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America’s Steady March Toward a Culture of Life

7/1/2014

Jeanne Monahan

Young people holding Knights of Columbus “Defend Life” signs gather for the 40th March for Life in Washington, D.C., Jan. 22, 2013. (Photo by John Whitman)

As I looked out upon the tens of thousands of youthful, enthusiastic faces during the 41st March for Life rally this past January in Washington, D.C., I could not help but feel a tremendous sense of hope. The sheer number of March for Life participants who travel from every corner of the United States in the middle of winter demonstrates that the tide is turning toward a culture of life.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The pro-life movement is also making legislative strides, enacting more than 110 life-affirming laws at the state level in the past two years alone.

Perhaps most significantly, we have new evidence that hearts and minds are changing. According to a poll conducted by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion for the Knights of Columbus, 84 percent of Americans favor significant abortion restrictions. The poll results, which were released last January, also revealed that a strong majority of Americans (62 percent) believe that abortion is morally wrong, while almost 6 in 10 (57 percent) say that abortion does a woman more harm than good.

To be fair, we are frequently reminded that we have our work cut out for us. Only a small majority of Americans (53 percent) recognize that life begins at conception, and the country remains deeply divided.

Notwithstanding the uphill battle we face, America is gradually and joyfully embracing an authentic culture of life — one in which people understand what is at stake and do not see abortion as an option.

YOUNG AND PRO-LIFE

Young March for Life participants are enormous in number and passionately dedicated. Giovanna Romero, a young woman with Latinos por la Vida, summarized the feelings of young marchers as she addressed the sea of young faces in January: “We can no longer be silent. We are the pro-life generation, and we will make our mark on history!”

The pro-life convictions of young people are even having an impact on the “other side.” In a 2010 Newsweek article, former NARAL President Nancy Keenan was quoted as saying, “I just thought, my gosh, they are so young. There are so many of them, and they are so young.” In the four years since Keenan uttered this telling remark, the groundswell of young participants in the March for Life and related events has only continued to grow.

There are countless youth-oriented and even youth-organized events surrounding the March for Life. For instance, Georgetown University Council 6375 sponsors the annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, which is run entirely by college students. The Students for Life of America Conference annually packs in a sold-out crowd of young activists eager to learn how to make a difference on their college campus. And the Archdiocese of Washington’s Youth Rally and Mass for Life, hosted at the 20,000-seat Verizon Center, sells out months in advance.

But pro-life youth involvement is not confined to Jan. 22, the anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade decision. Students for Life of America is among the most prominent organizations that has worked to educate students on college campuses about the truth of abortion, helping to start more than 300 college pro-life groups since 2006.

Many Knights of Columbus college councils also have a very active pro-life presence on their campuses. In fact, the popular 40 Days for Life campaign — in which peaceful prayer vigils are organized outside of hundreds of abortion facilities worldwide — began as an initiative of Texas A & M University Council 10624 in College Station. Another notable example is Notre Dame Council 1477, whose members, through the Knights’ Ultrasound Initiative, have raised funds for three separate ultrasound machines for pregnancy resource centers in the past three years.

LEGISLATIVE VICTORIES

Coinciding with the growing number of young pro-life supporters, legislation on behalf of the unborn has multiplied in recent years. In 2013 alone, 22 states enacted 70 abortion restrictions into law, up from 43 in 2012. When combined with the laws passed in 2011, the number of pro-life measures passed in these few years eclipses the number passed during the entire previous decade.

While each of these laws addresses a different problem, they all have popular support. Pro-life bills favored by a majority of Americans in recent polling include: restrictions on the use of tax dollars to pay for abortion; ensuring that doctors who perform an abortion have hospital admitting privileges; and prohibitions on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. According to the K of C-Marist poll, the most popular policy change involves parental notification. Four out of five Americans, including 62 percent who describe themselves as pro-choice, favor the requirement that parents of a minor be notified before their daughter has an abortion.

The trend in favor of restrictions holds for abortion supporters in other cases as well. The Marist poll revealed that 84 percent of Americans believe that laws can protect both the health of women and the lives of unborn children. Even among those who identify as “strongly pro-choice,” 58 percent support a ban on abortion in the last three months of pregnancy.

Many Americans are surprised to learn that Roe v. Wade, the abortion “law of the land,” is the most liberal abortion law in the Western world, alongside the law in Canada. Both countries essentially permit abortion on demand throughout all nine months of pregnancy. While the large majority of Americans support a ban on late-term abortion, legislation restricting abortions has been passed only in certain states; many areas of the United States don’t place restrictions on late-term abortion at all.

In spite of enjoying strong public support, some of the laws enacted over the past 12 months have been met with controversy. For example, I had the opportunity to travel to Texas in July 2013 to speak at a state capitol rally in support of one such bill: HB 2. That piece of legislation contained reasonable, popular provisions, such as the requirement that abortion practitioners obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals; ensuring that abortion facilities are held to the same health standards as surgical health-care centers; and banning most late-term abortions.

Still, HB 2 faced massive opposition in the state Senate, as protestors descended on the Texas state capitol, repeatedly interrupting legislative proceedings, chanting vulgar slogans, and even issuing death threats to pro-life legislators. The bill was eventually signed into law, and a very similar bill passed in Louisiana in late May 2014.

REASONS FOR HOPE

Many reasons could be given for the growing consensus that abortion is morally wrong and does more harm than good: the witness of women, as well as men, who have suffered the loss of a child through abortion; pro-life centers that provide compassionate support and abortion alternatives for pregnant women; and, of course, a growing number of joyful young people proclaiming the dignity of the unborn.

Another important factor has been advances in science and technology, especially ultrasound imagery, which opens up a “window” onto the reality and beauty of a developing baby at very early stages and in real time.

The increasing availability of ultrasound machines, thanks in part to the matching grant program offered by the Supreme Council, has literally brought home the truth about life. The images that these machines display have spread far and wide, from kitchen refrigerator magnets to Facebook. Since it began in January 2009, the Knights of Columbus Ultrasound Initiative has helped place more than 450 ultrasound machines in all 50 states.

There have also been significant advances in fetal medicine. For example, physicians are able to perform life-saving and life-enhancing surgery on preterm children as never before, as Time magazine recently featured in its June 2 cover story. Such scientific developments have helped many Americans discover that the pre-born child is a unique and living human being with human dignity.

Statistics also reveal that abortion is on the decline. In 2011, the latest year for which data is available, abortions declined 3 percent to 1.1 million, a massive drop from the 1.6 million abortions performed in 1990. In 2013, 87 surgical abortion facilities closed, leaving 582 clinics open. This record low is substantially less than the high of 2,176 in 1991.

Still, even one abortion is one too many. With more than a million abortions happening in the United States each year, there is still tremendous work to be done.

Thankfully, the momentum in America is slowly but surely shifting in favor of life. From the creative involvement of young people to legislative advances to the declining abortion rate, we at the March for Life see real signs of hope as we continue working to transform our culture.

JEANNE MONAHAN is president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund.