NEW YORK—The image on the cover of the Nov. 11 issue of Time is arresting if only because the media so infrequently display photographs of unborn children.
But there the child is—hands near his face, feet up, floating inside his mother's womb.
Pro-life organizations wonder if the Time story, as well as other recent developments, represents a turning of the tide on the issue of abortion in America, 30 years after it became legal.
Catholics, celebrating the Virgin Mary's conception on Dec. 9, hope so.
The computer-enhanced fetal photographs accompanying Time's “Life in the Womb” article leave little doubt about the humanity of the unborn child. Such detail has not been seen since Lennart Nilsson's fetal portraits appeared in Life magazine in 1965. The new images are from the book From Conception to Birth: A Life Unfolds (Doubleday), by Alexander Tsiaras and Barry Werth.
Commenting on the article, Cathleen Cleaver, spokeswoman for the pro-life secretariat of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, “Science has always been on the side of life. The more we learn the more we will come to love human development.”
Ron Galloy, director of the pro-life organization Life: God's Sacred Gift, commended Time for presenting a photograph of an unborn baby on the cover and for its honesty in the cover caption, “An amazing look at how we all began.”
Galloy took exception, however, with the dehumanizing language used in one of the articles. He noted such examples as Time's use of the term “child-to-be,” the statement that “it takes nine months to make a baby” and the frequent comparison of a fetus to animals such as a pig, elephant, chick and a ladybug.
“Such language dehumanizes the unborn child, who is a baby,” Galloy said. “If a child were born at seven months or five months, he or she would be called a baby. It is no less a baby in the womb at nine months.”
Overall, the number of surgical abortions in the United States has declined during the past several years. The Alan Guttmacher Institute has noted a decrease from 1.56 million abortions in 1987 to 1.31 million abortions in 2000. Additionally, the abortion rate among 15- to 17-year-olds saw the biggest decline, falling to 15 abortions per 1,000 teens in 2000 from 24 per 1,000 teens in 1994.
“There are many positive trends taking place,” Cleaver said. “The mistake that the pro-life movement sometimes makes is to focus on the courts. The election, for example, was virtually a referendum on the pro-life issue. In addition, for the last 10 years polling numbers have been shifting. All of these things point out that hearts are changing and the culture is beginning to turn away from the culture of death.”
Some, such as Laura Echevarria, spokeswoman for the National Right to Life Committee, credit laws requiring parental consent or notification about abortions for playing a role in lowering both teen pregnancy rates and abortion rates.
“There has been a concerted effort over the last few years by pro-life groups, health departments and others to encourage teens to really think about the consequences of engaging in early sexual activity,” Echevarria told Zenit, a Rome-based news agency.
Those are not the only numbers showing promise. In recent years public opinion has also shifted in favor of life. In fact, more than 65% of respondents to Time magazine's online poll asking, “When you do you think life begins?” appeared to agree with the Church, responding that life begins at conception.
Children of Roe
Other polls have confirmed this trend. According to a recent Buffalo News poll conducted by Zogby International, more than one-fifth of Americans say they are less in favor of abortion today than they were a decade ago, a number that's nearly twice the number who say they've become more pro-choice. Likewise, a July 2000 CBS/New York Times poll noted that 62% of Americans support either stricter limits on abortion or believe it should not be permitted at all.
Most surprising about the polling data is that those who have grown up with legalized abortion are more opposed than the previous generation. Recent Gallup polls quoted in “A Matter of the Heart,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Nov. 12 statement on the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, demonstrate that major restrictions on abortion are supported by 55% of adults under 30 years old—a higher figure than any age group except those age 65 and older.
“Why so much youthful energy in the cause of life?” the bishops ask. “Because the hearts of the young are open to life and are filled with love of life. The minds of the young are open to the truth about abortion,” wrote the bishops in their statement.
“Young people know that the future is in their hands, and their hearts yearn to bring a message of hope and healing to a culture in great need of hearing it,” the statement continued.
The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League was not aware of any recent surveys that countered such polling data and declined to comment for this article.
In addition to the support for life among youth, some wonder whether technology, such as General Electric's new 4-D ultrasound technology, might be responsible for the change in attitude.
“Technology has allowed people to see life in the womb,” Echevarria said. “Everyone has seen a sono-gram now. In 1973, they were almost unheard of.”
“Ultrasound has been with us since the 1960s,” Cleaver added. “We've come from black-and-white fuzzy images where you couldn't make out the picture to being able to see three- and four-dimensional color images of moving babies. There is even technology which allows a parent to touch an unborn child with a special glove.”
All the same, Ron Galloy isn't yet content to give up his work with Life: God's Sacred Gift. He isn't even ready to ease up on Time magazine.
Twice a week for the past two years Galloy has stood outside the entrance to a dozen New York media organizations, including ABC, CBS, Time and AOL/Time Warner, with a pro-life message. All of his posters bear an image of an unborn child, not unlike the one that appeared on the cover of Time. They bear positive messages such as, “The right on which all others depend” and “Who we were. Protect life.”
Galloy thinks news coverage like that in Time might be a crack in the shell, but he isn't certain whether hearts are beginning to change.
“I can only hope that hearts are changing … that they are being touched. Scores of media representatives—Barbara Walters, Connie Chung, Charles Gibson and Dan Rather—have seen my pro-life message. How could their hearts not be touched?”
Tim Drake is executive
editor of Catholic.net.