“It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”
― Martin Luther King, Jr.
In recent years, many within the Pro-Life movement have reminded both opponents and allies that our ultimate goal is a world where abortion is unthinkable as well as illegal. That is why we talk about building a Culture of Life and creating a society that nurtures and supports pregnant women and preborn children alike. Understanding that being Pro-Life consists of more than opposing abortion is critical. For so long, the Pro-Life movement has not been able to do much more than dream of effectively ending abortion in our country, but with the recent retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, that dream may be within reach.
With much speculation about the undoing of Roe v. Wade in the near future, some within the Pro-Life community have reservations about dismantling the 1973 Court decision, echoing the common anti-Life claim that the culture is not ready for an abortion ban, and women will seek abortions regardless of what the law says. Is this true? Are Pro-Life activists in the legislature wasting time and effort on futile laws that allegedly force women into back-alley procedures?
According to the data, the answer is “no.” In a 2017 article entitled “Pro-Life Laws Stop Abortions. Here’s the Evidence,” and a follow-up post from this past month, an organization called Secular Pro-Life presents dozens of unbiased, peer-reviewed studies that indicate the exact opposite is true in the face of restrictive policies. The bulk of these studies focus on comparing fertility rates in areas with fewer abortion restrictions to those with increased abortion restrictions. The studies are significant because looking solely at abortion rates does not suffice. Any decrease in abortion rates will be explained away by anti-Life activists who would argue that women are still having just as many abortions, but at unsafe facilities that will not report their procedures. If this were the case, however, the fertility rates in areas with fewer abortion restrictions would be comparable to that of areas with more restrictions. In the majority of the studies presented by Secular Pro-Life, fertility rates increased in areas with more legal restrictions on abortions. This means that not only were fewer abortions reported, but also more babies were actually born in those areas. Whether the higher fertility rate is because women are unwilling to break the law to abort or because Pro-Life laws actually reduce the rate of unexpected pregnancies in the first place is hard to pinpoint, and correlation in studies does not always indicate causation. But there is still reason to be optimistic about the tangible and positive effects of Pro-Life legislation.
That all being said, those of us in the Pro-Life movement must bear in mind that even if these studies and statistics were not available, we would still have an obligation to seek legal protections for the preborn. Yes, building a Culture of Life requires establishing social support systems and programs for women in crisis, but our responsibility does not end there. We may be able to continually contribute to a decline in abortion rates through social programs and the like, but abortion will never truly be unthinkable if our laws and constitution sanction such barbarism. Legality and morality are closely connected, and in no scenario other than abortion would people be content to fight against human rights violations on a cultural level, but abandon the legal and legislative spheres. Imagine someone suggesting that women be treated by men as equals, but that the right to vote should wait until “the culture was ready.” Imagine another person suggesting that we allow human trafficking to remain legal while we fight to teach traffickers that buying and selling human beings is wrong.
In the case of slavery, many in the antebellum United States identified as personally against slavery but were unwilling to pursue legal steps to ban the practice. Instead they hoped that a gradual change in the culture would result in an economy fueled by something other than slave labor, and eventually ownership of another human being would be unthinkable. Unfortunately, the invention of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin ensured that slave labor would be in high demand for many years to come, and the idea of gradual abolition was abandoned. And now in 2018, the idea that anyone could have tried to defend the humanity of enslaved Americans without granting them equal protection under the law seems ludicrous. If there exists an opportunity to expand protections of preborn Life through the legislative process, we are obligated to pursue those opportunities while simultaneously influencing the culture to welcome and nurture life.
Ultimately, the Pro-Life movement must decide between comfort with the status quo or sacrificing to protect innocent Life. We are comfortable discussing funding pregnancy resource centers or providing childcare for single mothers. Conflict arises, however, when the conversation moves to abortion and preborn Life. At no time in history were human beings freed from oppression in a way that made everyone happy and comfortable, and when we finally live in a world that values the inherent dignity of every human Life, from conception until natural death, conflict will not have been avoided. The bloodshed will be immeasurable. We will secure protection for innocent human Life only by seeking to protect innocent human Life wherever and whenever, in the culture and in the courtroom.