by Marie Connelly
This year marks the 40th anniversary of abortion’s insertion into the United States Constitution. Time Magazine recently published an article lamenting the failure of the pro-choice movement during the years since Roe v. Wade’s passage, while noting the corresponding achievements of pro-lifers. Although this uncharacteristic honesty may lure pro-lifers into complacency, we must resist the temptation. Because the ultimate goal of pro-choice movement—abortion access on demand—has been achieved, the ultimate goal of the pro-life movement—cultural respect and legal protection for all human life—is far from finished. Complacency is not an option.
On January 21, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down two cases, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton that when read together, gave virtually unrestricted access to abortion, overriding any prior state restrictions on abortion. This alleged right to abortion was somehow found in the shadow of rights enumerated in our Bill of Rights. A shadowy act, indeed.
Since this historic moment, a strong divide has emerged in American public discourse, separating those who deem themselves pro-life—and whose opponents call anti-abortion, from those who deem themselves pro-choice—and whose opponents call anti-life or pro-abortion. Pro-life advocates recognized that with this pair of historic Supreme Court decisions, abortion would soon become a substitute—or a backup—for contraception, which itself was introduced for public use in the mid-1960s. If contraception fails, the logic goes, there’s always abortion. This slowly became a reality, as the rate of abortion rose, particularly among those vulnerable populations less likely to use contraception or to be compliant with its use.
Pro-life groups began to coalesce in opposition to this immediate and radical change to our constitutional landscape. They sought to protect innocent human lives lost to abortion and sought to console the women and men who suffer from abortion. They strategically devised a counter-cultural revolution with deliberate, incremental steps to scale back the effects the tragedy of abortion leaves us—some 50 million people missing from our country. They sought legal reform by electing pro-life politicians, and they demanded abortion facilities comply with health, licensing, building, zoning, and other laws applicable to every other facet of medicine. If pro-choicers are about equality, why should abortion facilities receive preferential treatment over medical facilities that perform services necessary to protect and sustain life—an essential quality of medicine? Pro-lifers witnessed the suffering women and men who later realized their ‘choice’ was a false one. These grieved women and men didn’t believe there were other, or better, alternatives; abortion seemed the only option. Pro-life advocates sought better informed consent laws to ensure that those choosing abortion were not coerced and were fully aware of their alternatives.
These victories mark great progress for the cause of life. But, pro-lifers still have a long road ahead and cannot afford to tan in the glow of their success. The Time Magazine article was not only a temptation into complacency for pro-lifers, but a call to action for pro-choicers. Fighting to sustain a victory is more difficult than fighting to achieve victory. Despite this challenge, the Time article realizes that the octogenarians who founded the modern feminist movement will soon be displaced by a younger generation that more naturally relates to women of reproductive age. The pro-choice movement is expanding its scope and rebranding itself as the cause for ‘reproductive justice’ a term that encompasses “abortion access. . ., contraception, child care, gay rights, health insurance and economic opportunity.” This innovation and reinvention by pro-choicers is establishing a new frontier. What is the new frontier of the pro-life movement?
Pro-lifers must be prepared to respond. Pro-lifers have always been advocates for childcare; there’s no reason we shouldn’t advocate for health insurance and economic opportunity. Pro-lifers must also have ideas of their own. We must strive to establish a culture of life. We must continue spreading our message of love until it is understood by every human. Beyond culture, legal challenges remain on our journey to provide legal protection for all human life. Even if the Supreme Court rolls back its forty-year-old pro-abortion precedent, the journey is not over. The decision would then rest with the states to decide what, if any, restrictions should be placed on abortion. In anticipation of this, states should pass constitutional amendments to protect human life. Informed consent laws should be strengthened. Adoption laws should be simplified. A new frontier is necessary and the options are endless. The road ahead is long, but with coordinated efforts and a clear vision, we will win.
Marie A. Connelly is a lawyer in Washington, D.C. She is a graduate of the Notre Dame Law School and a former federal judicial law clerk.