It is a lucky thing that most pro-lifers profess a religion that forbids despair. It is, of course, possible to be pro-life without being religious (and vice-versa). It is even possible for unbelievers to oppose abortion for the same reasons that impel religious pro-lifers: because the state has a duty to bar the private use of deadly force against human beings, and that's what abortion is. But the purely secular prolifer does not have the consolation of believing in an infinitely just, merciful, and loving God.
It is a consolation much needed as Roe v. Wade nears its thirtieth anniversary. If you do not consider abortion a grave injustice, consider what the world looks like to those of us who do. More than 40 million unborn lives have been snuffed outwhich implies that something like a third of American women have had their sons or daughters killed. A quarter of unborn children die this way.
The most respected political institution in the land, the Supreme Court, says that all this killing is protected by the Constitution. So in the event you persuaded your fellow citizens and elected representatives to do something about the death toll, it wouldn't matter. The courts would just unleash the abortionists again, and lecture you to accept the judicial resolution of the issue. Even peaceful protest outside the places these killings occur is uniquely circumscribed.
Many people agree with you that abortion is wrong. But most people, whatever their view of abortion, do not want to hear a word about the subject. Most people, whatever their view of abortion, regard people like you as fanatics.
Ups and Downs
Ten years ago was the nadir of the movement. The abortion rate had kept climbing: In 1990, 1.6 million abortions were committed. Public opinion kept moving left. By June 1992, Gallup estimated that 34 percent of the public believed that abortion should be legal in all cases. That same month, the Supreme Court reaf-firmed Roe, albeit with qualifications, in casey v. Planned Parenthood. It did so, moreover, at the direction of three Republican appointees whom many pro-lifers had supported in the hope they would overturn Roe.
Later that year, the most pro-abortion president since Roe was elected. On his first day in office-the same weekend as the twentieth anniversary of Roe-he issued a series of executive orders liberalizing abortion law. It was widely suggested that he had been elected in part because the public supported legal abortion, and that Republicans would have to come around if they were ever to win the White House again.
But the early 1990s turn out to have been high tide for "abortion rights." The annual number of abortions peaked in 1990. Fewer doctors are performing abortions, and fewer medical students want to learn how to perform them. Surveys attribute this reluctance more to moral qualms than to fear of anti-abortion violence or protest.
Even at the peak, most Americans disappointed pro-abortion ideologues by persisting in seeing abortion as a tragedy rather than a routine medical procedure. Parents do not dream of one day telling people about "my son the abortionist." Few men brag about pressuring their girlfriends or wives into having abortions. Unease about abortion is so widespread that the politicians most committed to keeping it legal rarely use the word, preferring to talk about "choice." Abortion is the right that dare not speak its name.
The unease has only grown. Since 1995, the polls have been moving in the pro-life direction. Almost as many Americans now call themselves "pro-life" as "pro-choice." The numbers appear to have been driven by the debate over partial-birth abortion-a debate in which, for the first time, it was the pro-choicers who looked like extremists to middle-ground Americans. Most Americans still think that abortion should be legal when a pregnancy results from rape or incest, or threatens the life or physical health of the mother. …