WASHINGTON – Pro-life leaders differ over whether they expected Roe v. Wade to reach its 40th anniversary, but they agree the battle to protect unborn children and mothers in crisis is headed in the right direction.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state restrictions on abortion in its Roe opinion Jan. 22, 1973. Roe and Doe v. Bolton, a companion ruling also issued 40 years ago Tuesday (Jan. 22), had the effect of legalizing abortion throughout the country for any reason at any point in pregnancy. One of the results has been an estimated 55 million legal abortions during the last four decades.
Looking back after four decades, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said he is surprised Roe is still the law of the land, “given the fact that we’ve had Ronald Reagan as a pro-life president for eight years and George H.W. Bush as a semi-pro-life president for four years and George W. Bush for eight years. That’s 20 years since ’73. I would have thought we would have had more pro-life Supreme Court justices nominated and confirmed.”
The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission acknowledged pro-choice presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had two nominees each but said the 1990 nomination by the first President Bush of David Souter was “the game-changer.”
Pro-lifers, in this picture from the 2010 March for Life in Washington, rally for the unborn. In the 40 years since Roe v. Wade, there have been more than 55 million abortions in the United States.
Souter “was a horrible, tragic mistake, which is the main reason we still have Roe v. Wade. If instead of David Souter, President George H.W. Bush had nominated a strong pro-life Supreme Court nominee, we would have had Roe v. Wade overturned.”
Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said she is not surprised Roe still stands.
“Our opponents are the Goliath in this country,” she told Baptist Press (BP) by email. “They have the media, much of Hollywood, and unfortunately, a lot of money made by killing unborn children. However, we all know how [the story of Goliath] ended. A young boy, with faith in God, prevailed.”
Land, 66, said he still expects Roe to be overturned in his lifetime, if he lives out a “normal life span.”
“[S]entiment is moving against it,” Land told BP. “A majority of Americans think it’s immoral, and a majority [is] willing to put restrictions on it, significant restrictions on the procedure.
Tobias, 52, is not so sure.
“I truly don’t know if Roe will be reversed in my lifetime, but I tend to think it will,” she said. “The pro-life movement is filled with young people who have seen and experienced the impact of abortion on their peers and they are joining the fight to protect the next generation from the same fate. Their energy and enthusiasm will carry this battle forward until it is won.”
Pro-lifers agree the Roe and Doe decisions have been devastating for Americans. In its 1973 Doe ruling, the Supreme Court provided an exception from state regulations of abortion for “maternal health,” which it defined as “all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age – relevant to the well-being of the patient.” The result was to legalize abortion “on demand,” as pro-lifers have described it.
“I can look back over those 40 years and say without a doubt: The world is not a better place because of abortion – women are not in a better place because of abortion,” Carrie Gordon Earll told CitizenLink, which is affiliated with Focus on the Family. Earll, who had an abortion in 1981, is CitizenLink’s senior policy analyst. “What it’s created is a world where you’re almost expected to abort if you’re pregnant at an inopportune time,” Earll said. “It’s created a society where it’s easier to push women toward exterminating their babies than to accommodate them with their needs as mothers.”
Tobias, of Right to Life, said in a written statement Tuesday, “Roe is a sad commentary on our society’s attitudes toward women and their unborn children.
“Roe is an assault on the very foundation of our country – the principle that life is the most fundamental of all human rights,” she said.
In a brief, written statement Tuesday, President Obama – who has strongly supported abortion rights – reaffirmed Roe’s “historic commitment to protect the health and reproductive freedom of women across this country and stand by its guiding principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters, and women should be able to make their own choices about their bodies and their health care.”
The reversal of Roe and Doe without constitutional protection for the unborn would return the issue to the states.
“[I]n most states, most abortions that currently take place will be made illegal,” Land said. “In most of the abortions that take place, the overwhelming majority, more than nine out of 10, have nothing to do with the life of the mother, rape, incest or any serious malady or genetic problem in the fetus. And most states will outlaw purely elective abortions. A significant majority of states, if they have the opportunity, would currently severely restrict abortion.”
He said, “Unfortunately, there would still be states that would have very liberal” abortion laws.
Land pointed to several factors in the pro-life movement’s advance under Roe, including:
The debate during the 1990s and the following decade over the heinous partial-birth abortion procedure “did an enormous amount to humanize the fetus.”
The progress in embryology and ultrasound technology also has helped humanize the unborn child.
“You know they say a picture is worth a thousands words,” Land said. “Well, sonograms have done more to reduce abortion than probably anything else, because women who see their baby are significantly less likely to abort. And, you know, we’ve got more than a generation of young people who have grown up with their siblings’ sonograms on the refrigerator. And so it’s not possible to try to convince them that it is not a human being, which is one of the reasons why pro-life is now the new majority.”
Pro-life couples have had babies and “raised them to be pro-life,” and pro-choicers “have not had their babies, and so they haven’t raised them to be anything.”
Pro-lifers will not give up on their effort to supplant America’s abortion regime, Tobias said.
“The pro-life movement is the movement of love, helping people they will never meet,” she told BP. “As love never ends, neither will our efforts on behalf of unborn children and their mothers.”
In its 1973 Doe ruling, the Supreme Court provided an exception from state regulations of abortion for “maternal health,” which it defined as “all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age – relevant to the well-being of the patient.” The result was to legalize abortion “on demand,” as pro-lifers have described it.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)