Roe v. Wade turns 46 this year, an age that may seem daunting to a vast generation of young pro-life advocates like myself. After all, we are the first few generations who have only known legalized abortion.
Those who understand and respect the science regarding the preborn have had to live our entire lives with the knowledge that abortion has eliminated the equivalent of 18 percent of the current U.S. population. We’ve had to deal with a sort of “survivor’s guilt,” wondering why we are here while others are not.
But as the battle for life wages on, pro-life activists and missionaries can draw inspiration from the generations of civil rights heroes who came before us and made sure that the only thing needed to grant us human rights is our humanity.
The issue of abortion is not over, even as abortion advocates seem to increasingly rely on pushing the idea that pro-lifers should just “get over it” because legislation and Supreme Court rulings are apparently set in stone (unless the issue in question is something of interest to them). For a prime example, look no further than an op-ed from Frank Boehm, an OB-GYN professor at Vanderbilt University: “While many pundits have opined that Roe vs. Wade is sure to be overturned, I believe it will survive and remain the law of the land… Roe vs. Wade has been around a long time…”
It’s convenient, hollow rhetoric that only shows its ugly face when the legislation in question is something the rhetoric-pusher supports. If the social justice and civil rights advocates of decades (and centuries) past subscribed to that mentality, our world would be a frightening place.
For up-and-coming abortion abolitionists, take heart in knowing that our movement stacks up impressively next to the American social justice movements of the past. It’s not because abortion is some modern thing. Abortion is an ancient concept. The first recorded instance of abortion in human history was in 1550 BC in Egypt. Another institution seemingly as old as human history? Slavery, which predates the events of the Bible and likely predates recorded history.
Both abortion and slavery rely on the ability of someone with power deciding that someone weaker should be at his mercy. William Wilberforce is one of the most prominent figures of the anti-slavery movement. His wisdom on the subject of slavery translates perfectly to reflect the struggles facing the pro-life movement.
“A trade [slavery] founded in iniquity, and carried on as this was, must be abolished, let the policy be what it might,” notes Wilberforce. “Let the consequences be what they would, I […] determined that I would never rest till I had effected its abolition.” When there’s a grave injustice going on, especially when it is enshrined in public policy, the stakes are that much higher.
The enslavement of Africans was an entrenched institution in the United States for 224 years. Two hundred and twenty-four years of our country owning and abusing other human beings by staunchly maintaining that slaves were not “persons” (sound familiar?). It took more than two centuries of brave activism, protesting, forming anti-slavery organizations, lobbying, and even war just to solidify that African-Americans were people with equal rights.
Frederick Douglass, one of the most famous abolitionists, knew strife was not reason enough to surrender. He makes that clear in a speech he gave in 1857: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the roar of its mighty waters.”
Thank God the bloodshed of abortion abolitionists comes nowhere near what the slavery abolitionists suffered, but it has not been an easy road. Pro-life activists regularly face discrimination and violence.
There have been more than 60 million abortions in the United States in the past 45 years. By pure numbers, the loss of life to abortion dwarfs every other civil rights issue, homicide rate, or even war that this country has ever seen (which is not, of course, to diminish the importance of these other lives lost).
Given the sheer magnitude of this epidemic, our progress in changing the culture and the corresponding legislation surrounding abortion is nothing short of miraculous. Just think:
- It took 224 years to abolish slavery after it was first legalized in America.
- From the first meeting dedicated to securing voting rights for women to the ratification of these rights in 1920, it took 72 years for the women’s suffrage movement to succeed.
- 100 years passed between the abolition of slavery and the end of the modern civil rights movement.
- Jim Crow segregation laws were in place for 77 years.
In the 46 years since Roe v. Wade, pro-life activists have enacted dozens of limitations on abortion at the state level, closed down abortion facilities across the country, and just a few years ago elected enough pro-life politicians to control every branch of the U.S. government. For a social injustice that has killed millions, our progress in 46 years is unprecedented.
The pro-life movement is the civil rights movement of our day. We are advocating for the personhood of a class of humans who are being denied the civil rights that come with the legal title of “person.”
After all, human history gets really shady when we start defining “person” as “human + something else,” whether that be a certain skin color, race, sex, or age. Our country has witnessed victories in this arena before, and it will certainly be seeing another big one soon when abortion is finally abolished.