This January marked the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Courts fateful decision to legalize abortion across the land. Since 1973 an estimated 60 million-plus preborn babies have been put to death in the U.S.
This January marked the 14th anniversary of the Walk for Life West Coast, one of several marches in major cities across the nation promoting the pro-life alternative to abortion. Since 2005 tens of thousands of people from around northern California (most of them Catholics) have gathered to hear speeches and attend Masses and other ancillary events that culminate in a parade through the streets of downtown San Francisco. This year, a stable of speakers that included Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, Shawn Carney of 40 Days for Life, and the godfather of the pro-life movement, the great Joe Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League, was on hand to rev up the attendees, who welcomed their messages of hope and encouragement.
One of the most oft-repeated hopeful messages of the day an unseasonably warm and sunny day by San Francisco standards was that the pro-life side is winning the fight against abortion. We are winning! more than one of the invited speakers (though not those mentioned above) bellowed into the microphone, to whoops and applause from the gathered crowd. Pro-life pundits and the Catholic media repeated this phrase, or variants of it, in the wake of the walk. Is it just a coincidence that so many people stayed on theme? Either the memo went out in time, or they all decided independently to parrot Vice President Mike Pences address to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., in which he said, Life is winning again in America!
Now, nobody expects speakers at a rally-the-troops event like the Walk for Life to provide hard data or detailed evidence to prove the validity of such an assertion, and none was given. So we were left to wonder: Are we really winning? In what sense could this be true?
Some evidence does exist. For starters, exactly one day before the walk, Cecile Richards announced that she is stepping down as president of Planned Parenthood. Many pro-life leaders believe her decision is tied to the FBIs impending investigation into her companys sale of aborted baby parts, a federal crime (about which see our New Oxford Note What Goes on Inside the Clinic, Oct. 2015). Others believe its connected to Hillary Clintons stunning loss in the presidential election; Planned Parenthood had invested heavily in the staunchly pro-abortion candidate. Perhaps both blows to the abortion giant factored into Richardss decision to resign. Either way, the signs are pointing to a time of turmoil for the nations largest abortion provider. Planned Parenthood closed 32 offices in the 12 months of 2017, and, in an odd sort of symbiosis, it closed 32 percent of its facilities in the 12 years of Richardss tenure as president.
But wait a minute. We cant just assume that cutting off Planned Parenthoods head will kill its body especially a body thats flush with filthy lucre. This beast will simply sprout a new head, and business as usual will continue. And business is good: Despite its diminished footprint, Planned Parenthood reported just shy of $1.93 billion in total assets in 2017 (up from $1.84 billion in 2016), and it still receives upwards of $500 million of tax funding per annum the same amount under Trump as under the Obama administration.
Winning? It would be a great exaggeration and a grave mistake to say that Planned Parenthood is in the throes of its demise.
An examination of the causes of Planned Parenthoods contraction (as far as offices and clinics go) reveals some interesting and encouraging trends. Most noteworthy is that abortion has been on the decline for several years. Recently, the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute reported that 926,190 abortions were performed in 2014 (the most recent year for which data is available). Thats the lowest recorded number since abortion was legalized in 1973, and a 42 percent drop from the peak year of 1990, when 1,608,600 abortions were performed.
But this welcome news doesnt necessarily portend a decrease in demand for abortions, as many have been so eager to conclude. What the numbers reveal is a change in the way women are going about getting rid of their preborn offspring. Many are now opting for a less intrusive, more bloodless method of baby-killing: RU-486, mifepristone taken in conjunction with misoprostol. This abortifacient cocktail is said to be more than 95 percent effective during the first 50 days of pregnancy. According to Guttmacher, such medication abortions accounted for 31 percent of all non-hospital abortions in 2014, and for 45 percent of abortions before nine weeks gestation. And the push is on to make medication abortions more readily available. The California State Senate, for example, is considering a bill that would require every four-year public university in the Golden State to dispense the so-called abortion pill at campus health centers.
By law, the abortion pill is available only by prescription. But the latest trend has women procuring it themselves and self-inducing abortions, without the help of a doctor. Where are they getting the pills? Why, the Internet, of course. Chloe Murtagh, writing at the feminist website Broadly (Nov. 2, 2017), chronicles how she ordered abortion pills from 20 different websites to test the reliability of the suppliers and the quickness of shipping. And shes not some rogue operator dreaming up a random scenario. According to The New York Times (March 5, 2016), there were more than 700,000 Google searches for information on self-induced abortions in 2015 alone searches like buy abortion pills online and free abortion pills. Add that to Guttmachers figure of 926,190 reported abortions in 2014, and its evident that the drop in demand for abortion isnt as dramatic as it would seem, since self-induced abortions are generally not reported and are therefore incredibly difficult to track accurately.
Meanwhile, the British Medical Journal released a study last May claiming that self-sourced medical abortion is a potentially lifesaving option, and the visibility and importance of self-sourced medical abortion will continue to increase. As if by command, several major American media outlets rushed out articles citing the study and claiming, for example, that Internet abortions are a safe option (Washington Post, May 16), and that taking abortion pills at home is as safe as having an abortion in a clinic (CBS News, May 17). An earlier study by the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (2008) claimed that mifepristone is safer than Tylenol and Claritin safer even than carrying a pregnancy to term. What topsy-turvy times we live in! Imagine: The professionals are now saying its safer for a woman to have an abortion than to give birth!
Former President Bill Clinton once said he wants abortion to be safe, legal, and rare. Who knows? Maybe medication abortions are safer than earlier methods. (But lets be honest, no abortion is safe for the baby.) And maybe abortion is rarer now than at any point in the past four-and-a-half decades. But is making abortion safe or even rare really the goal of the pro-life movement?
One thing, however, is certain: Abortion sure is legal. Its legal in every city, state, and municipality in the U.S., not to mention at the federal level, where it is doggedly defended by deep-pocketed interests. Just two days after the Walk for Life, the U.S. Senate shot down the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would have banned abortions after 20 weeks. According to Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, the bill would have saved the lives of 18,000 unborn children each year. Instead, the U.S. remains one of only seven countries in the world that allows elective late-term abortions were on a short list that includes China, North Korea, and Vietnam. They say youre known by the company you keep. Were in company with some of the most notorious human-rights violators in the world.
The welcome presence of the youthful Pro-Life Generation at the Walk for Life notwithstanding, is there anything in American culture or politics to suggest that abortion soon wont be legal? It is well entrenched in our legal and political system, and there doesnt appear to be a person or group who has the wherewithal, the ability and the desire, to do anything about it. Donald Trump doesnt appear to be that man. In fact, Republican presidents and their Supreme Court appointees have been more of a hindrance than a help in this matter (see our New Oxford Note Pro-Lifers, Youve Been Played, Jan.-Feb.).
And then theres the small matter of those 60 million missing persons. To put it in perspective, the total U.S. population is approximately 327 million. This means that American mothers have blasted over 18 percent of our preborn fellow citizens into the great beyond since 1973. What a staggering loss!
According to the Centers for Disease Controls latest National Vital Statistics Report (Jan. 31, 2018), the general fertility rate for U.S. women of childbearing age is 62.0 births per 1,000 women a record low. That rate is well below replacement, the level at which a given generation can replace itself (generally agreed to be 2,100 births per 1,000 women). Basically, the U.S. is aborting and contracepting itself into oblivion.
Its a common human trait: No matter ones cause or creed, we all want to have hope for the future. We might be down now, people of all stripes and ideals like to think, but we wont be for long. Pro-lifers are no different. Yes, the pro-life movement has enjoyed some happy victories recently, and for that we should be glad. But as long as abortion remains a legal, political, and cultural mainstay in America, were not winning anything.
DOSSIER: Pro-Life Issues & Culture of Death