A Thumbnail History of the Modern Pro-Life Movement
It is generally assumed that the pro-life movement in America grew out of the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe vs. Wade. This is not true. Long before Roe, pro-abortion forces were working in the legislatures of several states and pro-life organizations had already been formed to resist them.
However, even those groups were not the first ones to work in opposition to abortion.
In the mid-60s, many of the more activist-oriented civil rights leaders were alerting their followers that the efforts to legalize abortion were part of a larger agenda designed to reduce or eradicate minority populations. Primarily, these people were associated with organizations like the Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam. By the late 60s and early 70s, the actions of some of these groups had caused them to become marginalized in the minds of most Americans, and their warnings about the connection between racism and the legalization of abortion were ignored.
By the end of 1972, many other pro-life organizations had been formed with the vast majority being either associated with Catholic organizations or, at least, run by Catholic people. However, when the Supreme Court issued Roe vs. Wade in January of 1973, the conventional wisdom within the media and the political community became that the abortion issue was settled once and for all. These “experts” believed that the fledgling pro-life movement would soon see the futility of their cause and simply fade away.
“Court Settles Abortion Issue”
— Headline from the Milwaukee Journal
January 24, 1973
“So the abortion issue is settled, so far as the courts are concerned.”
— Article Court Stands Firm on Abortion
March 27, 1974
“I hope the abortion issue is settled now once and for all and we do not have to open the floor (of the legislature) to lengthy and emotional speeches. We have other more pressing business to consider.”
— Sen. Kenneth Myers
(On Roe V Wade Decision)
Of course, that never happened and the movement continued to grow. By the mid 1980s, however, it had become stagnant. On the political front, support for the pro-life position was widespread but mostly rhetorical. This meant that meaningful legislative progress was spotty at best. Meanwhile, the abortion industry’s business model seemed to be in good shape and the abortion rate was climbing.
About this time, a new pro-life initiative was being launched. Called Operation Rescue, it was primarily made up of people who were freshly convicted of the pro-life cause and determined to make up for their past inaction. Their strategy was to end abortion by physically blockading the nation’s abortion clinics; and if that meant going to jail, it was a price they were willing to pay.
An important aspect of Operation Rescue was that it was not dominated by Catholics. For the first time, a message was being sent that Catholics were no longer going to have to carry the load all by themselves. This influx into the pro-life movement by non-Catholics was accelerated by the rise of organizations like the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition.
Almost overnight, the anti-abortion fire-in-the-belly was relit. In a very real sense, Operation Rescue was not only rescuing babies, it was rescuing the pro-life movement. But like most things that burn white hot, the commitment to blockading clinics burned out relatively quickly. It was soon clear that, in order for Operation Rescue to survive, it would have to embrace different tactics. Because it did so, many of the “replacement troops” it brought into the movement are still active.
By the beginning of the 1990s, the picture was becoming bleak. There were over 2100 free-standing abortion clinics in the United States and they were doing more than 1.7 million abortions annually. Public opinion polls were showing that the abortion lobby had built up a significant lead over the pro-life movement with the gap often being as much as two-to-one. Meanwhile, the nation’s largest chain of abortion clinics, Planned Parenthood, was receiving hundreds-of-millions in taxpayer dollars.
Even within the pro-life community, there was a growing perception that the opposition forces were unstoppable. Then in November of 1992, the picture became even darker when Bill Clinton was elected President and immediately set out to pay off the political debts he had run up with the abortion lobby.
As they had done in 1973, the mainstream media and the political pundits again declared the end of the pro-life movement. The consensus among these “experts” was that the political and judicial environment being created by the Clinton administration would finally put this controversy to rest. And once again, the experts were wrong. Not only did the pro-life movement survive, it prospered.
Today, because of pressure brought by the pro-life movement, the number of abortion clinics has plummeted to less than 650 nationwide and they continue to shut down at an increasing rate. This has been accompanied by a drop in the abortion rate to about one million per year. In addition, public sentiment is now showing a dramatic shift toward the pro-life position. For the first time, polls are consistently finding that more people label themselves “pro-life” than “pro-choice” – sometimes by a wide margin.
Polls are also showing that the highest percentage of pro-life responses come from people in the youngest age groups. Within this group, there is a growing awareness that at least one-fourth of their generation has been wiped-out by abortion, and they are starting to view anyone born after January 1973 as an abortion survivor. These observations have caused these young people to have a closer and more personal connection to the unborn than has ever been seen in the past.
The pro-life movement is also experiencing a significant increase in the number of African-Americans coming onboard. This is being driven by a growing unease within the Black community that the 1960s civil rights activists may have been right when they warned that there was a hidden racial agenda behind the legalization of abortion. Like the younger age group mentioned above, these people are bringing with them an excitement and an energy that the movement has needed for years. It is also true that other demographic groups who do not fit the traditional pro-life stereotype are starting to get involved.
Another major factor in the resurgence of the pro-life movement has been the effect of technology in two crucial areas. First, the most likely explanation for the explosion of young people coming into the pro-life movement is that they grew up seeing ultrasound images of the unborn. In fact, many of them have actually seen sonogram images of themselves before they were born. This has forever crippled the abortion lobby’s ability to characterize the unborn child as nothing more than a clump of cells. Additionally, with each advance in this technology, the abortion lobby’s arguments become even harder to sell.
The second area in which technology has been a game-changer is the internet. It is certainly no secret that the American media has always been dominated by hardcore abortion supporters who are seldom reluctant to use their position to push that agenda. For years, this media bias allowed the abortion lobby to tightly control what the public knew and didn’t know about abortion. But when the internet became a reality, the media lost its monopoly on the flow of information. And it is no coincidence that, once the media could no longer unilaterally manipulate public opinion, the American people began to have profound second thoughts about legalized abortion.
The bottom line is that, right now, there are more dedicated pro-life people on the frontlines of the battle that ever before. And they serve in many capacities. Some work in the legislative process while others focus on trying to influence public opinion. There are those who operate pregnancy resource centers or provide sidewalk counseling to women going into abortion clinics. Still others have taken on the responsibility of providing financial support for the movement. Whether they can give five dollars to the cause or five million, these people are doing their part to make sure that the pro-life effort has the resources it needs.
For more than 40 years, the American pro-life community has been a testament to the power of two things: prayer and persistence. There is no denying that it still has a long way to go, but the fact is that almost 2,000 fewer babies are now being killed per day than were being killed 20 years ago. Without a doubt, this is the most important sign that the pro-life movement is winning. It has the momentum, it is bigger and stronger than ever, it is becoming more diverse everyday, and it has proven that it can succeed even against the most overwhelming odds.
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