NOTE: This article is one of a series on the “top ten” accomplishments of the pro-life movement over the past 40 years since unborn children were stripped of their legal right to life by the 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court rulings.
When abortion advocates scored the 1973 Supreme Court court victory that created legalized abortion-on-demand throughout the United States, they weren’t envisioning the emergence of thousands of specialized abortion clinics.
Shortly after Roe v. Wade, 100 professors of obstetrics and gynocology signed an open letter predicting that free-standing abortion clinics would be unnecessary if just half of the nation’s 20,000 Ob/Gyns would do abortions in their offices, and if hospitals would handle “their proportionate share.”
Abortion “contained” in specialty clinics
Abortion advocates wanted to “mainstream” abortion—to make it just another medical procedure—and having abortions performed in doctors offices and hospitals would be one of the keys to making that happen.
At that time, hospitals accounted for 80% of the nation’s abortion facilities. But by 1981, abortion clinics outnumbered hospitals. As sociologist Carole Joffe remarked in a 2010 New York Times article on abortion providers, “The clinics’ founders didn’t intend them to become virtually the only settings for abortion services in many communities.”
As explored in previous installments of this series, physicians proved far more reluctant to do abortions than the architects of legal abortion had hoped, and pro-life activists ensured that abortion remained controversial.
This alone is a significant achievement for the pro-life movement.
Not only does the containment of abortion to freestanding specialty clinics point to the stigma that surrounds abortion, but it makes it much easier for us to reach out to abortion-bound women.
Just imagine what it would be like if abortions were distributed across the nation’s hospitals and doctors offices, with abortion clients “hidden” among those seeking legitimate medial services. Sidewalk counseling would be virtually impossible.
Hundreds of abortion clinics CLOSED
Thanks to the diligence of pro-life activists, that never happened. Today, 94% of abortions are performed in abortion clinics, according to the Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood’s research arm.
That means that we have the ability—if only enough people of faith are willing to serve as pro-life sidewalk counselors—to identify the vast majority of abortion-bound women and offer them help.
But that’s not the only good news.
Pro-life activists have also succeeded in shutting down hundreds of abortion clinics over the years—at least 1,400 of them since 1991.
That year the number of surgical abortion clinics peaked at 2,200. Now there are only 660 of them, along with another 196 clinics that only offer the more recently developed method of medical abortion.
In fact, the shuttering of abortion clinics became such a central mission of the pro-life movement in its early decades that my father entitled his 1985 book on pro-life activism CLOSED.
Pro-life activists used the “99 Ways To Stop Abortion” of the book’s subtitle to close down clinic after clinic, a trend which has continued to this day.
First abortion-free state coming soon?
Sadly, much of the abortion business that would have gone to those shuttered clinics has been picked up by other facilities—especially Planned Parenthood. Even as the number of abortion clinics has gone down—and with it, the nationwide abortion rate—Planned Parenthood’s share of the abortion business has steadily gone up.
Still, the closing of abortion clinics has been a significant accomplishment, especially when it makes access to abortion more difficult in a particular area. Babies have been saved this way, and abortionists have been kept on the run.
So many clinics have closed that five states now have only one abortion clinic within their borders.
We may soon celebrate the first state to become completely abortion-free—not because of a change in the law, but because we’ve driven the abortionists out of business there.
And it won’t be the last.