President Obama’s selection of Elena Kagan, the most demonstrably pro-abortion Supreme Court nominee in recent memory, presented a daunting challenge to pro-life leaders, as her 63 Senate votes during Thursday’s confirmation attest.
Not unreasonably, observers have asked: Why then, do we bother?
The question resonates for this particular political confrontation but applies equally to the larger issue as a whole as we near four decades of abortion on demand in America post Roe v. Wade.
We bother because, in the end, we will win.
Think of “Rocky” and “Rudy.” In a universally favorite movie plot, the unsung and discounted hero defies great odds, ignores the naysayers, perseveres in the face of overwhelming obstacles and emerges triumphant just when it looks impossible.
Tenacious persistence has been part of the American fiber since the beginning.
After all, our nation’s founding was the impossible dream of the 18th century. America’s founders had the audacity to believe that the people could govern themselves, and they agreed to take on the world’s greatest military power to earn the right to try.
But in our modern, 24/7 drive-thru microwave Twitter culture, we often forget that great victories for the betterment of humankind don’t happen instantly. Real, substantive change doesn’t take place in the course of one election, one year or as the result of one political battle. It is achieved through a long march that can span many lifetimes.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech was not the launching point in the struggle for civil rights and equality. Rather, Dr. King’s genius was his dedication to carrying a well-weathered baton that was handed to him by a long list of committed visionaries. The struggle to make all Americans truly equal regardless of race, which predates our republic, took more than a century and a half.
In 1773, Benjamin Franklin wrote “a disposition to abolish slavery prevails in North America” while Thomas Jefferson, in another letter, castigated King George for his “cruel war against human nature itself” because the king opposed efforts to prohibit the slave trade in the American Colonies.
President John Quincy Adams - the “hellhound” of abolition - was a strong opponent of slavery in America’s early years and had hoped to see its end. Realizing near the end of his life that victory would not be achieved on his watch, he noted that in spite of this, “my conscience presses me on.”
But Adams, in his later years, befriended a one-term congressman from Illinois. Young Abraham Lincoln, who went on to become the 16th president of the United States, later based his Emancipation Proclamation on Adams’ anti-slavery arguments.
As decade stretched into decade, Americans from Harriet Tubman to Rosa Parks pressed on in the defining human rights struggle of their time. And, after fighting a bloody war, staging protests at lunch counters or walking into a hostile school escorted by armed paratroopers, hundreds of thousands of people eventually moved the nation to do the right thing.
Finally, on July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson - with King present - signed the Civil Rights Act, a law that put into practice the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection for all Americans.
Today, in poll after poll, Americans are trending more and more pro-life. They want to see abortion restricted, support parental involvement laws and want an end to taxpayer-funded abortion. On the issue of judges, Americans are also very clear. In a recent poll, 87 percent said they support judges who “interpret the law as it is written” and 70 percent said they think elected officials should make policy and not the courts.
In spite of this opposition to an agenda-driven judiciary, Washington elites continue to defy the people. Elena Kagan’s nomination is a prime exemplar of this vast contradiction.
After months of dedicated opposition to her nomination, Ms. Kagan’s confirmation is a difficult setback in our long march to ultimate victory.
Justice Kagan’s agenda-driven philosophy, her advocacy of abortion without any restrictions, and her record as a White House aide who manipulated medical evidence to achieve political ends has caused a stir among the electorate.
In 1857, when the Supreme Court ruled in Dred Scott v. Sanford that black Americans essentially had no protection under the Constitution and therefore virtually no rights, abolitionists may have felt that their cause had been dealt a serious blow - yet they continued to press ahead.
They pressed ahead, as we do now, not because victory was immediate but because they were compelled by duty to do what is right. And in America, land of the second chance, we know there will be another opportunity.
When opportunity comes, we will take on the challenge to the best of our ability. We take that challenge knowing that maybe on our watch, or maybe on our children’s watch, 1964 will come again. We are, after all, one human race on an unending quest to secure life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.
Remembering this, may our consciences press us onward.
Charmaine Yoest is president and chief executive of Americans United for Life. Alveda King is director of African American Outreach for Priests for Life and founder of King for America.