In election year, pro-life movement at 'fork in the road'

WASHINGTON (BP)--The pro-life movement continues to make progress, but it faces a crucial juncture 35 years into America's devastating abortion regime.

That is the opinion of two public policy leaders in the campaign to end legalized abortion as another anniversary for Roe v. Wade arrives. Jan. 22 is the 35th observance of a pair of Supreme Court opinions, headlined by Roe, that wiped out all state abortion bans and legalized the procedure nationwide, throughout pregnancy, for virtually any reason.

On the anniversary each year, pro-lifers gather by the tens of thousands in the country's capital to mourn the killing of what is now about 50 million babies and the harm done to millions of women, while praying for and marching for an end to the violence. Meanwhile, abortion rights advocates celebrate the 1973 rulings in comparatively small numbers.

Both sides do so this year knowing a new president will be elected in November, an event that will likely exert a great impact on the Supreme Court.

It is a "very important, critical fork in the road," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee. "There are positive things to point to, but we also recognize the clouds on the horizon," since all the candidates in the Democratic Party are committed to abortion rights, he said.

"We will hear a lot of talk in 2008 by the Democratic nominee about the court," about how two or more justices may be replaced in the next four years and the future of Roe will be determined, "and that's correct," Johnson said.

High court nominations by a president backing abortion rights "could be used to solidify a pro-abortion majority that would endure for many years," Johnson told Baptist Press. "One could envision a court that would go to even further extremes," such as invalidating the Hyde Amendment, he said. That measure, first enacted in 1976, prohibits Medicaid and other federal funds from being used for abortions.

A somewhat mollifying aspect of the high court situation for pro-lifers is that the oldest justices favor Roe.

If America elects "a pro-choice or a pro-abortion president in 2008, that person would probably get to make at least two Supreme Court appointments. Now, in all likelihood, they will be replacing liberals with liberals, which will not be as catastrophic to the pro-life cause, while disappointing and while postponing the overturning of Roe," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

"In this situation, if the next two appointments replace [Associate Justices Ruth Bader] Ginsburg and [John Paul] Stevens, even if they're replaced with liberals, you're still only down 5 to 4 [on a predicted vote to overturn Roe], and it just takes one more to get to where you need to get to," he told BP.

The election of an abortion rights president and the subsequent nomination of pro-Roe justices to replace like-minded ones "would not be as catastrophic as being down 6 to 3, but it would be a significant setback, especially when you recognize that we are so close," Land said. "If we get a pro-life Republican in the White House in 2008, the reality is it's very likely that you're going to get one vote and maybe two, given the actuarial tables."

If Roe is reversed, the issue will return to the states, where Land predicts "surely about 40 states will pass significant and restrictive" laws on abortion.

The United States, Land said, "is moving strongly in a pro-life direction, and we have every reason to believe it will continue to."

"The pro-life movement is winning the battle for hearts and minds. There's no question about that," despite "having virtually all of the elites and virtually all of the secular opinion-making sectors of the society adamantly opposed to it," he said.

Those gains are demonstrated, Land said, in:

-- The election since 1980 of three presidents, two for eight years each, who supported pro-life policies.

-- Public opinion surveys that show "significantly more than two-thirds of the population is opposed to most of the reasons that most women have abortions."

-- The increasing evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder in women who have abortions, helping society see them as victims as well.

-- The trend toward young people being more likely to hold a pro-life view, "partially because pro-life parents have their children and they raise them to be pro-life, and pro-choice parents often don't have children."

"I believe that if I live out a normal lifespan, which means I've got about 20 more years, I will see Roe overturned," Land said, acknowledging, however, "there are things that could derail or significantly postpone what should be the inevitable victory of the pro-life movement."

"[N]othing's certain in life but death, taxes and the return of the Lord," he said.


Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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