Jan. 22, 1998 marks the 25th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that allowed abortion on demand to happen in the United States—Roe v. Wade.
The numbers are grim: more than 39 million aborted pre-born lives and God knows how many maimed, haunted, or even dead women. (Only God knows because, apparently, few states care enough about how women fare after abortion to make such reporting mandatory.) It's overwhelming, really. Enough to inspire millions of Americans of every age, sex, and background to get up off their couches and become real activists.
For this Herculean effort, we are regularly thanked and praised—by each other. But among our detractors, and even among some who agree with us in principle, we often earn the dreaded label of “single issue” citizens.
Anyone who really cares to know us, would soon know better. We could not possibly be “single issue” in the way they mean, given that the abortion license Roe unleashed is, by definition, never about abortion alone. It is always also about women, motherhood, children, and sex, not to mention the question of authority over life and death.
This is evident from the Roe opinion itself, as well as from the ensuing world it helped create.
Many know that Roe found a woman's “right” to terminate the life within her, in the Constitution's so-called “privacy right.” (A right itself nowhere explicitly mentioned in our Constitution, but discerned from its penumbras and emanations). Few, however, remember how the Roe Court “reasoned” exactly that abortion had to be included within such a privacy right.
Put simply, the Court decided that pregnancy and child-rearing were such overwhelming burdens for women, most especially when they were unwanted, that women simply had to have a right to avoid them with certainty—killing is a certainty—whenever they wanted to. That opinion spoke volumes about women, children, motherhood and authority about life and death.
The Court assumed that women are born more burdened than men—a reasoning akin to the old sexist argument that women are lesser than men because of their fertility. It viewed children through the lens of burden. It cast motherhood in a sour light. And it decided that human beings have the final authority about life and death. (True, the Court claimed that it made no findings on when life begins. But, when its clerks burned the midnight oil to research abortion in ancient Greece, they also undoubtedly stumbled across the literature showing the overwhelming consensus of scientists and doctors that human life begins at conception).
The most significant Supreme Court abortion opinion after Roe, 1992's Casey v. Planned Parenthood, spoke accurately—and chillingly—about the relationship between abortion and sex. The Court, observing society 19 years after Roe, concluded that people had come to “order” their sex lives with abortion in mind.
Said the Court: “[F]or two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.”
This finding, in turn, became part of the Casey Court's rationale for maintaining legal abortion: abortion is the guarantor of the sexual revolution-definitively separating procreation from sex. What the Court did, in fact, was to put its seal of approval on the worsening phenomenon of non-marital, uncommitted sex, with predictable results—more than 80% of abortion clients are single women.
The pro-life movement has spent the last 25 years in the company of women and families who have considered abortion or who have had one. Today, the movement sponsors more than 3,300 crisis pregnancy centers and more than 100 programs across the country for women or men who are suffering post-abortion grief.
Pro-life activists are familiar with the situations, the pressures and the pathologies that lead women to the clinic door—and to substance abuse, self-loathing, or even suicide afterwards. They have formed networks in parishes and communities to support women, children, and families. We have grown up with those most intimately involved in our nation's abortion problem, and shared life with them. These experiences send us back to the trenches ever more convinced that legal abortion must be stopped.
It is not with a single issue mentality, therefore, that we have worked, or that we persevere. It is with a wisdom developed in solidarity with the complex lives of those we have met and served.
Helen AlvarÈ is director of planning and information for the NCCB's Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.