What Has the Pro-Life Movement Accomplished Since 1973?

By John Jansen

In the opening scene of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, we see Our Lord enduring the Agony in the Garden, and the devil telling Him, “No one man can carry this burden… It is far too heavy. Saving their souls is too costly.”

Working in the pro-life movement, we often hear a similar message from our opponents: You don’t really think you can end abortion, do you? Why do you even bother trying? You’re wasting your time!

When we consider that still today, over one million members of the human family are annually killed by abortion since the Supreme Court made abortion on demand legal in all 50 states with its Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions 41 years ago this month, it can indeed seem as if we’re wasting our time. But we need a different perspective.

What has the pro-life movement accomplished in the past 41 years? Some would say very little. But such a view ignores two significant factors. First, we must consider how the situation might have looked in 2014 if the pro-life movement had not been working so hard since 1973. Additionally, we also must consider the very real impact the pro-life movement has had on people’s lives over these past 41 years, most notably the children and adults who are alive today because of something a pro-life activist said or did.

Last year, on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the staff of the Pro-Life Action League, under the direction of our executive director, Eric Scheidler, published a series of articles highlighting the Top Ten Accomplishments of the Pro-Life Movement since 1973. These are outlined below, in abbreviated form:

march for life crowd shot#10: We have kept abortion on the front page. Following Roe, our opposition thought abortion was “settled law,” and that Americans would quickly fall in line. But we’ve refused to give up and go home, and we’ve continued to keep abortion controversial.

#9: More and more Americans are calling themselves pro-life. Notwithstanding an endless barrage of propaganda against pro-lifers and our beliefs, we’re increasingly winning people to our side.

#8: Most doctors now refuse to do abortions. Our protests and education campaigns have had an impact on the medical community, and now the shortage of abortion providers is creating a crisis in the abortion industry—which has no unified strategy for solving it.

#7: Hundreds of abortion clinics have been shut down. Early on, abortion advocates wanted to “mainstream” abortion into hospitals and doctors’ offices, but we’ve largely contained abortion to free-standing clinics—and we’re shutting them down one by one. In fact, 2013 saw a record 87 surgical abortion facilities shut down nationwide, bringing the total number of surgical abortion clinics to 582—a 73% drop from a high of 2,176 in 1991.

#6: Countless pro-life laws have been enacted at the federal, state and local level. Measures like the federal partial birth abortion ban and state parental involvement laws both educate the public on the horror of abortion and save lives. Recent years in particular have seen a proliferation of measures at the state level, with more pro-life laws passed between 2011 and 2013 than in the entire preceding decade.

#5: Abortionists’ dreams of taxpayer funded abortion-on-demand have been thwarted. The Hyde Amendment and other measures have saved the lives of at least a million babies and fostered widespread public opposition to taxpayer funded abortion—a legacy to build upon as Obamacare presents new threats.

#4: We have helped women find healing after abortion. Abortion harms women, especially spiritually and psychologically. The pro-life movement has been living up to its duty to help them by connecting them with groups like Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard, among countless others.

#3: The 55 million victims of abortion have not been forgotten. Dozens of actual gravesites of aborted babies, along with hundreds of other memorial sites—the vast majority of which are located in Catholic cemeteries or on Catholic parish grounds—have been erected across the country in answer to Our Lord’s promise, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

#2 Pregnancy resource centers have given women the help they need to choose life. Every year, the nation’s 3,000 pro-life pregnancy resource centers—which outnumber abortion clinics 5 to 1—serve hundreds of thousands of women with nowhere else to turn.

#1: Countless babies have been saved by pro-life witness on the street. We will never know how many lives have been saved through the individual witness of pro-life activists out in the public square or on the sidewalks in front of abortion clinics—but God knows.

All this having been said, we must not, to borrow a phrase from one of my grade school teachers, break our arms patting ourselves on the back. There is no simple solution to ending abortion outright, and we delude ourselves if we think victory will come overnight.

On the contrary, it will take many long and difficult battles to once again secure the legal protection of the lives of unborn children. In this regard, it’s helpful to think of the battle over abortion as being a bit like trench warfare.

But as we soberly reflect on the disastrous legacy of the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton rulings—over 55 million dead and a society deeply wounded—may this overview of our accomplishments give us courage and confidence moving forward.

John Jansen_pictureJohn Jansen is the director of Generations for Life, the youth outreach of the Pro-Life Action League, founded by Joe Scheidler in Chicago in 1980. He and his wife, Jocelyn, are the proud parents of seven children.

This article, What Has the Pro-Life Movement Accomplished Since 1973? is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.


  • Janet Baker says:

    It is true that the ‘pro-life’ movement has accomplished a lot, but every bit of it will be used by secularism later because the pro-life movement has not developed an independent position that will help protect women from the opposite of abortion

    Let me explain. Abortion hurts profits, to put it most succinctly. Abortion was legalized because the elites thought that a big influx of women in labor would depress wages and increase productivity and it worked, for a while, just as it did in Europe and Asia. But now, to further the profit-taking, babies are needed again, to increase what they call the internal markets, and as labor, especially now as migrant labor pools are drying up (our US net immigration last year was down 11%, for example). The elites are waking up to the effect of abortion on the new bottom line. It is not due to the pro-life movement alone that twenty two states are engaged in a process of severely limiting abortion.

    But, isn’t this good for women? Not necessarily.Both fascism and communism were ultimately anti-abortion. Their respective states were not woman-friendly, to say the least. Women were prostituted in both. I want you to remember The Handmaiden’s Tale, that prophetic work, except the reality can be so much worse than the fiction. If you didn’t like forced abortion, how will you like forced insemination? It makes no difference to our new slave-drivers. Abortion and even birth control can be limited, but the good life not restored, love and marriage and wages high enough for women to be able to stay home and raise the children. In fact, forces are gathering right now to initiate a whole new round of legislation making public pre-school mandatory. You can hear all about it on NPR.

    What the pro-life movement has NOT accomplished: the integration of the Catholic faith into the very many Catholic outreach programs to women seeking abortion (the many crisis pregnancy centers). When those women decide to carry the pregnancy to term, they are given diapers and strollers and baby clothes and formula–but they are not invited to study the Faith, they are not invited to consider baptism for the baby, they are not invited to give up the often illicit relationships in which they are enmeshed. All those things would make life better for women, but they are not being offered, thanks to Vatican II and vile ecumenism. They get secular advice. In other words, platitudes in place of sacraments. (I worked in one for years.)

    And more to the point I have tried to make above, the pro-life movement has not established an independent Catholic political platform to encourage either true marriage or to strike a course toward a pro-human economy that would make the formation of family a viable proposition. It has hung on the Republican Party, even though that party’s economic position, in all formulations, either mainstream Republican or Tea Party extreme liberals (for that is what they are) is clearly harmful to the majority of women and families.

    A pro-active pro-life party would make sure they had an independent Catholic political position, neither Democrat nor Republican, and would offer the Faith as spiritual help and political grounding. This pro-life movement does none of that, and in reality, secularism, with its sharp fangs out, will be just as happy to reap babies for the profit-machine as it was to kill them. Optimism over the gains reported above just to not take stock of the nature of our enemy.

  • […] employed by Chicago’s venerable Pro-Life Action League, has recently written a piece for the Bellarmine Forum in which he discusses the gains the pro-life movement has achieved since 1973.  It’s a lot, […]

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