March for Life marks 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, but Supreme Court, legislation, and attitudes are changing.
As Americans once again fill the streets of Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life, 46 years after the United States Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, statistics, legislative action and anecdotal evidence suggest that the country is more pro-life than it has been in many years.
Results of two public opinion surveys released on the eve of today’s March for Life show weak support for unlimited legal abortion and strong support for legal protections for the unborn.
A poll commissioned by the Institute for Pro-Life Advancement found that seven out of 10 millennials support limits on abortion through specific policies like parental notification, limiting abortions later in pregnancy, and opposition to government funding of abortion.
And a Marist poll commissioned by the Knights of Columbus found that large majorities of people, even those who call themselves “pro-choice,” support restrictions on abortion. Three in four Americans (75 percent) say abortion should be limited to the first three months of pregnancy. This includes 61 percent who identify as pro-choice.
In addition, a majority of all Americans oppose any taxpayer funding of abortion (54 percent to 39 percent). By 20 points (55 percent to 35 percent) Americans also believe medical professionals with moral objections should be allowed to opt out of performing abortions.
The survey also found that by more than 20 points, a majority of Americans believe that “scientifically” a fetus is “a unique life” (56 percent), while only about a third (35 percent) believe it is “part of a woman’s body.” A plurality of Americans say that life begins at conception (42 percent), while only about one in 10 say life begins at birth (13 percent).
In addition to the Knights, a leading pro-life advocacy organization, Americans United for Life (AUL), also found that America is becoming more pro-life.
“At no point in the last four decades have we been closer to building a national consensus about the radical overreach of Roe v. Wade and the perils of a culture that allows and celebrates on-demand abortion for any reason,” AUL president Catherine Glenn Foster commented in a statement accompanying AUL’s annual publication, Defending Life. “Science is on our side. The law is on our side. And, as our new Defending Life report shows, so too are increasing majorities of the American people who are supporting and enacting changes protecting life across the country.”
The publication, documenting a number of legislative victories in 2018, ranked the states that are most protective of unborn human life, beginning with Arizona, and those that are the least so, topped by Washington.
The abortion rate in the United States is about half of what it was in 1980, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “In 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, a total of 638,169 abortions were reported, a decrease of 2 percent from 652,639 abortions in 2014,” the Washington Post reported in November. “The abortion rate was 11.8 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44 in 2015, compared with 12.1 in 2014 and 15.9 in 2006.
That’s a far cry from 1990, when there were more than 1.4 million abortions performed nationwide. The abortion rate hit a high in 1980 when it was 29.3 per 1000.
Certainly on the minds of many who are marching today is the changing composition of the Supreme Court. The nation’s highest bench, which struck down any existing state bans on abortion with the twin decisions of Roe and Doe v. Bolton, on Jan. 22, 1973, now has enough of a “conservative” majority that pro-life advocates are starting to think about how a challenge to legal abortion might wend its way up through the courts to be considered by the Supreme Court.
And, many hope, President Trump may get at least one more chance at bolstering that conservative majority, should Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was recently treated for cancer, leave the high court while Trump is still president.
In addition, this past November’s midterm elections gave Trump’s party more of a majority in the U.S. Senate, which would confirm his nominee.
With the shift on the Court in mind, the Marist/Knights of Columbus poll surveyed what respondents would like to see the Supreme Court do if Roe were to be reconsidered. Nearly half of respondents—49%—said they would like the Supreme Court to allow states to make certain restrictions, similar to the legal framework pre-Roe.
The abortion issue has been kept alive not only by marches and political action. Movies such as last year’s Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer have had an impact, and films about Abby Johnson, a Planned Parenthood worker who turned her back on the abortion industry and became pro-life, and the Roe v. Wade decision itself, featuring Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight, are in the works.
Technology, too, has played a role. This month the Knights of Columbus announced the donation of its 1,000th ultrasound machine, to a Catholic medical clinic in Manassass, Virginia. The Catholic fraternal organization, which has almost 2 million members worldwide, said that its ultrasound donation program, started 10 years ago, has contributed to saving hundreds of thousands of lives by helping mothers see their unborn child.
Challenges remain, however, and the more pro-life advances are made, the more abortion advocates dig in their heels. In New York State, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, recently inaugurated for the third time, promised passage of the Reproductive Health Act, which he dubbed “Roe v. Wade for New York.” The law, which now has a better chance of passage with both houses of New York’s legislature controlled by Cuomo’s party, would legalize late-term abortions up to the point of birth; allow non-doctors to perform abortions, and remove protections for a baby born alive after an abortion attempt.
“With an abortion rate that is already double the national average, New York law is moving in the wrong direction,” said the Catholic bishops of New York State, led by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, in a statement. “We renew our pledge to offer the resources and services of our charitable agencies and health services to any woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, to support her in bearing her infant, raising her family or placing her child for adoption. There are life-affirming choices available, and we aim to make them more widely known and accessible.
“Our Governor and legislative leaders hail this new abortion law as progress,” the bishops continued. “This is not progress. Progress will be achieved when our laws and our culture once again value and respect each unrepeatable gift of human life, from the first moment of creation to natural death. Would that not make us truly the most enlightened and progressive state in the nation?”