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.
In March 2011, I helped organize the first pro-life protest ever to hit the campus of Ghent University in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium.
I had been warned by my hosts, a vibrant group of young pro-life activists, that the Belgian people just don’t care about the abortion issue. But nothing could have prepared me for the level of indifference betrayed by the students who stopped to talk to us as we held our fetal development signs and passed out leaflets.
It wasn’t just that every one of these students supported legal abortion, “a woman’s right to choose.” It was how little passion they had about it.
This made it easier to talk—nobody hurling the usual slurs or just itching for a fight—but it was also unsettling. No matter how calm and respectful the conversation might have been, one sensed that it would have no lasting impact—that the moral questions surrounding abortion would be quickly forgotten, and go unanswered.
One Way or Another, Americans Care about Abortion
This was a radically different experience from what I’ve encountered at college campuses in America—not to mention at high schools, government buildings, city centers, busy street corners and everywhere else I’ve protest abortion.
In America, people care about abortion, one way or another. As much as they may try to avoid the issue, it’s something they’ve thought about, and most people have a fairly clear opinion on the issue (more on that tomorrow).
What’s more, many Americans are willing to share that opinion with you when confronted with a protest like the one our group brought to Ghent University. Conversations quickly grow heated. Some people yell at you; others stop to make a donation to the cause.
All this points to “Number 10” in my countdown of top ten accomplishments of the pro-life movement since abortion was legalized nationwide in 1973: We have kept abortion on the front page.
I don’t think we fully appreciate how significant an achievement this is. In most other countries with legal abortion-on-demand, the abortion issue has been largely forgotten, as my experience in Belgium illustrates.
Keeping Abortion Controversial
Why didn’t that happen here? The reason Abortion remains a hotly contested issue in the United States because pro-life Americans have refused to let the issue go away.
All of our protests and marches, prayer vigils and rallies, legislative initiatives and education campaigns, bumper stickers and Facebook memes have kept the abortion issue alive like nowhere else in the world (only Ireland—the lone first world country where abortion is still illegal—comes close).
The media continue to broadcast and publish stories on abortion. Their heavy pro-choice bias notwithstanding, those stories can serve the pro-life cause. For example, the current issue of Time magazine, which asks “What Choice?” and argues that advocates of legal abortion have been losing ground ever since Roe v. Wade—an encouraging perspective for pro-life troops on the front lines.
Here at the Pro-Life Action League we’ve actually seen our media exposure increase over the past five years. This kind of “earned media” remains one of our most important channels for sharing the pro-life message.
Abortion remains one of the most controversial issues in our public life. All over the country, students from grade school to college are writing papers and giving speeches on abortion—taking sides and citing all those news stories we’ve generated with our unwillingness to allow abortion to become a “settled issue.”
From the Front Page to the History Books
When the Supreme Court swept away all state laws protecting unborn babies from abortion in 1973, abortion advocates expected the American people to quickly accept the idea of abortion on demand.
Thanks to pro-life diligence and creativity over the past 40 years, that hasn’t happened. This puts the American pro-life movement light years ahead of our friends in countries like Belgium, who have a tough job just convincing people to care about the issue at all, let alone sympathize with abortion’s unborn victims.
We’ve kept abortion in the media and on people’s minds. We’ve kept abortion controversial, a major accomplishment that we must appreciate and build upon if we’re to move abortion from the front page to the history books.