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Pro-life leaders assess progress as Roe’s 25th anniversary nears

WASHINGTON (BP)–As the 25th anniversary of the Roe v.
Wade decision nears, the nationwide pro-life movement the
famous U.S. Supreme Court ruling gave birth to has been
doing some self-evaluation.
Pro-life Americans have a quarter of a century of
devastation to look back on, 25 years of mixed results, at
best, for their efforts. They have an uncertain future to
look toward, one that some say requires a new strategy.
When Jan. 22 arrives, it will mark “one of the saddest
and most tragic anniversaries in the history of the American
nation,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern
Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
On that date in 1973, the high court issued an opinion
in a case from Texas that wiped out the abortion laws of all
the states. Combined with a companion case from Georgia, the
decision had the practical effect of legalizing abortion
through the ninth month for any reason offered by a mother.
As a result, an estimated 37 million babies — three of
every 10 children conceived — have died through abortion
since Roe v. Wade. That is an average of about 1.5 million a
Abortion has even become a popular form of birth
control. In recent years, more than 40 percent of women
undergoing abortion have already had at least one.
Roe v. Wade also was the leading edge of a
quality-of-life ethic resulting in other social ills such as
infanticide, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.
While pro-lifers have sought to outlaw abortion through
legislation and prayed for its abolition through judicial
rulings, after 25 years Roe v. Wade stands more entrenched
than ever as the law of the land.
“The inability of the American people to summon the
moral and spiritual backbone to put an end to this child
sacrifice to the pagan gods of social convention, material
well-being and economic advantage is the most sobering
indicator we could have of the extent of our society’s
corruption and paganization,” Land said. “It has brutalized
us and desensitized us to the incalculable value of every
human life in more ways than we can probably presently
It will only get worse, Land believes, apart from a
movement by God.
“Unless there is a spiritual awakening that is applied
to the culture to stem this grotesque bloodshed, the next 25
years will see an ever greater cheapening of human life in
our culture,” Land said. “To paraphrase President Lincoln’s
conclusion in a similar moral crisis over a century ago:
‘This nation cannot long survive half pro-life and half
pro-death.’ We will either reassert the sanctity of all
human life that is our priceless heritage as Americans and
as Christians or our society will continue to descend into a
dark, degenerate valley where human life is cheap and
During the last 25 years, there certainly have been
victories from the ministry and witness of pro-lifers:
Thousands of children’s lives saved; many mothers brought to
Christ; even Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe of the 1973 decision,
and abortion clinic operators such as Carol Everett becoming
Christians, as well as advocates for the unborn.
Some disagreement exists among pro-life leaders as to
whether the movement is still making progress.
Pro-lifers are “gaining ground,” Land said. “I think we
have seen substantial progress in the last 25 years in
raising up a pro-life army.
“The pro-life movement is without precedent in American
history,” he said. “Never before has a grassroots movement
grown to such proportions without the sponsorship and
support of any of society’s elites. The pro-life movement is
still growing, and it has yet to crest in America. We have
succeeded in making abortion a frowned-upon procedure by
most Americans, even if they are not yet prepared to make it
illegal in most cases.”
The ongoing debate over partial-birth abortion has
helped the pro-life cause in recent years, Care Net
President Guy Condon told Baptist Press in an interview.
Congress twice has passed legislation banning the procedure,
which kills a nearly totally delivered baby in the fifth
month of pregnancy or later, but President Clinton has
vetoed it both times.
“It has become a foundational education event for the
American people in making the typical American aware”
abortion is legal throughout all stages of pregnancy, Condon
Condon, former president of Americans United for Life,
believes the pro-life movement has learned an important
lesson, one which signals hope for the future.
“I think we are at one of the most exciting times ever
in the history of the pro-life movement, because people have
come to realize it’s not about politics, it’s not about the
courts — it’s about reaching out to a lost and dying
generation,” he said.
The church community especially has “really been
distracted by what’s going on in Washington,” Condon said.
Rather than trusting legislatures and courts to win the
abortion battle, “I think we’re called to reach out to one
person at a time” through need-meeting ministries, he said.
A local church should be able to provide all the help
needed by a woman with a crisis pregnancy, Condon and Care
Net Chairman Ken Connor, a Southern Baptist, said in an
article in the January issue of SBC LIFE. They also said
pro-lifers need to offset the pro-abortion messages in the
media. One way is for Southern Baptist churches to unite in
citywide media efforts, such as those going on in Houston
and Tampa, they said.
“If churches would unite and cooperate around such
efforts, those who face abortions, as well as the
surrounding community, would see unity and compassion at
work,” Condon and Connor said.
With headquarters in northern Virginia, Care Net
provides support for more than 400 affiliated,
Christ-centered crisis pregnancy centers. It starts about 30
new centers each year.
Unlike Land and Condon, pro-life author Frederica
Mathewes-Green argues the movement is at a standstill and
still needs to revise its strategy to a more personal
approach. Instead of focusing on changing the law,
persuasion needs to become the central strategy for
pro-lifers, she wrote in an article in the Jan. 12 issue of
Christianity Today.
Pro-lifers must not only persuade other Americans that
the being in the womb is a baby, they must convince them
abortion harms women and people can live without the
availability of legal abortion, Mathewes-Green said. To do
the latter, she said, a commitment-based sexual ethic must
be rediscovered, with the Southern Baptist-initiated “True
Love Waits” campaign an example of how premarital chastity
can be encouraged. Pro-lifers also must provide support for
women with crisis pregnancies and help them in their
relationships with husbands, boyfriends and parents, she
In interviewing groups of post-abortion women,
Mathewes-Green said she discovered a “woman is most likely
to choose abortion in order to please or protect people that
she cares about. Often she discovers too late that there is
another person to whom she has an obligation: Her own unborn
Though the ultimate aim is to provide legal protection
for the unborn, a “more realistic goal for pro-life
advocates is to bring about, through both active listening
and gentle persuasion, a gradual dawning of the conviction
that we can live without abortion,” she said. “Eventually
that may result in a cultural consensus to make it illegal
once more.”