Thirty-nine years after the January 22, 1973, U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, it is all too easy to convince ourselves that the fight against abortion has been lost. The majority of Americans alive today do not remember a time in which the killing of the unborn, at almost any stage of pregnancy and for almost any reason, was not legal. Every year, for 39 years, approximately 1.3 million children have been sucked or cut or flushed from their mothers' wombs, while the number of families who are forced to remain childless continues to rise, because of a shortage of babies available for adoption.
We're entering the fourth year of the first (and quite possibly not the last) term of the most pro-abortion president in the history of the United States. As thousands of pro-life citizens prepared to gather in Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life, Barack Obama's administration announced that Catholic institutions that provide healthcare for their employees will be required by federal mandate to violate Catholic teaching on artificial contraception and, yes, abortion—even though, at the time the Obama administration was pushing its healthcare "reform," such Catholic Democrats as then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) denied that the legislation would require any such thing.
Twenty years ago, advocates of "abortion rights" routinely claimed that no woman would choose abortion unless she felt she had no other option; today, many of those same people no longer hide their desire to create a Culture of Death, as they fight against any law to educate women on the facts of life, and attack pro-lifers who provide free ultrasounds to women considering abortion. The highest value is no longer "choice"; it's making the "right" choice, which inevitably means death for an innocent child.
Is it any surprise that, in the midst of such discouraging developments, we are quick to grasp at any little sign of hope? Rick Santorum's victory in the Iowa Caucuses is viewed as proof that the tide is turning: After all, Santorum was the most eloquent defender of the unborn in the U.S. Senate in the last decade. We conveniently forget the fact that this great crusader for life lost his Senate seat because of a backlash among Pennsylvania voters after he endorsed the ardently pro-abortion Arlen Specter in the Republican primary over a pro-life opponent, because Specter, like Santorum, supported the war in Iraq.
We cheer on the serial adulterer Newt Gingrich and dismiss his support for embryonic stem-cell research, chalking all of it up to the errors that men make before they join the Catholic Church.
We may even choose to believe that Mitt Romney's conversion on the question of abortion was more like that of Ronald Reagan, who, as governor, had signed California's liberal abortion law, than like that of George H.W. Bush, who took the oath of office as Reagan's Vice President in 1981 still firmly committed to "abortion rights" and only revealed his supposed change of heart when he needed pro-life votes to win the presidency in 1988.
Are any or all of these men truly pro-life? Yes; maybe; who really knows? And in the end, we may decide that it doesn't really matter, because no matter what they actually believe, every one of them is at least more pro-life than Barack Obama. So we'll line up at the ballot box in November to cast our votes for the "pro-life" candidate, hoping beyond hope that, if he wins, he will do more to curb the scourge of abortion than George W. Bush, who controlled both houses of Congress for six of the eight years that he sat in the White House, did.
And every year, Roe will get another year older, and a new wave of children whose mothers did not abort them will enter a world in which abortion is not only legal but increasingly accepted by those who call themselves Christians
And yet, despite my firm conviction (explained at great length here, here, and here) that the problem of abortion will never be addressed at the national level because Republican politicians, just as surely as Democratic ones, have no desire to lose an "issue" that reliably brings them millions of votes in every national election, I am more optimistic than I have been in many years. My optimism (in case it's not clear from the preceding few paragraphs) has nothing to do with the pro-life beliefs or the qualities of the current crop of Republican presidential candidates, and everything to do with what I see happening here in my hometown.
Last week, I wrote about the decision of the Northern Illinois Women's Center to close its doors permanently after 40 years and well in excess of 50,000 abortions—more than a third of the current population of Rockford, Illinois, where the clinic was located. (See When Is a Back Alley Not a Back Alley?) The closing of this house of horrors had nothing to do with the current presidential race, or even with the actions of previous "pro-life" presidents. In fact, this certifiably unsafe clinic would have been closed 22 years ago, and tens of thousands of babies would have been saved, had not the administration of "pro-life" president George H.W. Bush convinced the Illinois attorney general to settle the case of Turnock v. Ragsdale out of court, in order to prevent it from being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Turnock was the first case involving abortion to be placed on the Court's docket after Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989) upheld the first significant state restrictions on abortion since Roe.
Turnock was widely expected to give the Supreme Court the opportunity to revisit Roe itself, and the Bush administration did not want that to happen. So Turnock was settled out of court; Illinois created a new class of "lightly regulated" abortion clinics; and a few months later, President Bush appointed the pro-abortion David Souter to the Supreme Court, saving Roe—and ensuring that abortion would continue to be an issue in national elections up to this very day.
No, the closing of the Northern Illinois Women's Center had nothing to do with national politics, and everything to do with the hard work and dedication of local Christians who prayed the rosary on the sidewalks in front of it every day that the clinic was open for business. During the scorching summers here on the Midwestern plains, on bitter winter mornings in blizzard-like conditions with wind chills of -20 or -30, entire families bore witness to the Culture of Life. They offered women who thought they had no choice the financial and emotional support to bring their children to term. They welcomed those women into their own homes, and even made some of those children members of their own families through adoption.
They did, in short, everything that abortion-rights advocates claim pro-life Christians never do, and they succeeded in ending the slaughter that a "pro-life" president had ensured would continue for over two decades.
Remember that story, if you begin to believe that the fight against abortion has been lost. Remember that story, if you are tempted to think that the only way to fight abortion is to swallow hook, line, and sinker the promises of national "pro-life" candidates. Remember that story, and recall the words of Psalm 146, and know that the Lord is faithful, even when men are not:
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
in my life I will praise the Lord: I will sing to my God as long as I shall be.
Put not your trust in princes: in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation.
His spirit shall go forth, and he shall return into his earth: in that day all their thoughts shall perish.
Blessed is he who hath the God of Jacob for his helper, whose hope is in the Lord his God:
who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all things that are in them.
Who keepeth truth for ever: who executeth judgment for them that suffer wrong: who giveth food to the hungry. The Lord looseth them that are fettered:
the Lord enlighteneth the blind. The Lord lifteth up them that are cast down: the Lord loveth the just.
The Lord keepeth the strangers, he will support the fatherless and the widow: and the ways of sinners he will destroy.
The Lord shall reign for ever: thy God, O Sion, unto generation and generation.
More Reflections on the Anniversary of Roe v. Wade:
- 35 Years of Roe v. Wade (2008)
- Will Roe v. Wade Ever Be Overturned? (2009)
- Another Year, Another 1.3 Million Babies Killed (2010)
- The Facts of Life (2011)