Hope and the Politics of Abortion

Anne Hendershott’s The Politics of Abortion offers hope and encouragement to the pro-life movement. She starts by asking simply: How did the party of the New Deal, of the underdog and the weak, become identified with abortion on demand, more than any other single topic?

Part of that story is that pro-abortion activists systematically schemed to neutralize Catholic opposition to abortion.

Hendershott, professor of sociology at the University of San Diego, describes the Democratic Party’s transformation as the “political equivalent of a sex-change operation.” Abortion advocates worked on persuading the Kennedys, the most visible and influential Catholic family in America.

In the summer of 1964, leading Catholic theologians visited the Kennedys in Hyannisport, she reports. They convinced the Kennedys that they could “tolerate legislation that would permit abortion under certain circumstances if political efforts to repress this moral error led to greater perils to social peace and order.” The theologians included Father Robert Drinan, Father Richard McCormick, Father Charles Curran and Father Giles Milhaven, men now known as dissenting Catholics, but who at the time were considered mainstream Catholic theologians.

These men’s views effectively neutralized Catholic opposition to abortion for the crucial period in the late 1960s and 1970s. By then, Roe v. Wade had changed both the law of the land and the political landscape.

In spite of the counter-cultural roots of the pro-abortion movement, in spite of the abortion lobby’s posturing as “progressives,” Catholics today are fighting an uphill battle against a firmly entrenched, well-funded foe that is for all practical purposes, The Establishment.

Hendershott’s book helpfully details the ongoing legal harassment of Joseph Scheidler by the National Organization for Women.

In 1986, NOW tried to define Scheidler’s Chicago-based Pro-life Action League as engaged in “subversive activities.” When the Justice Department could not find evidence of violent or even illegal activities beyond trespassing, NOW brought a lawsuit under the anti-trust statutes, claiming that Scheidler’s work was a criminal conspiracy to close women’s health clinics.

Although the Scheidler family and their organization keeps winning suits, NOW keeps coming back with additional appeals. NOW has been so tenacious that one legal analyst described them as Captain Ahab, and Joe Scheidler as Moby Dick.

Most importantly, Anne Hendershott’s book shows signs of hope in the abortion wars.

Society shows signs of being sick of abortion. The development of ultrasound technology has made converts out of many former pro-abortion fundamentalists. One of the founders of the National Abortion Rights Action League, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, confesses, “When ultrasound ... confronted me with the sight of the embryo in a womb, I simply lost my faith in abortion on demand.”

Likewise, Joan Appleton was head nurse at the Commonwealth Women’s Clinic in Washington, D.C., and an active member of NOW. A particularly troubling ultrasound began her journey from abortion-assisting nurse to pro-life activist.

Pro-life groups are proliferating on college campuses.

Facing criticism from their peers and often persecution from their college administrations, these students are the new counter-culture. A coalition of pro-life student organizations coordinated the publication of the same pro-life advertisement on Oct. 19, 2004. The headline read: “Human Rights for All.”

Harvard Right to Life sponsored a debate with Harvard Students for Choice in 2005. The questions from the audience made it clear that they wanted to discuss the ethical issues surrounding abortion.

According to the Harvard Crimson, the pro-life students confronted these issues, while the pro-abortion side “refused to do so, saying they only wanted to discuss the legal aspects of abortion.” The audience was not impressed.

I can report from my own travels on college campuses that feminism feels like an old worn-out ideology that people repeat by rote. One can hardly believe they mean what they are saying.

By contrast, the pro-life clubs and alternative women’s organizations are on fire with enthusiasm.

Groups such as the Elizabeth Anscombe Sociey at Princeton University, the Edith Stein Society at the University of Notre Dame and the Network of Enlightened Women at the University of Virginia are holding conferences and debates. Meanwhile the feminist establishment, fat, happy, entrenched and well-funded, can hardly rouse itself to respond.

The trends Hendershott reports will one day come to fruition.

The abortion wars will be over. Every child will be welcomed in life and protected by law.

This book will give us hope and encouragement in the meantime.

Jennifer Roback Morse Ph.D. is the author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-Long Love in a Hook-up World.