As we enter the 40th year of legalized abortion in this country, those who have labored in the vineyard for many years to end the tragic loss of life should be encouraged. The tide in the abortion debate is turning, and strongly, in the most important place: the culture.
The pro-life movement is winning hearts and minds because it has been living the Gospel of Life in word and deed.
But 40 years ago, the world looked different.
In 1973, Roe v. Wade was celebrated by a diverse spectrum of society: Protestants and other secularists who hailed the defeat of Catholic influence in public life; sexual liberationists; old-wave feminists; the medical and legal professions; academics and “family” scholars who hailed the end of “unwanted” children; and the various classes of bluebloods and eugenicists who funded Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood and believed abortion would improve public health by cleansing society of the poor and minorities.
The pro-life movement, by contrast, largely began as a movement of Catholics against this broad cultural consensus that celebrated the advent of abortion on demand.
Ours was not a welcome voice.
But since then, the world has changed. Dramatically.
Tide has turned
According to National Right to Life, a strong majority of Americans (61 percent) think abortion should never be legal or legal only in rare circumstances. Most surprisingly, 60 percent of self-described independents and 44 percent of Democrats embrace the pro-life position.
Even “Jane Roe” (Norma McCorvey) and noted abortionist and NARAL founder Bernard Nathanson switched sides and became Catholic activists against abortion.
As the popular poster says, “Roe was indeed saved. She is now pro-life.”
Perhaps most important, praising abortion no longer constitutes respectable opinion in most social circles. It’s mean to kill babies. Everyone these days knows, whether they admit it or not — because of ultrasounds, science, common sense and devastating arguments — that the fetus is a human being.
Similarly, the millions of abortions that have taken place since 1973 have touched almost everyone, particularly the millions of women who have had them, and the devastating effects of that life-changing decision have been made clear. Women deserve better.
Thus, there are few people left who see abortion as an unmitigated blessing. Even most of the messages about abortion coming out of Hollywood are either ambivalent or cast it in a negative light, such as in the recent movies “Juno” and “Knocked Up.”
What has led to this cultural shift in views about abortion?
Literally millions of people each applying their gifts, time and treasure have helped turned the tide: teenage sidewalk counselors helping their peers; prayer warriors with their rosaries outside the abortion mills; a bevy of brilliant thinkers developing and honing arguments based on reason and the best science; supportive nurses at life-care centers; generous benefactors who shelter women in need; lawyers who have facilitated adoptions; legislators who have staked their careers on defending life; the many educational and advocacy organizations that have raised public awareness. The list could go on.
Pro-lifers today know that defending life is not about just overturning Roe v. Wade and limiting abortion in the legislative arena. It is truly about saving lives — both the babies and mothers in vulnerable, and often tragic, situations.
And that public witness is changing the culture. The number of abortions in Minnesota has been steadily declining.
Limits of legislation
Those of us who work to pass pro-life legislation or spend significant time and resources to elect pro-life candidates need the continuing reminder that successful legislative efforts will typically follow only from changes in the culture. That is where pro-lifers should continue to build their efforts because, ultimately, we want to create a world where abortion is unthinkable and where women in need have the resources to turn to in vulnerable situations.
When we build a true culture of life, the legislative victories will follow. And indeed, the last few years have seen just that. A series of groundbreaking pieces of legislation have been passed by legislatures around the country.
Many of these legislative efforts, such as the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act that would ban abortions after 20 weeks because of the unborn child’s demonstrated ability to feel pain (passed in Kansas and Nebraska; passed but vetoed in Minnesota), remain unchallenged in federal court because Planned Parenthood and other abortion defenders fear they will be upheld.
Here in Minnesota, the governor’s veto pen makes significant gains in the legislative arena unlikely over the next few years. But that should not dissuade all of us from continuing to build a culture of life — starting with prayer.
And who knows. If Jane Roe and the country’s most famous abortionist can become pro-life, even our most stubborn pro-abortion politicians may come to see the light.
Jason Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.