On January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade, one of the most controversial Supreme Court decisions in the history of the United States. Declaring abortion legal up through the point of "viability" (about the 24th week of pregnancy), Roe overturned the laws against abortion in 46 of the 50 states.
In the 35 years that have followed, almost 50 million abortions have been performed in the United States, a country with a current population of 300 million. A disproportionate number of those abortions have been performed on minorities and the poor.
While most people know that the Catholic Church has consistently condemned abortion and stood up for the protection of all the unborn, many people do not realize that abortion is an ancient practice, and thus the Church's opposition to abortion goes all the way back to apostolic times. One of the oldest Christian documents besides the Bible is called the Didache--"The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles"--and it declares: "You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish." Roman writers remarked that one distinguishing mark of Christians was that they did not kill their children.
Sadly, that is no longer the case. Most abortions in the United States today are performed on women who are at least nominally Christian. As we observe this grim anniversary, we need to redouble our commitment to what Pope John Paul II called "the culture of life," so that those women will return to the Church's consistent teaching, and so that we will open our hearts to provide them with the support and resources necessary to help them choose life.