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Roe v. Wade: Is There Any Going Back?

  • Stephen and Candice McGarvey Contributing Writers
  • Published Jan 21, 2003
Roe v. Wade:  Is There Any Going Back?

Part two in our two-part series on how America was affected by the infamous Supreme Court decision concerning abortion, and what is being done to return America to a culture of life.

January 22 will come and go this year with most Americans hardly noticing. Yet pro-life Americans undoubtedly feel anguish as they ponder the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Thirty years of legalized killing. More than 40 million tiny lives extinguished before they even took their first breath. Fully one quarter of all pregnancies now end in abortion. For 30 years advocates of life have been trying to overturn Roe v. Wade, and so far they have met only defeat.

Despite the terrible horror abortion has been for America, there are reasons for hope among those who support life. The annual number of abortions, which peaked in 1990, is now lower than it has been in years. On almost every front -- courts, Congress and culture -- the pro-life mindset is gaining ground.

The Political Front

Politically, the pro-life community is beginning to rally around a strategy that sets out more moderate goals than the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Last year’s key success was the passing of the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. Not only does the new law require proper medical care for any infant who survives an abortion, but according to Amherst College Professor Hadley Arkes, it may result in the withholding of all federal funding to any clinic that violates the Act.

The Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life political action committee, showed enormous success in 2002’s midterm elections, raising $2.8 million for 32 pro-life candidates in the House of Representatives. Twenty-two of them won. Meanwhile, pro-abortion advocates were less successful for the $33.3 million they raised: Emily’s List, a political network that raises money for pro-abortion candidates, elected only two new women to Congress.

Fighting in the Courts

The prospect of the Bush Administration nominating pro-life justices to the Supreme Court has certainly shaken the formerly confident pro-abortion rank and file. Greeting newcomers to Planned Parenthood "Save Roe" website is this message, "Roe v. Wade … is in grave danger. Influential anti-choice forces are already working to fill the next vacancy on the court with a like-minded justice. We must act now to save Roe."

"The other side is fretting and sounding the alarms and preparing a scorched-earth policy for every nominee sent up by Mr. Bush…," says Professor Arkes. "These people do have something to worry about."

"Roe is in grave peril," says Betsy Cavendish, legal director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, formerly known as the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. "A switch in one vote [on the Supreme Court] could ban some abortion procedures and possibly ban second-trimester abortions. With a switch in two justices, Roe could be overturned entirely."

Meeting a Culture of Death in the Trenches

On the front lines of the pro-life movement is Care Net, a non-profit network of nearly 700 crisis pregnancy centers across the United States and Canada. Care Net’s members provide women with peer counseling, post-abortion support and other practical help to women and men facing pregnancy related concerns.

Yet recently, crisis pregnancy centers have been criticized by the pro-abortion movement as "fake abortion clinics." Suzanne Riaz, director of The Life Alternatives Center talks about these public relations attacks in George Grant’s book Grand Illusions. "None of the accusations have had even a modicum of truth to them…," she says. "We have very strict guidelines that every volunteer is required to follow – there is not even to be a hint of deception or coercion."

Instead, the coercion comes from abortion clinics which are known to pressure their patients to proceed with an abortion. In Grand Illusions, abortion patient Caroline Ness speaks regretfully of her experience, "The counselors at Planned Parenthood told me that abortion was the only responsible choice in my situation… "

Many organizations like Care Net and The Life Alternatives Center are working hard to make sure pregnant women are fully aware of their heath care options.

Strategy for the Future

Imperative in the pro-life strategy is promoting an accurate understanding of the issues. For example, there is a widespread myth that Roe v. Wade provides abortion on demand only in the first 3 months of pregnancy. In fact, Roe made it legal to have an abortion for basically any reason the mother can think of, regardless of how far along her baby may be.

Another common misperception among Americans is the well-known caveat that sounds like a good reason to allow an abortion: "Protecting the health of the mother." In Roe v. Wade’s companion decision Doe v. Bolton, the U.S. Supreme Court defined "health" to mean "in light of all factors -- physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age -- relevant to the well being of the patient." Thus, an abortion is allowable for any woman who believes having a baby will negatively affect her emotional health.

Many fail to grasp that abortion opinions no longer fall into the two simple categories, pro-life or pro-choice. Kellyanne Conway, President and CEO of the Polling Company, suggests that the best way to survey the public on this issue is with a six-point continuum. As an example, a 2001 poll by the Polling Company shows:

* 14 percent of America feels that abortion should be prohibited in all circumstances

* 13 percent of America feels that abortion should be legal only to save the life of a mother.

* 21 percent of America feels that abortion should be legal in case of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.

* 26 percent of America feels that abortion should be legal for any reason but not after the first three months or first trimester.

* 8 percent of America feels that abortion should be legal for the first six months

* 8 percent of America feels that abortion should be legal for any reason during a woman’s pregnancy.

Conway believes pro-life strategists must "cut through the feel-good phraseology…" employed by pro-abortion advocates.  By preventing people from taking a comfortable seat in the innocuous sounding "pro-choice" camp, Conway suggests that the American public will begin to understand what is really at issue.

The Battle is Far From Over

Could pro-abortion forces really be on the run? The pro-abortion movement may even be losing the support of its stronghold: feminists. The organization, Feminists for Life, has attracted as their honorary chairwoman Emmy Award winning actress Patricia Heaton, from the television show "Everybody Loves Raymond." With the tagline "Refuse to Choose," the organization seeks to, "Oppose all forms of violence, including abortion, infanticide … as they are inconsistent with the core feminist principles of justice, nonviolence, and nondiscrimination."

"Thirty years after Roe is a time to rededicate ourselves to the greatest mission of all, which is respect for innocent human life," says William Saunders, Director of Family Research Council’s new Center for Human Life and Bioethics. And while 30 years of killing innocent children is shameful legacy for American culture to bear, those who fight the encroaching culture of death have every reason to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

- Stephen and Candice McGarvey are freelance writers living in Northern Virginia.

Read part one in this series here.