NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The pro-life cause is winning. In state legislatures, in the media, and in grassroots efforts to reduce the number of abortions, pro-life activists have put abortion rights advocates on defense. The pro-life movement certainly has hurdles to overcome before the United States can become a place where all human life is legally protected. Yet the eventual outcome is certain. Here are five reasons I believe we have reached a tipping point in favor of the pro-life cause.
1) Public Opinion.
A majority of Americans surveyed in a recent Rasmussen poll, including a large percentage of those who identified themselves “pro-choice,” said they believe abortion is “morally wrong most of the time.” Last year, for the third consecutive time, Gallup found that more Americans accept the pro-life label, a result that led the polling firm to acknowledge “a real change in public opinion.”
One reason for this shift is the high-tech ultrasound machine that reaffirms what embryology textbooks have told us all along — that the unborn child is truly a human being. In a February Washington Post editorial, Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for Choice, advised abortion-rights advocates to shift strategies: “We can no longer pretend the fetus is invisible.” Yet few pro-choice activists seem to be listening to Kissling’s advice. They continue to cast themselves as the defenders of “women’s reproductive rights.” This worn-out strategy fails to resonate with a large number of Americans because it ignores the point of tension. The debate has moved on from “reproductive rights” to the more perplexing question: “What are the unborn?”
Meanwhile, many people — including some you would not expect — are openly registering their unease with the procedure. Take the recently released autobiography of Steven Tyler, the “screamin’ demon” lead singer of the rock band Aerosmith. When he impregnated a teenaged girl in the mid-1970s, friends convinced them they could not raise the child and should seek an abortion. “They put the needle in her belly and squeeze the stuff in and you watch,” Tyler recounted in his autobiography. “And it comes out dead. I was pretty devastated. In my mind, I’m going, Jesus, what have I done?”
Twenty years ago, many of those who considered themselves “pro-life” were a little hesitant to say so publicly. Today, the reverse is true. Even those who advocate a woman’s right to abortion don’t want to fight for that position too passionately.
2) The Media.
In 1972, an episode of “Maude” concluded with the central character choosing to have an abortion. One would think that nearly 40 years later, we would be past this debate. Not so. In fact, filmmakers and television writers have discovered that fictional abortion not only kills a fetus, but kills a story as well. Movie and television characters who wrestle with the decision (Dr. Abby Lockhart on “ER,” for example) almost always choose life.
That’s why even pro-choice filmmakers choose life in the end. “Juno” is a good example. The pregnant teenage girl approaches an abortion clinic and meets a pro-life friend who informs her that the baby has a heartbeat, can feel pain, and already has fingernails. Juno chooses “to appreciate her miracle.”
Similarly, in a 2009 episode of “Law and Order” (“Dignity”), a female attorney seeking justice for a murdered abortion doctor is shaken by a description of partial-birth abortion. “I grew up thinking Roe v. Wade was gospel,” she says. Now, “I don’t know where my freedom ends and the dignity of another being begins.”
The media is not leading the way when it comes to the pro-life cause. It’s only catching up to the sweeping pro-life sentiments of the majority of Americans. Yet the shift in popular culture reflects the progress the pro-life argument has made.
3) Young People.
Seventeen-year-old singing sensation Justin Bieber, was recently asked by Rolling Stone for his position on abortion: “I really don’t believe in abortion,” he said, since abortion is “like killing a baby.” Bieber is not alone. The sea of young faces at this year’s annual “March for Life” in Washington prompted NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan to worry: “There are so many of them, and they are so young.”
Bieber, ironically enough, was castigated by Barbara Walters for answering questions inappropriate for a person of his age — even though girls can actually receive abortions, and not merely opine on them, at ages younger than 16 — Bieber’s age when the interview took place. That a veteran journalist like Walters fails to see the inconsistency in her position is a testament to how entrenched are the ideas among the older generation of abortion advocates.
4) The Third Wave.
John Ensor of Heartbeat International says: “In the first wave, Catholics took the lead in declaring the inherent evil of abortion. Evangelicals then flooded in to help advance the pregnancy help movement. The Third Wave points to the victory of our movement and the downfall of abortion as a business, when Black and Hispanic Christians not only join this movement, but lead it.”
A few months ago, a billboard in New York City featured a picture of an African-American girl with the message “The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.” Many found the ad “racist” and thought it condemned black women for having abortions. Lost in the controversy was the actual point of the advertisement: abortion clinics target poor minorities in the inner city. Although the billboard was taken down, it pointed to the troubling racial history of abortion. When YouTube videos began making the rounds, showing the overtly racist agenda of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, some pro-choice advocates were forced to reconsider their assumptions.
5) Abortion advocates on the defensive.
While Roe still stands, legislators in numerous states have begun chipping away at the implications of that decision. Supporting their efforts is increasing evidence of corruption at abortion clinics.
Planned Parenthood’s advocates have sought to redirect the discussion by pointing to all the other health care services their clinics provide for low-income women. But implicit in Planned Parenthood’s downplaying of abortion and emphasizing of other services is a stunning admission: Abortion is a problem. Planned Parenthood’s talking points indicate that fewer and fewer Americans can stomach the idea of “abortion as health care.”
And then there is the admission that abortion is a “tragic choice.” On a recent episode of “The View,” Whoopi Goldberg explained her reason for being pro-choice: the low-income woman who already has too many children. When confronted about women who simply get abortions out of convenience, she called them “idiots.” Why does Whoopi have such a visceral reaction to abortion-for-convenience? Because she’s an inconsistent advocate of abortion rights: She recognizes that the fetus is a human being and that abortion snuffs out this life. The fact that she (and others like her) sees abortion as a “tragic choice” implicitly speaks to the immorality of the procedure.
The tipping point in favor of the pro-life cause is not evident to all. Time magazine recently chose Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards for its 100 Most Influential List. There is much work to be done.
The abortion debate will not go away. The fundamental issue at stake is not reproductive freedom but the desire to extend human rights to all — even the smallest and most vulnerable human beings among us. Those who continue to ignore or deny the humanity of the unborn are increasingly on the defensive because new technologies are opening the window into the womb. What we find there are not tissues to be discarded, but human lives worth protecting.
Trevin Wax is editor of “TGM — Theology — Gospel — Mission,” a small-group curriculum being developed by LifeWay Christian Resources. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, TrevinWax.com.