For the conspiratorial mind, it might seem odd that Time magazine ran a cover story on how abortion advocates have been losing ever since their Roe v. Wade victory, legalizing abortion 40 years ago.
Framing the abortion movement as in decline is particularly interesting, since the story was published just days before Planned Parenthood released its annual report marking a record number of abortions: 333,964.
The family-planning organization also received $542 million in government funding, possibly an all-time high, and had $87.4 million in excess revenue, with $1.2 billion in net assets. It seems that, for Planned Parenthood, business is booming.
Certainly, pro-life activists have made gains. Last year, 43 pro-life measures were passed in several states that create awareness about abortion and regulate abortion providers. Pregnancy-help centers and clinics now outnumber abortion clinics.
The efforts and gains of a growing and committed pro-life movement can’t be dismissed, but the context of the Time article might offer a different pulse on the state of the abortion movement in the U.S.
The article was written months after a presidential candidate won re-election by running openly on the issue of supporting abortion. Most pro-life candidates are too fearful of recriminations, foretold by well-paid consultants, to be articulately outspoken about their pro-life values, despite evidence like the recent Gallup poll showing more Americans are pro-life (51%) than "pro-choice" (42%).
This year it’s especially hard to believe that abortion advocates have been losing since Roe. Abortion activists won the presidency, and they have a new Health and Human Services’ mandate in place that will force every large business and organization to cover every form of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraception and abortifacient, regardless of the values of the employer offering the plans. The only thing that kept the Affordable Care Act from including abortion as well was a paper-thin executive order declaring that abortion cannot be considered an essential health-care benefit.
There are more than a million abortions in the United States every year. It’s hard to see how that’s a sign of defeat.
Chances are, the financial supporters of abortion activists feel similarly, and you don’t have to be exceptionally suspicious to think this might be a significant factor in why Time chose to publish its cover story at this particular moment. In Washington, D.C., it’s widely accepted that the party or issue that loses a political race inevitably gets a windfall in donations. After all, there’s nothing like a political loss to prove to supporters how desperately their cash is needed to advance this very important cause just before it’s defeated forever.
On the flip side, it’s much harder to create a fundraising urgency when people think that a particular issue is succeeding and well-supported by government policies. There’s no evidence that their donations are needed, at least not nearly as much. After all, they’ve reached the goal for which they donated, whether it’s getting a candidate elected or putting a policy in place.
Nevertheless, a well-placed article — let’s say, on the cover of Time — making the case that major advances are about to be lost creates a great sense of urgency for the supporters of that allegedly about-to-be-lost cause.
Additionally, I must add that I’m a skeptic about the polls on pro-life attitudes, including the Gallup poll cited above. While I accept these polls at face value, I think a deeper analysis will suggest there’s a reason why people are at the same time more pro-life today and, according to other opinion samplings, more supportive of same-sex "marriage." I call it the "no big deal" principle.
It’s no big deal to have a baby out of wedlock, as documented by a 40% rate of births to single moms. At the same time, same-sex couples are no big deal — or at least they are in our entertainment world, which many confuse with reality.
Cultural attitudes about single parents and same-sex couples have relaxed because our values about children and marriage have changed.
Fewer and fewer people think that children are so precious that they should enjoy the benefits of parents married to each other, even though sociological data consistently shows this is the best arrangement for a child.
Since we’ve come to accept so many variations of family, many of which are demonstrably incomplete, I find it hard to maintain that we’re more pro-life and that we have a greater respect for human dignity. Yes, we can see the undeniable humanity of the unborn child; but many will not make decisions as if the best thing for that child is to be raised by two parents married to each other.
And, while as a nation we may be more ready than a generation ago to acknowledge the reality of human life in the womb, tragically, for most people, it’s still no big deal that we remain locked in the easy-abortion legal framework imposed two generations ago by the Supreme Court justices in their Roe decision.
Meanwhile, I don’t hear about nursing homes closing down because there are too many older people with families who want to take care of them at home. And let’s not forget the increase in public massacres of innocent victims.
I’ll believe we’re winning once I see a culture where individuals consistently live for others and not just for themselves.
Until then, we have a lot of work to do, and I’m guessing that the Time article is more of an iron fist in a velvet glove or a really aggressive possum playing dead.
Pia de Solenni is a moral theologian and cultural analyst. She writes from Seattle.