By CATHLEEN A. CLEAVER
In the nearly 30 years since Roe vs. Wade, the church has educated people about the sanctity of life and the reality of abortion, provided care for pregnant women and their children, served those shattered by abortion, worked to adopt public policies that support and nurture life, and pounded the heavens with prayer.
It’s easy to overlook how much has been accomplished when something like the Supreme Court’s Stenberg vs. Carhart decision comes along, upholding the killing of a partially delivered child. But disappointment should not blind us to the very real progress that has been made.
State legislatures are becoming increasingly pro-life. Forty-three pro-life measures were adopted in 2000, far more than the 27 state laws enacted to protect access to abortion. In the last six years, 262 pro-life measures have been implemented across the country.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s 127 affiliates “serve” women in 875 clinics nationwide at an average price of over $300 per abortion. Despite the financial rewards, an increasing number of doctors will not perform abortions or even train for them, and there has been a steady decline in the number of abortion providers since 1976.
For many years the number of abortions performed in this country hovered around 1.5 million annually, peaking at 1.6 million in 1990. In 1997, the latest year for which there are figures, the number was 1.328 million, representing a 17.4 percent decrease since 1990. The annual number of abortions is still appalling but the fact that 300,000 fewer children will lose their lives each year is something to celebrate.
As recently as 10 years ago, abortion advocates were still claiming that unborn children are not really human beings, or if human then not really yet alive. Although advocates of abortion still refuse to publicly admit that drug-induced abortions end a developing human life, today, generally speaking, there is no longer serious dispute about the humanity of the child or the fatal reality of abortion.
Over the last five years, more people have begun to identify themselves as pro-life. A September 1995 Gallup poll found that 33 percent of people identified themselves as “pro-life” while 56 percent described themselves as “pro-choice.” In October 2000, people who identified themselves “pro-life” had climbed to 45 percent, while those who described themselves as “pro-choice” dropped to 47 percent. This is noteworthy given that none of America’s influential institutions have left the “pro-choice” camp — academia and the media being two prominent examples.
And while Americans are now almost evenly split in the way they identify themselves, more than two-thirds give pro-life answers to specific questions about support for a ban on late-term abortion or partial-birth abortion, parental consent laws, informed consent laws with waiting periods, and even mandatory spousal consent (which the Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional). Also, surveys show that more young people are becoming pro-life.
The shift in public affinity for the pro-life cause is so great that pro-choice groups are working hard to stop the defections from their ranks. They are spending large sums of money to win people back to a “pro-choice” position through advertising campaigns about the American “value” of choice. NARAL alone spent $7.5 million last year.
The pro-life movement, meanwhile, without the benefit of glitzy public relations firms and the enormous budgets of the pro-abortion groups, quietly goes about the business of reaching out to serve the needs of disadvantaged pregnant women and their children. More than 3,000 crisis pregnancy centers have been established around the country to provide a range of services to mothers, including clothing, baby supplies, medical care, and even a place to stay if necessary.
Through the healing ministry of Project Rachel, about 140 diocesan offices offer one-on-one spiritual and psychological care to those who are suffering from an abortion experience to help them find healing for their deep spiritual wounds and live again in the sure hope of God’s forgiveness and of reunion one day with their child. A Project Rachel Outreach Campaign launched by the bishops’ Pro-Life Secretariat last year was so successful that, in just three months, the number of people referred for Project Rachel counseling in the Archdiocese of Washington alone was 20 times greater than in an equivalent period before the outreach.
When will we see the “culture of life”? Not soon enough. But there is evidence we are moving in the right direction. We must never slacken our efforts, for it is in striving that we become our truest selves.
Cathleen A. Cleaver is director of information and planning, USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.