Forty years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the most far-reaching and destructive decision in American history. Forget ObamaCare; forget Brown v. Board of Education; forget even Marbury v. Madison, which made all of the other decisions possible. On January 22, 1973, seven men decided that the laws of all 50 states and the District of Columbia could not prevent a mother from paying someone to rip her child from her womb. Except in limited circumstances, which would become even more limited over the years, the states--the Court said--had no compelling interest in protecting the life of an unborn child. And the father of the child had even less of an interest.
After the death of over 54 million innocent lives, most Americans have become numb to the reality of abortion. For some, abortion has become a fundamental right that they will exercise at some point in their lives--and, statistics show, once they exercise that "right" once, they are more likely to exercise it again. For others who would never consider abortion, it has become the background noise of modern life--"everyone knows" someone who has had an abortion, even though, if you press "everyone" for details, you may well find out that he simply assumes he does. Abortion is both more widespread (1.3 million babies are killed every year in the United States) and more limited (fewer women have had abortions) than most people realize.
One thing is undeniable, however: For most Americans alive today, legalized abortion has always been a fact of life. As of 2009 (the latest year for which this figure is available), the median age in the United States was 36.8. The median age may have varied a little either way since then, but not enough to change the fact that more Americans today were born after January 22, 1973, than before that date.
Every year, someone compiles a list of things that the incoming class of college freshmen has always taken for granted. I have never seen legalized abortion on one of those lists, but for over 20 years now, it should have been. I was born five years before Roe, and when I first became aware of the horror of legalized abortion, Roe was less than ten years old. That the ruling could be overturned, and the regulation of abortion returned to the states, seemed a real possibility until the end of 1989, when the George H.W. Bush administration convinced the state of Illinois to drop Turnock v. Ragsdale, a case widely expected by both pro-life and pro-abortion activists to allow the Court to revisit Roe. (For more details on the Bush administration's betrayal of pro-life activists, see Put Not Your Trust in Princes.) Three years later, Casey v. Planned Parenthood put the final nail in the coffin of a judicial solution to legalized abortion.
For 21 years now, the U.S. Supreme Court has not heard a single case that would justify revisiting Roe--and it almost certainly will never hear one in the future. And yet, in the six presidential elections since the Republican-appointed Justice Anthony Kennedy switched sides and voted to uphold Roe in Casey, pro-life activists have continued to pour massive amounts of time and money into presidential races in the vain hope that the right president would make the right Supreme Court nominations, and Roe would be overturned.
It's not going to happen, for the reason that I mentioned above: Legalized abortion has become part of the cultural landscape of the United States. There are no political--or judicial--solutions to cultural problems. The battle against the slaughter of the innocents can no longer be won at the ballot box or in the courts (if it ever could): It can only be won by capturing the hearts and minds of the American people.
Do not mistake what I am saying for pessimism or resignation. Quite the opposite: If one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome, then recognizing the futility of our political efforts in support of life would be a return to sanity, allowing us to refocus and redouble our efforts where they can really make a difference.
In my hometown of Rockford, Illinois, the very abortion clinic at question in Turnock v. Ragsdale--the case in which the George H.W. Bush administration sold out the pro-life movement and ensured that Roe v. Wade remained the law of the land--closed down in late 2011, after taking perhaps as many as 100,000 lives over almost 40 years. It didn't close because of a Republican president, or as the result of an order from the U.S. Supreme Court. It closed because of the tireless efforts of local pro-life activists, who prayed in front of the abortuary every day it was opened and who offered another choice to mothers who thought they had none.
In the wake of the clinic's closure, the Rockford Area Pregnancy Care Center (RAPCC)--the chief provider in the area of alternatives to abortion--is serving more women and children than ever before. The experience gives the lie to the claims of Planned Parenthood and others who make their living off of the destruction of unborn children that the only alternative to "safe" legal abortions is unsafe illegal ones.
Just before Christmas, I was invited to join the board of RAPCC. It's a commitment that is going to require a lot of time and considerably more money than I ever donated to pro-life presidential candidates. But I am willing to make that commitment because, unlike even the best presidential candidates, RAPCC is making an actual difference--giving hope to the hopeless and reversing the Culture of Death, one life at a time.
After 40 years of wandering in the Desert of Sin, we have an opportunity to raise up a new generation that understands that legality does not necessarily mean morality. We can save lives and turn the culture around. But it is going to take work--every day, not every four years.
When you finish reading this post, pick up your phone. Call your local crisis-pregnancy center, and ask how you can help. If you don't have a local crisis-pregnancy center, contact Care Net, the nation's oldest and largest network of crisis-pregnancy centers, and find out how you can offer support to centers in nearby towns, or even start your own.
Whatever you do, don't wait until 2016, and don't expect the solution to come from the White House, or Congress, or the U.S. Supreme Court. The power to change the culture lies in our hands, even if all that you personally are able to do is to fold them in prayer.