- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Can anything new possibly be said about abortion 30 years after Roe? Well, yes: The pro-life movement must now admit that not only has it not won, but that victory is not near. "Victory," which too often goes undefined, means a society whose law and culture protect human beings at their most vulnerable life's fragile beginnings and end not because the human being is "wanted," but because each human being is of intrinsic worth.
At present, U.S. abortion policy, wahich permits abortion on demand at any point in pregnancy including during delivery is among the most extreme in the Western world. And that status quo shows no signs of changing since Roe established it and still stands.
In fact, legally speaking, we are further behind now than in 1973. The Supreme Court's most recent abortion decision, Stenberg vs. Carhart (2000) was a watershed, for in it, the court extended constitutional protection to the partial-birth abortion procedure which kills the child during the birth process rather than in the womb. Thus, the Court expanded the abortion license from in utero to ex utero killing.
Culturally speaking, the record is more complicated. Polls show that Americans are becoming more pro-life especially young people, which represents true progress, as they are both our future and the demographic group most likely to abort, and also women, as they experience first-hand that abortion destroys not just a child but part of the mother, with real adverse effects on her physical and psychological health.
That said, as most observers know, the views of ordinary Americans don't really matter, because courts, not the voting public, set our abortion policy, and within the courts as in the legal profession they reflect support for abortion is at an all-time high. Again, Stenberg is instructive: Nebraska's partial-birth abortion ban was there at issue, but 29 other states had similar laws, revealing widespread consensus against the method. But judges hearing the challenges to these laws roughly 20 cases felt almost uniformly otherwise. The Supreme Court in Stenberg merely mimicked these lower court opinions, showing the extreme commitment to abortion within our legal establishment.
Noting this tension between the views of the public and the legal elite does not mean that the former is truly pro-life, however. Too many cultural institutions work successfully to prevent that, with Hollywood the foremost leader, but academia and the media not far behind.
Thus, the culture is a mixed bag. Real progress to advance pro-life principles will require leadership from public figures to tap pro-life leanings and craft both legal and societal norms to protect the human person.
Won't Republicans embody that leadership? Isn't the pro-life moment now, with Republicans in control?
Bluntly stated, Republican control does not mean pro-life victory. Republican-appointed justices from Sandra Day O'Connor to David Souter have voted to uphold Roe, for example, and we hear constantly about a "big tent," which simply means welcoming abortion supporters into the party, thereby undermining pro-life efforts. Democrats, by contrast, never talk "big tent." Current chat that Washington is now "so conservative" serves mainly to make the political left more vigilant and aggressive and more generous in giving money to abortion groups.
The judiciary fights are telling. Years ago, such battles occurred only at the Supreme Court level, and some nominees most notably Robert Bork actually stated that Roe was wrongly decided. Today, the political left fights nominations at the appellate court level and demands that every nominee affirm Roe. And Republican as well as Democrat nominees oblige. While some may consider such concessions "strategic" (i.e. to get Republicans confirmed), it actually further entrenches the legal status of abortion and marginalizes those who state publicly that Roe had no legal basis and should be overturned. This can only be against the long-term interests of the pro-life cause.
The only angle of abortion that Republicans appear willing to address is the aforementioned partial-birth abortion issue, which the president used in his campaign, and the new Congress pledges to revive (with a little tinkering so that, like Lucy's football and Charlie Brown, the courts may this time uphold it).
With all due respect, a ban on one abortion method is not the pro-life standard. While this legislation is important to expose the brutality of America's abortion practice, it should not displace the movement's real goal of protecting the child conceived from any abortion. The partial-birth method is indeed barbaric, but dismembering a child within the womb is no less so, and pro-life politicians should say it.
Republicans indeed every pro-lifer in public life must understand that the pro-life label is not enough. Nor will it do to refer every so often to the importance of a "culture of life" and then go back to business as usual. Real leaders do not wait for cultural change, they initiate it.

Teresa R. Wagner is editor of the new book, "Back to the Drawing Board: The Future of the Pro-Life Movement."

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