Sunday, January 22, marks the 39th anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court decisions which imposed abortion-on-demand in the United States. Once again, concerned citizens will gather on Monday, the 23rd, for the annual March for Life, which in recent years has usually drawn more than an estimated 200,000 participants. Now, why do so many people consider it so important to take time on a weekday to come to Washington, DC at the coldest time of the year to make their voice heard on this matter?
Before I go on any further, I need to say a couple of things. First, nothing in this article is meant to condemn anyone who has had an abortion or has been involved in abortion in some way. Far from condemning those with an abortion in their past, the people in the prolife movement are about healing and forgiveness, and want it to be clear that there is hope after abortion. Post-abortion counseling can be found through many church denominations and pregnancy counseling centers.
And second, while the prolife movement consists largely of people with strong religious convictions who feel called by God to defend the defenseless, that doesn't make the protection of human life a narrow, religious issue. The facts that the defenseless exist and that they deserve protection in the human family can be persuasively advocated by non-religiously reasoned arguments.
First, let's start with a little scientific background (from the Science for Unborn Human Life website) about how each of us began our lives as unique human beings. A new human being is conceived when a sperm fertilizes an egg. The sperm has 23 chromosomes and so does the egg. But the fertilized egg has 46, half from each parent, and is genetically unique. These 46 chromosomes, which are fixed at conception, establish the child's sex and are a blueprint for how it will develop, both during pregnancy and after birth.
Blood vessels start to form very early, about 13-18 days after fertilization. Then, on about the 20th day - nearly the end of the third week - the foundation of the brain, the spinal cord, and the entire nervous system is established. The heart begins to beat on about the 22nd day after conception, circulating blood throughout the child. The arms begin to form on about day 26, followed by the beginnings of the legs on day 28, the same day that the mouth opens for the first time.
Both the eyes and ears are developing rapidly during the seventh week after conception. At this time, the thumbs, neck, heels of the feet and all of the fingers are also present. Taste buds begin to form during the eighth week after conception. All parts of the limbs are apparent at this time. In addition, the fingers and toes have lengthened and are completely separated.
By the end of the eighth week the overwhelming majority (several thousand) of the body's organs, structures and systems have already begun to develop. Few, if any, new structures begin to form after this time. During the remainder of the pregnancy, development consists mainly of growth and maturation of the parts of the body that are already present.
Isolated arm, leg and backward head movements begin at about 7 to 10 weeks after conception. During the ninth week, a regular pattern of breathing movements is observed, with a median frequency of about 30 breaths each hour.
These are just the highlights of how you developed during the first 2-3 months of your life. Now consider that a majority of abortions are performed during the tenth to twelfth week of gestation. Some are performed much later in the pregnancy, when the child has grown larger and any unbiased observer would recognize a baby when they see one.
So why if the evidence so clearly indicates that a unique human life begins at conception, how did the deliberate and violent destruction of that life come to be imposed as a 'constitutional right'? Time does not permit describing the whole history of abortion or the intertwining influences of the eugenics and population control movements. Let's start with the socially turbulent late sixties when a growing pro-abortion movement subversively exploited the legitimate aspirations of women for greater rights and participation in society.
The late Dr. Bernard Nathanson, former abortionist and co-founder of the pro-abortion group NARAL, since changed his mind and heart and became a leading prolife advocate. He points out the disinformation at the heart of the pro-abortion campaign.
- "The statistics that we gave to the American public about illegal abortions annually; the statistics we fabricated regarding the number of women dying from illegal abortions annually; all of these matters were pure fabrication and still persist to this very day."
- "We spoke of 5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year. I confess that I knew the figures were totally false. It was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics?"
- "We in NARAL were in the business of coining slogans principally for the media . . . we scattered catchy slogans for them . . . to use . . . in their stories. Slogans like "reproductive rights", "freedom of choice", "pro-choice". For many years we've known them to be hollow and meaningless. They're just catchy and, essentially, without substance."
The movement made rapid progress. California, New York and a few other states passed 'liberalized' abortion laws (though some other states rejected them). But what imposed abortion on American law were two Supreme Court cases, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, pronounced on January 22, 1973. The combined effect of the two decisions was to effectively impose abortion-on-demand throughout the nine months of pregnancy. Since that time, over fifty million human beings have been exterminated by abortion in the United States.
Aside from the grave issue that was decided, the finding that abortion is part of a constitutional 'right of privacy' is considered an overreach of judicial power even by some legal scholars who describe themselves as 'prochoice'. The 'reasoning' was based on 'penumbras' the justices claim to have seen in the constitution.
Did you know that the two plaintiffs in the Roe and Doe cases, Norma McCorvey and Sandra Cano, have filed affidavits to the effect that they were manipulated into their roles and that the decisions should be overturned? You would think that this development would be considered unprecedented in Supreme Court history, but I guess Chris Matthews, Katie Couric, the New York Times, etc. forgot to inform you.
One fact that is becoming evident that abortion-on-demand is not such a great thing for women. Abortion has left many women emotionally and sometimes physically scarred. Campaigns such as Silent No More and Women Deserve Better are tapping into this hidden anguish.
Also evident is the effect on our society, with conflicting attitudes on how we treat not only the unborn, but also the sick, disabled and elderly. Consider the heart wrenching case of the judicially imposed death of Terri Schindler-Schiavo in 2005. Abortion has torn marriages and families apart, and led to a hardened and increasingly violent culture. The raging debate over embryonic stem cell research and human cloning shows the growing risk posed by a disregard for the dignity of every human life.
So, we have had for the past thirty eight years, a culture that in some ways has grown cynical, forgoing the promise of a hopeful future for instant gratification, or more often, the resignation to unimaginative 'solutions' that pit mother against child or people against the planet. One is reminded of a quote from the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats:
"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere a ceremony of innocence was drowned."
These Supreme Court abortion decisions were assumed to have 'settled' the issue in our society. Yet much to the consternation of the pro-abortion establishment, the movement of concerned citizens to protect life has only grown in strength over the past thirty nine years. The prolife movement has pursued multiple paths: educating the public, lobbying and litigating for change, participating in politics, and especially reaching out to help women with unplanned pregnancies. On the political front, abortion Continues to play a pivotal role in the debate over health care and other public legislation. Polling data consistently indicates that, even when economic or other issues determine the outcome of an election, those voters that consider abortion decisive in their voting swing overwhelmingly for the prolife candidates. Presidents, economic cycles and other national controversies come and go, but the struggle for life goes on.
Particularly significant is that the change in public attitudes on abortion is most striking among young people (who've lost peers they've never met). This is manifested in polling results and an upsurge of prolife activism among teens, college students, and new media savvy activists who are exposing the dark side of the abortion industry. This is much to the consternation of their professors and, in some cases, their parents. Sort of adds a new twist to some lyrics from the sixties by Buffalo Springfield:
"Young people speaking their minds, Getting so much resistance from behind."
So the buses are starting to roll, as thousands from distant states once again journey to Washington, where many will gather in prayer the night before or the morning of the March. Then we will rally and march, knowing that those we are trying to defend would some day defend our nation, write great literature, cure disease, compose stirring music, and explore and begin to settle the Solar System.
But more than for their potential accomplishments, we speak out for them simply because of the inherent dignity of each of their lives. In so doing we are responding to a great calling as individuals and as a civilization. And we'll continue to speak and march and work and pray, confident in the hope that, one of these years, we'll no longer face the cold winds. Instead, we'll gather on a warm spring day to celebrate the inclusion of the youngest in the human family within the protection of the law.