For years, Christians and other people of conscience have worked to undo the great damage done (53 million unborn lives lost, and countless women deeply scarred) by the 1973 Supreme Court ruling known as Roe v. Wade.
Thus far, we have been unsuccessful in correcting Roe, which is why, after nearly four decades, there are those who say we should evacuate the public square, abandon political activism, support our local pregnancy care centers, and admit legislative and jurisprudential defeat. Focus on personal and ecclesial acts of charity, they say, but let politics alone.
Such an attitude betrays a weak understanding of the nature of political change. Such change is almost always incremental, involving two steps forward and one step back, over and over again. This process is tedious and sometimes discouraging. It is also necessary and intrinsic to any system of representative self-government.
At some point in the future, a Supreme Court that honors life might end Roe’s legacy of death. Until then, however, conservatives and champions of life will have continued opportunities to hem-in unrestricted access to abortion on demand.
For example, under President Bush, we were successful in enacting the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act, a ban on partial-birth abortion, and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. We ended U.S. funding for organizations that perform abortions in the developing world and prevented federal funding of embryo-destructive stem cell research. Mr. Bush appointed a series of pro-life judges to the federal courts and actively fought efforts to clone human beings. This is only a partial list.
Under President Obama, some of these have been reversed: Our country now funds groups that perform abortion abroad and subsidizes abortion at home. The President’s most recent Supreme Court nominee was a leading advocate for the legalization of partial-birth abortion. Yet some of the progress under the previous President has not been, nor likely will be, reversed.
Since the first of the year, more than 400 pro-life measures have been introduced at the state level, with many becoming law (see page 3, FRC Action’s “State Pro-Life Legislative Report for 2011”). For example:
- In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation ending tax credits for Planned Parenthood.
- Florida Gov. Rick Scott “has signed into law four pro-life bills, including an ultrasound mandate and a ban on abortion coverage in the insurance exchanges mandated by President Obama’s health care law.”
- In Nebraska, there is now a law mandating parental consent for under-age abortion.
- Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a measure preventing late-term abortions in his state.
- South Dakota now has a law requiring a three-day waiting period before a woman can have an abortion.
- In Kansas, pro-life champion Gov. Sam Brownback has led his legislature in enacting key pro-life provisions (as detailed here).
Now in Virginia, pro-life Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli have won approval for new regulations on abortion clinics which require hospital-quality standards for first-trimester abortions. Insisting upon sound sanitation, adequate ventilation, and sufficient physical space in facilities where a woman has one of the most invasive procedures known to medicine strikes most Virginians – and most people generally – as quite reasonable.
As University of Alabama scholar Michael New has documented, these state laws play a significant role in reducing the number of abortions.
In other words, the pro-life movement has not won a single, comprehensive victory, but rather we have advanced a series of measures that increasingly have constrained abortion at both national and state levels. We have made great strides in convincing our fellow citizens that the unborn child has value independent of his or her mother, that this child is a person from conception onward and enjoys a God-endowed right to life that should be protected in law.
When some professing conservatives call for their compatriots to relinquish the battlefield for good public policy to those who oppose it, they do so out of a misapprehension as to the nature of political achievement and also an immature weariness that vitiates productive, and needed, action.
“Defeat is never fatal,” Winston Churchill is reported to have said. “Victory is never final. It’s courage that counts.”
In the wake of the many welcome successes of recent years, let’s keep up the battle with the courage of which Sir Winston spoke and with the “grace and truth” Christ alone can give. After all, we know Who wins in the end.