Respect Life Month
Moving toward a culture of life?
Life issues becoming more important to more Americans
By Cathleen Cleaver
In the nearly 30 years since Roe v. Wade, the Catholic 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 heaven with prayer.
It's easy to overlook how much has been accomplished when something like the Supreme Court's Stenburg v. Carhart (June 28, 2000) decision comes along, upholding the killing of a partially-delivered child. But disappointment should not blind us to the very real progress which has been made.
State legislatures are becoming increasingly pro-life. Forty-three pro-life measures were adopted in 2000; more than 27 laws enacted to protect access to abortion. In the last six years, 262 pro-life measures were implemented across the country.
Planned Parenthood's 127 affiliates run 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, and there has been a steady decline in the numnber of abortion providers since 1976.
For 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% decrease since 1990. The number of abortions is still appalling, but that 300,000 fewer children will lose their lives this year is worth celebrating.
As recently as 10 years ago, abortion advocates were still claiming that unborn children are not really human beings, or not yet really alive. Although they still refuse to publicly admit that drug-induced abortions end a developing human life, 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 are pro-life. A September 1995 Gallup poll found that 33% of people identified themselves as pro-life while 56% described themselves as pro-choice. In October 2000, people calling themselves pro-life had climbed to 45%, while those who described themselves as pro-choice dropped to 47%. This is noteworthy given that none of America's influential institutions have left the pro-choice camp --the media being a prominent example.
And while Americans are almost evenly split in how they identify themselves, over two-thirds give pro-life answers to specific questions about a ban on late-term or partial-birth abortions, parental consent laws, informed consent laws with waiting periods, and even mandatory spousal consent. Also, surveys show that more young people are pro-life.
Pro-choice groups are working to stop defections from their ranks. They are spending large sums to win people back to a pro-choice position through advertising campaigns about the American value of choice. The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) alone spent $7.5 million last year.
The pro-life movement, meanwhile, 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, including clothing, baby supplies, medical care, and even a place to stay if necessary.
Through the healing ministry of Project Rachel (see related article: "Post abortion healing needed by college coeds"), about 140 diocesan offices offer one-on-one spiritual and psychological care to those suffering from an abortion experience to help them find healing and live again in the sure hope of God's forgiveness and, one day, reunion with their children. A Project Rachel Outreach Campaign launched by the Bishop's Pro-Life Secretariat last year was so successful that, in just three months, the number of people referred to Project Rachel counseling in the Archdiocese of Washington was 20 times greater than before the outreach.
When will we see the "culture of life"? Not soon enough. But there is evidence we are moving in that direction. We must never slacken our efforts, for it is in striving that we become our truest selves.
(Cleaver is director of information and planning for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.)