, she added, “could easily lead to the codification of abortion rights.”
In Missouri, the conference’s host, Abby Johnson, addressed the women from the stage on Friday afternoon, seated on a white sofa next to a panel of former abortion clinic employees. Ms. Johnson is a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who is now a prominent anti-abortion activist.
She warned the rapt crowd about the rise of medication abortion, and of the abortion-rights movement’s dedication to “never stop killing babies.”
“We just had this big win,” she said. “Let’s keep winning.”