Reading current headlines, you could get the impression that the pro-life movement has labored for decades to pass innovative legislation in states like Kansas, Indiana, and South Carolina only to lose in the final moments. Still, as backhanded compliments go, it could be almost flattering that so many in the media and on the political left believed that a total social transformation could take place mere weeks after the end of Roe v. Wade. They must think highly of the pro-life movement and our powers of persuasion.
Unless of course, the commentary is just political spin as abortion apologists work to depress pro-life turnout – a consistent force in the ballot box – while shoring up support for abortion, a calculated distraction from President Joe Biden’s economic failures. Call us cynics, but we think it’s option two.
The almost 50-year process of bringing an end to abortion as we knew it under Supreme Court rule took strategic planning, education, organization, and a 50-state effort to pass laws aimed at Roe, as well as helping women and their preborn children in a legal environment that blocked early protections. While we hope that building a complete culture of life in America will not take that long, only the historically uninformed would expect great social change in an instant.
The day after then President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves, we didn’t have a Black president. The day after the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the vote was ratified, we didn’t have a female Speaker of the House. The day after Roe’s inhumane ruling that disenfranchised preborn human beings was struck down, we didn’t see life protected in law and in service in every state of the union.
It took 42 years from when the Nineteenth Amendment was proposed in Congress to when it was ratified in 1920, following years of hard work before and after as women fought for a place in society, including legislatures around the country. That fix in law didn’t fix all that was broken.
And the same can be said for the ongoing effort to create a society that lives up to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s aspirations and challenge, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
The repercussions of slavery did not end with a statement about freedom, as a new legal framework needed to be built and a new social understanding formed to truly welcome those who previously had no legal standing and too little respect. It’s still not a completed work.
Our nation has made the mistake before of disenfranchising people because they were not perceived as enough on their own by those in power. And those same prejudices impact the human rights issue of abortion today.
At Students for Life, we reject prejudice against people based on race, sex, age, financial resources, perception of abilities, or a parent’s crimes. It will take time and great effort to help people see the least among us as valuable, especially after decades of indoctrination into an abortion point of view.
This is the job of the pro-life movement. To make a case for the humanity of the preborn and to protect life in law and in service as much as possible, as quickly as possible, wherever possible.
To paint pro-life Americans as hypocrites, some will say those working on behalf of smaller, expedient wins are not living up to pro-life ideals. This fundamentally misunderstands our true goal, which is to fully restore legal protections to preborn humans not by a certain time but as a fixed commitment.
There is no “sell-by” date on the pro-life movement. Even in the current moment, as legislators consider limits at 15 weeks – almost four months of pregnancy – or when a baby’s heart has begun to beat, the debate is in pro-life territory. Our conversation is not about whether to protect life in the womb but when.
Our history lessons have taught us that the abolitionists’ path toward acknowledging the God-given human rights of Black Americans was not a straight line, but it did move in a principled direction. Small wins were accepted on the way to the largest gain.
Consider Mr. Lincoln’s remarks from a speech in 1859 adjusted to reflect the issue of abortion:
“I do not wish to be misunderstood upon this subject of slavery (substitute abortion) in this country. I suppose it may long exist, and perhaps the best way for it to come to an end peaceably is for it to exist for a length of time. But I say that the spread and strengthening and perpetuation of it is an entirely different proposition. There we should in every way resist it as a wrong, treating it as a wrong, with the fixed idea that it must and will come to an end.”
• Kristan Hawkins is president of Students for Life of America & Students for Life Action with more than 1,300 groups on educational campuses in all 50 states. Follow her @KristanHawkins or subscribe to her podcast, Explicitly Pro-Life. Kristi Stone Hamrick is Chief Media and Policy Strategist with SFLA/SFLAction.