Making the Difference: the Future of Pro-Life

A number of pro-life organizations, and more than a few stalwart pro-life Congressmen, have come under fire recently by some of their fellow pro-lifers for their support of the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act. The bill was sponsored by pro-life champion Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and debated in the waning days of the 109th Congress.

The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act would have required that an abortionist provide women who were 20 weeks or more into their pregnancy information that there is “substantial evidence” that the abortion will cause pain to the unborn child. They would also be required to inform the women of their right to request pain-reducing drugs for the child.

This bill is similar to informed consent legislation that has been passed in 22 states. “Right-to-know” legislation has provided a significant decrease in the number of abortions because the more women know about the development of their unborn child, the less inclined they are to have the abortion and the more they seek out life-saving alternatives.

Those critical of the bill are upset because they say the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act (and, for that matter, informed consent legislation, parental involvement laws, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, and even the Hyde Amendment) would not end abortion. This is just another chapter in a disagreement on strategy that has existed since Roe v. Wade.

Pro-lifers can generally be divided into two schools of thought: the “incrementalists,” those who seek to save as many lives as possible by accepting protective, incremental legislation while continually working toward a society that grants full legal protection to unborn children; and the “absolutists,” those who reject and oppose any protective, incremental steps and seek only legislation that would ban all abortions in one broad stroke.

Certainly, the pro-life movement is the most diverse social movement in our nation’s history and there is more than enough room for thoughtful discussion and debate that respects both strategies. But attacks on other pro-lifers are simply unwarranted and destructive.

Time and time again, the incremental approach has worked. The annual number of abortions topped 1.6 million in 1990. Based on estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and the Alan Guttmacher Institute (the research arm of Planned Parenthood), that number dropped by approximately 20% to just under 1.3 million in 2002, and the number keeps dropping.

Why? Some insight can be found in two studies done for the Heritage Foundation by professor Michael New of the University of Alabama. In both, New examined the numbers of abortions in states before and after enactment of pro-life legislation (including parental involvement, informed consent, public funding of abortion and bans on partial-birth abortion). He concluded that in states where pro-life legislation is enacted, the result is “statistically significant declines in the incidence of abortion.”

It is evident that a majority of the country is ready to see restrictions on the vast number of abortions. (Even using liberal estimates, fewer than 5% of abortions are performed to save the mother’s life or in the cases of rape or incest.)

The recent debate over the proposed abortion ban in South Dakota is very instructive. Referred Law 6 was defeated approximately 56% to 45% in South Dakota. Interestingly, a poll done by the Sioux Falls newspaper Argus Leader just a week before election day found that 56% would have supported the bill if it contained an explicit exception for rape and incest.

When looking at the country as a whole, a poll conducted by the Polling Company in April 2006 found that 22% were opposed to abortion except when the mother’s life was in danger, or in cases of rape or incest. 16% were opposed to abortion except to save the mother’s life and only 16% were opposed to abortion in all circumstances.

Our movement is a prime example of the old marketing cliché “a picture is worth a thousand words.” The pro-life movement is at its best when we’re talking about fetal development and the humanity of the unborn child. We can do more to touch the hearts of those who say they favor abortion when we can show and discuss pictures of unborn children in utero.

By promoting legislation like the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, which turns the debate back to a public discussion of the unborn child, we can educate the country with the most basic information on fetal development, including evidence showing unborn children can feel pain as early as 20 weeks. And in the process, we can touch more hearts, change more minds and save more lives.

We can, and we will win. We must continue reaching out to every single citizen with the message that every abortion stops a beating heart and hurts women. To spend our time, energy, and resources attacking pro-lifers betrays every unborn child we work so hard to protect.

Derrick Jones is the

 acting director of media

relations for the National

Right to Life Committee.