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How Pro-Choice Became Pro-Abortion

If Roe v. Wade were overturned tomorrow, we would celebrate, right? Well, yes, but not so fast. A fringe element of the pro-choice movement has always insisted that Roe, even though it legalized abortion in the United States, didn’t go far enough. You see, in his majority opinion in the fateful 1973 Supreme Court case, Justice Harry Blackmun established a number of criteria for legal abortion, among them the so-called “viability test.”


According to Blackmun, if a fetus lacks viability outside the womb, it also lacks a component of personhood, and therefore a right to life. In the years since Roe, of course, viability has become a moving target, advancing ever earlier in pregnancy as medical technology advances. Now babies have been successfully delivered as early as 23 weeks, showing just how arbitrary the Court’s viability test is.


All of this is why Wesley Smith, writing at First Things, foresees the possibility of a “reverse reversal” of Roe v. Wade—that the pro-choice movement, not the pro-life movement, might ultimately discard Roe in favor of a more sweeping endorsement of abortion. Such a move, warns Smith, would effectively make abortion rights “absolute.”


And a recent shift in rhetoric hints that abortion advocates may be moving in this direction. Writing in The New York Times, Jackie Calmes writes that the days of “pro-choice,” as a label, are numbered, because “the term pro-choice. . . does not reflect the range of women’s health and economic issues now being debated. Nor…does it speak to a new generation of women.”


It turns out that the “pro-life” label, which focuses attention on the humanity of the unborn, has convinced a majority of Americans to identify themselves as pro-life.


“Very slowly,” writes Smith, “the fundamental premise of pro-life advocacy—that abortion not only stills a beating heart, but takes a human life—has resonated with the American public.”


But if it seems like advocates of legal abortion are in retreat, Smith warns that it may be only a strategic retreat.


“Rather than moderating,” he writes, “activists have embraced an advocacy model they once eschewed—being explicitly pro-abortion. In this new approach, Roe v. Wade is no longer a moment to celebrate. Rather, it must be overturned because it is too restrictive of what they believe should be an absolute right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, at any time, for any reason.”


And the nation’s number one provider of abortions, Planned Parenthood, is leading this retrenchment.

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, says, “[This change] is something we’re been talking about for several years.” The absolute right to abortion, she believes, should be the pro-choice movement’s new rallying cry.


And recent legal successes by pro-lifers have inspired frightening honesty from her side. In a bone-chilling article in The Washington Post, Janet Harris urges readers to “Stop Calling Abortion a Difficult Decision.”


She argues, “When the pro-choice community frames abortion as a difficult decision . . . It is a tacit acknowledgment that terminating a pregnancy is a moral issue requiring an ethical debate. To say that deciding to have an abortion is a ‘hard choice’ implies a debate about whether the fetus should live, thereby endowing it with a status of being.”


So gone are the days of “safe, legal and rare” rhetoric about abortion. No more sheep’s clothing; the pro-choice movement is rapidly becoming an unapologetic pro-abortion movement. And so pro-lifers, especially Christians, have to be ready with gentle but firm conviction—and a renewed commitment to the sacred and precious dignity of every human person.


And as crazy as it may sound, there’s a bright side to this. Increasingly, abortion is being exposed. It’s no longer the hidden evil it once was. Hidden evil flourishes, but by exposing assaults on human dignity the church has historically offered the culture around them the very good gift of life and human flourishing. And we can do the same today.


BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at where you can read and search answers to common questions.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

Publication date: September 11, 2014

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