The past year of 2018 has seen some dramatic activity with the pro-life movement. We have never been closer to overturning Roe vs. Wade, but the ultimate goal of a pro-life culture is as distant as ever.
On the one hand, several new pro-life judges have been secured in the courts of the nation, most notably to the Supreme Court. At the same time, the legislative and executive branches at the state and federal levels have failed to live up to the hopes that many of us had for the last few years. Planned Parenthood continues to be funded and several pro-life bills have lacked the votes they needed or were opposed by ostensibly pro-life executives. Even more disturbing is the possibility of mail-order abortifacients which could render any political victory moot.
Where do we stand now?
In light of all these things, BreakPoint has asked several Christian thinkers for their insights about the state of the pro-life movement in 2019. Specifically, we asked them to respond to the following question:
“Some have said that America has never been closer to reversing Roe vs. Wade, but a pro-life culture — in which abortion is not just illegal but unthinkable – appears to be as elusive as ever. How would you describe the state of the pro-life movement today, including its promises and hurdles?”
[To jump to any particular contributor, please click on their highlighted names below.]
Matthew Lee Anderson; Bruce Riley Ashford; David Bereit; Angela Franks; Kristan Hawkins; Scott Klusendorf; Reggie Littlejohn; ; G. Shane Morris; Roberto Rivera; Samuel Rodriguez; Philip Ryken; Warren Cole Smith; Ed Stetzer; John Stonestreet; Roland C. Warren; Jeffery Ventrella; Trevin Wax
The political front of the pro-life movement has seized the opportunity 2016 presented with vigor, and has been rewarded handsomely for its boldness. With two new (hopefully!) friendly Supreme Court justices and a full roster of lower court appointments, it has advanced toward a more friendly legal environment than it has had in some time. All this is promising. Yet the costs of this effort are yet unknown: while the pro-life movement had made serious gains among millennials, whether those survive the close association of the movement with our President remains to be seen.
The context of our legal progress has risked a sharp social reaction against our movement, a reaction that would have been inevitable under any description but which has been made more easy by its association with President Trump. If that reaction is too strong, then paradoxically the judicial gains the pro-life movement has attained might be accompanied by significant social regress, creating a gap between the Court and the people it represents. Now is the time, then, to redouble efforts to make the pro-life case in spheres well outside the law, and to make that case in contexts that demonstrate its beauty and value for women, men, and children alike. This task has always been an urgent one; the pro-life movement’s successes have made it more crucial than ever.
Matthew Lee Anderson is a D.Phil. Candidate in Christian Ethics at Oxford University, and a Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Religion at Baylor University.
Gratefully, there is evidence that a growing number of citizens—including younger Americans and women—are at least skeptical of, if not outright opposed to, America’s abortion-on-demand regime. Also encouraging is the fact that many Republican political leaders periodically verbalize their opposition to abortion. On the negative side, the Democratic Party is thoroughly and utterly opposed to the pro-life cause and will fight it to the death. Also discouraging is the fact that most of our nation’s power-brokers—be they found in mainstream media outlets, Ivy League classrooms, or Congressional offices—are unflinchingly opposed to the pro-life cause.
Yet, as discouraged as sometimes we may be, we view our pro-life advocacy as a prelude to, and anticipation of, our hope that Christ will return one day to set the world to rights. Thus, with this hope in hand, we will advocate for human dignity as a matter of Christian witness and obedience, whether we win or lose politically. Therefore, as Richard John Neuhaus said so memorably, we shall not weary, we shall not rest. Confessing that God created humanity in his image, redeemed us by the blood of his Son, and will return one day to wipe away every tear, let us contend relentlessly for the dignity of each person created in God’s image. Let us contend for unborn persons especially—as they are the weakest and most vulnerable among us—but also for the dignity of every person, whether man or woman, born or unborn, black or white, rich or poor, useful or burdensome. And let us do so not only by working for legal and political reform but also for spiritual and cultural renewal.
Bruce Riley Ashford is Provost and Professor of Theology & Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Amidst a culture that is increasingly hostile to God and all things virtuous and holy, the pro-life movement amazingly continues to make progress. From 1991 until 2019, the number of abortion facilities dropped from nearly 2,200 to 697. The abortion rate is declining. Fewer physicians are willing to commit abortions. The majority of Americans now self-identify as “pro-life.” Those under the age of 30 are the most pro-life segment of our population, giving us hope for the future. More pro-life laws have been passed in the last 4 years than in the previous twenty. And changes on the U.S. Supreme Court make possible the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
However, our work is far from finished. It will take time for the right case to reach the Supreme Court and there is no guarantee what challenge to Roe will succeed. Even when Roe is eventually overturned, it will not end abortion, but simply send the matter back to the states. In many states, abortions would continue the day after Roe’s reversal.
We cannot wait. We must act now, as women and children are at risk of abortion in our communities today. We must pray and fast, assess our gifts, talents, and passions and then find the role where we can have life-saving impact — whether in faith-based efforts, pregnancy centers, post-abortion healing, sidewalk advocacy outside abortion centers, educational outreach, or civic engagement. Then we must get involved locally, where lives are at risk, and work collaboratively at the state level in preparation for a post-Roe fight. Most importantly, we must remember that with God, all things are possible — even ending abortion.
David Bereit, founder and former CEO of 40 Days for Life
Why a pro-life movement at all? It will become increasingly important to be clear about the answer to this question. After all, if you don’t understand the problem, you can’t understand the solution.
The inspiration of the movement originated in this insight: among the many social problems that exist, innocent life that was targeted for direct elimination requires particular protection and a certain kind of action.
Social problems that can be addressed through a variety of prudential means—such as poverty, immigration, health care, etc.—unify people differently. The strategies for ameliorating these problems will be quite complex and often differentiated at the local level. The questions are more technical, centered around the key query: what works here and now, in this particular society?
The pro-life movement, on the other hand, is not dealing with a social problem that requires technical know-how, oriented toward a prudential solution. Of course, there are technical and prudential aspects in understanding the problem and in formulating movement strategy. More fundamentally, however, the pro-life movement addresses a social problem that is simultaneously always and everywhere a morally evil act.
The ultimate goals of the pro-life movement thereby become very precise, namely, to ensure legal protection for all innocent human life, and to work to change hearts and minds. Few social-justice movements are united around such precise and universal goals.
The pro-life movement will need to guard against being absorbed into movements that address different kinds of social problems with different sorts of solutions.
Angela Franks, Ph.D., is a professor of theology at St. John’s Seminary in Boston and the author of Margaret Sanger’s Eugenic Legacy.
Each January, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade arrives like a dreaded memorial service, reminding each of us that millions have been lost. But 45 years after Roe and Doe was supposed to silence the pro-life movement, we’re still growing and the state of our movement is strong.
In a poll just released by my organization, 7 in 10 Millennials supported limits on abortion and more than not wanted to see Roe reversed, returning the issue to the states where the people can have a voice for life.
And despite the endless drumbeat of pro-abortion rhetoric in the popular culture, only 7 percent of Millennials shared the view of the Democratic Party supporting abortion without any exceptions and funded by tax dollars.
While our pro-life movement is growing in number and sophistication, we face threats externally and internally.
Externally, we are handicapped by a lack of funding, restricted access to the mainstream media, and social media giants that continue to block pro-life free speech. Internally, our struggle remains convincing ourselves that achieving our goal of making abortion illegal and unthinkable is actually possible. In addition, many well-meaning pro-lifers have fallen for the pro-abortion distraction tactic, believing that our movement must engage in several human rights fights in order to be fully “pro-life.”
Roe is finished and will be reversed in my lifetime, but can we make abortion unthinkable? The answer depends upon our movement. Do we believe it’s truly possible? Will we work and give everything we’ve got to make that day a reality? Will we focus on the task at hand, putting 100% of our time, energy, and resources to ending the greatest human rights atrocity our world has ever known? I know what my answer is.
Kristan Hawkins, president, Students for Life of America.
We were spared a crushing defeat in 2016. Pro-abortionists were poised to enforce the abortion license with tyrannical rigor. In California, pro-life pregnancy centers were told to advertise for abortion services or face crippling fines. Nationally, pro-life doctors were pressured to refer for abortion. Religious liberty was under fire.
President Trump’s victory stalled the abortion advance. Now, he’s overhauling the federal courts. That’s very good news.
But an escape is not a win. The pro-life movement faces two key challenges. First, abortion is here to stay as long as millions of Christians predisposed to accept our view and contend for it never experience pro-life teaching. Whatever gains have been made in Washington, we are failing in our churches and Christian schools. The problem is not that pro-life arguments are rejected. It’s that they’re not heard in the first place. Indeed, for many Christian leaders, the thought of pro-life teaching is dead on arrival.
Second, many pro-life leaders are buying the premise of our critics that because we oppose the intentional killing of an innocent human being, we must therefore take on other issues under the banner of “pro-life.” Indeed, we’re now told the opioid crisis is a “pro-life” issue we must take on! This will bankrupt our movement. As my colleague Marc Newman points out, “Individuals and organizations that make it their exclusive mission to save innocent human beings from a culture hell-bent on butchering them have nothing to apologize for. They don’t need additional causes; they need additional support.”
Scott Klusendorf is the president of the Life Training Institute where he trains pro-life advocates to persuasively defend their views.
While the U.S. has about 1 million abortions a year, China has 23 million. For every abortion in the United States, China has 23. The greatest hemorrhage of human life in the world is flowing out of China. People in the U.S. think that, because China has moved from a One Child Policy to a Two Child Policy, this means that all coercive population control has ended.
This is not true. It remains illegal for unmarried women to have children, and third children are illegal, so forced abortion continues. Also, because of brutal son-preference the sex-selective abortion of baby girls remains, especially for second daughters. The people of China cannot speak up against this barbarism, because China does not have free speech. We in the U.S. who have free speech need to be a voice for the voiceless!
Reggie Littlejohn is Founder and President of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, an international coalition to expose and oppose forced abortion, gendercide and sexual slavery in China.
It seems to me that the pro-life movement in 2019 faces twin temptations, both of which will ultimately impede the cause of ending legal abortion. The first is the road of distraction, allowing our core mission (which is to end the sanctioned killing of unborn babies) to be swallowed up in broader and ultimately nebulous calls of “whole life” advocates. It’s not enough to fight legal infanticide, these well-meaning co-belligerents tell us. In order to be consistent, and prove that we don’t just care for babies before they’re born, we have to also fight racism, poverty, xenophobia, human trafficking, and any number of other real and systemic injustices. Of course, no one can fight all of the world’s ills at once.
I’m reminded of a scene in the movie “Amazing Grace,” in which a friend of William Wilberforce who has become sympathetic of the French Revolution attempts to blow the anti-slavery crusader off course, saying that he should fight all oppression, not just the British trade in African flesh. Wilberforce is thrown into an intellectual and moral crisis, but eventually renews his commitment and focus on ending slavery. The same could be said of pro-lifers in 2019 who must, without downplaying other just causes, keep their energy and resources focused on the goal. No social movement can survive without this kind of shrewd discrimination. It is good and right. Not everyone is called by God to address every justice issue.
The other (and in some ways opposite) temptation our movement faces in 2019 is what I like to call pro-life Pharisaism. It is the willingness to use abortion as a political carrot-on-a-stick every election cycle, to talk a good game as the religious leaders in Jesus’ time did, yet fail to transform words into action when it comes time to write laws, approve budgets, and (I believe) punish candidates and parties that have failed to keep their word. The Republican Party’s perennial failure to follow through on vows to de-fund Planned Parenthood is an obvious example.
If there are never any consequences for politicians who don’t make good on their promissory notes to pro-lifers, I don’t see what grounds they have for taking our cause seriously. This goes for everyone, all the way down the halls of power to the Oval Office, whose occupant is willing to bring the federal government to a standstill over immigration, but signs spending bills that continue funding Margaret Sanger’s legacy. Politicians and pundits alike who use the abortion issue as a means to drum up support or claim moral high ground on the cheap should not be allowed to repeat this exercise if they never turn words into action. If they are, we will only be constructing whitewashed tombs for the unborn.
G. Shane Morris is a Senior Writer at BreakPoint.
Not only is the creation of a culture where abortion is unthinkable still elusive, but much of the legal and political optimism is misplaced.
It’s important to keep in mind what happens if Roe is reversed outright: the issue of abortion would revert to the states. Some states would severely restrict or even outlaw abortion altogether. Others would continue to operate as if nothing had changed.
Equally important is the, for lack of a better word, “geography” of abortion. While many states will enact more restrictions and even, in some cases, ban abortion altogether, with a few exceptions, such as Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Tennessee, they are places where abortion rates are already low.
In the places where the proverbial lion’s share of abortions take place, coastal states like California, New York, New Jersey, and Florida, the abortion-on-demand status quo is likely to hold.
Then there are the abortions we don’t see and have trouble counting. A recent article in Pacific Standard raised a troubling question: What if the much-ballyhooed decline in abortion rates is, at least in part, due to our inability to properly count the number of women having chemical abortions?
As the Verge put it, “The future of DIY abortions is on the Internet,” where women can obtain abortifacients such as mifepristone and misoprostol fairly easily.
As the Latin American experience has demonstrated, this kind of availability has made enforcing laws against abortion almost impossible. There’s no good reason to think that the U.S. would be any different, which makes any claimed political and legal “victory” as elusive (illusory?) as our cultural one.
Roberto Rivera is a Senior Fellow and writer at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
Despite the many historic pro-life victories of the last two years under President Trump, it is fair to ask, have we won the political and judicial war at the expense of the cultural battle for the hearts, minds and souls of average Americans? Are we therefore further away from transforming our society into one that more closely resembles the Kingdom of God?
I sympathize with these concerns and admittedly wrestle with many of the same questions. However, when I ask myself, should we in the pro-life movement ease up or reduce our activism, I cannot reconcile this notion with the millions of lives lost since the advent of the Roe era. During the fallout of the infamous 1973 decision, with the exception of some Catholics, the church remained largely silent. Most pro-life advocates will agree, this initial inaction stands as one of the great tragedies of the church over the last 50 years. It would take more than a decade before our faith communities learned to organize for the cause of life, gathering in marches and behind political leaders that promised to limit abortions and reverse Roe.
Those of us in the church must remember the lessons of the post-Roe era, and never again stay silent or retreat from our conviction in the rightness of our position. But how do we do that without alienating the majority of Americans who still largely believe abortion should remain legal?
We must continue to passionately and unapologetically remind our culture that our belief in the sanctity of the unborn life comes from a place of love and compassion, not anger and vitriol. Moving forward we must double down on our efforts to reverse the prevailing narrative, from being something that is anti-woman, to a message that is profoundly and innately pro-child, pro-future, pro-health and pro-mother. As with all other things, we must trust God and the scripture even more, believing that if we “Lift up Christ,” “He will draw all men to himself.”
Rev. Dr. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
I wish I could say that I thought America was close to reversing Roe v. Wade. But humanly speaking—and very regrettably—I don’t see abortion on demand going away any time soon. I do see the pro-life movement continuing to make modest legal and legislative gains with respect to abortion funding and access in some parts of the country. This makes the question of a pro-life culture all the more important, because if the culture moves in a more biblical direction, this will lead to more righteous laws and more just decisions.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle that the pro-life movement faces right now is complacency—the sense that since change is so slow, our labor is in vain. But all of us who share pro-life convictions cannot grow weary. Perhaps our biggest opportunity to win minds and hearts is to speak and to act faithfully to address all pro-life issues, working for a culture that values human life from conception to the grave, and then on into eternity. The persuasive power of consistent pro-life convictions is cumulative.
Philip Ryken serves as the President of Wheaton College
We see much in the pro-life movement that is encouraging. Opinion surveys suggest more Americans identify as pro-life. Young people are acting. The number of abortions is in decline.
However, these trends are incremental. They are positive only in relation to a horrifying recent past. We are far from a world where the most vulnerable women and children are truly safe from the ravages of the abortionist.
So it is fair to ask: Is the pro-life movement doing the right things? We excel at rallies and fundraising. We have come a long way in caring for women and children in crisis situations. The pregnancy care centers of this country are an army of compassion who in the aggregate care for millions of women and children each year.
However, if we want to make abortion not merely illegal, but unthinkable, we must get better at helping people think and behave in biblical Christian ways, not just in crisis moments, but at all times and in all places. We must do better at storing the linkage between marriage, sex, and child-rearing – which means talking about these issues more directly and more biblically in our pulpits and in our seminaries. These are core Gospel issues, not merely moral or ethical or political issues.
One obvious example: Our churches must make getting involved in state’s foster care systems a priority. If every Christian church in the country took in even one foster child, the foster care crisis in this country could be virtually eliminated, and our witness regarding other issues of life would be dramatically enhanced.
In short, the pro-life movement must expand its portfolio. It should include all Christians, not just activists, and it must include all areas of life. That’s our only hope for reversing the abortion holocaust.
Warren Cole Smith is the Vice-President of Mission Advancement for the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
The key to ending abortion lies not in overturning bad Supreme Court rulings—as important as that might be. The key is found in what we all must do at all times—namely, to bring dignity, honor, and ‘personhood’ to all those God has created in his image. This ‘all’ means just that—from conception to natural death.
When we consider abortion, some may want to begin with the legal system, and with good reason. There is no doubt that overturning Roe v. Wade would be a good step, but the reality is that it is just that— a step, one part of a larger whole. Overturning the decision would not end abortion; instead, it would end a bad Supreme Court ruling and put the issue back to the states. And if we are honest we know that in many states, mine included, this would very likely not lead to a reduction in the number of abortions.
So yes, those of us in the pro-life movement engage in overturning laws that harm those made in the image of God. We continue to push for the right Supreme Court justices and to advance legislative change. However, as is often said, politics is downstream from culture, and the culture of many states is far from looking to reduce (let along eliminate) abortion.
Thus, the work of cultural persuasion is before us. We must remind all those around us what is in the womb—an unborn baby, a being made in the image of God. Simultaneously, we must care about mothers and their situation. We must remind them that there are millions of families waiting to adopt children and that they are not alone as they carry the baby to term.
Abortion won’t end if Roe does because the human heart is what ultimately dictates our values and actions. As we help others see that the unborn have full ‘personhood’ just as we do, maybe we can change not only the hearts of this generation, but that to come because we finally did ‘end abortion.
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism, Executive Director, Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College
The optimism within the pro-life movement, which is understandable given the rhetoric and actions of the President and the re-working of the judiciary (in particular the Supreme Court), needs to be tempered by a good bit of realism. While the NIFLA decision has made it unlikely that pro-life groups will be forced anytime soon to violate their deeply held beliefs and made to participate in or promote abortion, free exercise can be threatened as much these days by activists employers as by activist judges.
While the number of “medical” abortions is at its lowest since Roe v. Wade, there’s no real way to know the number of chemical abortions, but there is reason to think their numbers are on the rise. Though Planned Parenthood is more vulnerable than ever, after being exposed in their evil in a number of ways, congressional leaders are still unwilling to risk their careers to keep their promises to defund. And, even if the U.S. Supreme Court does, in some sense, overturn Roe v. Wade (something that would require the perfect alignment of the right case, the right timing, and the cooperation of justices), the battle to end abortion legally would only return to the States, and the battle to end abortion culturally has barely begun.
John Stonestreet, President, The Colson Center for Christian Worldview
One hundred and sixty years ago, abolitionists rallied and marched to end slavery. Yet, despite the 14th Amendment, once the abolitionists prevailed, African Americans still faced rampant discrimination and legal oppression for more than another 100 years. Abolitionists outlawed slavery but were less success changing hearts across America.
We can’t make the same mistake. We can’t confuse the tactic of overturning Roe with the goal of the pro-life movement, which is a nation where every human life is valued and offered the chance at an abundant life.
If we are not serving the women and men facing unplanned pregnancy today, then we won’t be ready to serve the many more who will desperately need our help post-Roe. No doubt, the pro-choice advocates will be more than ready to tell their stories of those who don’t receive care and use these stories to build support for a constitutional amendment forever ensuring a “right to abortion.”
Moreover, from a Christian perspective, abortion is primarily a discipleship issue, not a legal one. What we need is a cultural transformation that only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can ensure. Our Churches need to disciple their congregations to choose life and provide compassion, hope, and help to those at risk outside the Church as well. We need to embrace marriage and responsible fatherhood as key responses to abortion’s root causes. Indeed, 86% of the women who have abortions as unmarried and site the lack of support from the father as the #1 reason they choose abortion.
There has never been a more critical juncture in the life of the pro-life movement. If Roe is going to be overturned, let’s make sure that on the next morning, there are millions of pro-life women and men ready and equipped to make abortion unthinkable. This is what it means not just to be pro-life, but rather, to be Pro Abundant Life.
Roland C. Warren, President & CEO, Care Net
Because we live in a “God-rigged universe,” reality can be ignored or suppressed, but it cannot be obliterated – we are now seeing culturally that the abortion industry is abandoning several tread-worn canards; reality is winning: “It’s a clump of cells, not a human.” And, even Planned Parenthood now (1) admits abortion is its core business; and (2) uses the term “abortion”. Yet, the life issue extends beyond abortion and this frames the emerging pro-life challenges: euthanasia; cloning; surrogacy; transhumanism; artificial “intelligence,” and whatever else competes with or undermines the fundamental question facing the culture today: What is Mankind? Answer this question with charity and clarity, and the cultural, policy, and legal solutions will emerge that promote and protect human flourishing.
Jeffery J. Ventrella, Alliance Defending Freedom
The existence of a vibrant pro-life movement 46 years after the Supreme Court’s sanction of elective abortion marks it out from other social protests. There is no widespread movement to reinstate prohibition, or to revisit the question of women’s suffrage. In contrast, the pro-life cause continues to flourish, especially among younger generations.
But the pro-life movement today is at a crossroads regarding how expansive its focus should be and what strategy will be most effective in ending violence against unborn humanity. What does it mean to be pro-life? Should the focus of the movement be on ending abortion or something broader?
A number of abortion opponents find the vague and ever-expanding definition of “pro-life” to be problematic. They may prefer “abortion abolitionists,” or they may use “pro-life” and “anti-abortion” interchangeably, seeing the latter as a worthy addition to a long history of labels indicating strong and persistent protest of injustice (think “anti-slavery” or “anti-trafficking” or “anti-war”).
The debate over terminology reveals the different lines within the movement as a whole. Should we demand consistency on a number of issues under the big umbrella of being “pro-life” (such as immigration reform, capital punishment, gun control, support for the poor), or should we allow for inconsistencies because we are united around a targeted, more manageable goal of accomplishing one particular achievement (overturning Roe v. Wade)?
By broadening the meaning of “pro-life,” we run the risk of alienating people who would join forces with us against the travesty of abortion. By narrowing the meaning to “anti-abortion,” we make room for inconsistencies that may seem hypocritical and harm the overall cause. While Christians are called to push for holistic thinking in our churches, the question remains whether, strategically and politically, the best approach is to partner with anyone, however inconsistent in their thinking, as long as they want to protect the unborn.
Trevin Wax, Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources, author of This Is Our Time and Eschatological Discipleship