By Carol Tobias, President, National Right to Life
Twenty-five years ago this week, I was on the National Mall with hundreds of thousands of pro-life activists who had traveled to Washington for National Right to Life’s “Rally for Life.” We came together to show our elected leaders, the media, and our society that America was and is a pro-life nation, and we would not stop until we saw the reversal of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision and all unborn children and their mothers were protected in law from abortion.
We gathered together on that hot April day to answer the call of pro-life champion Representative Henry J. Hyde of Illinois. Following the Supreme Court’s 1989 decision in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services that upheld the central holdings of Roe, Congressman Hyde issued a challenge to National Right to Life, and the entire right-to-life movement, saying “Now is the time to stand and be counted.”
That challenge became a call to action, and pro-lifers came from across the country and around the world to answer the call. The Rally remains one of the largest gatherings ever to be held on the National Mall — though the media at the time would’ve made you think it was nothing more than a few dozen people. Those of us there that day still know better.
Much has changed since that day 25 years ago. The annual number of abortions hit their peak of 1.6 million in 1990. In the two and a half decades since, we have seen that number slowly, but consistently decline to just over 1 million. Every abortion is a tragedy that takes the life of a living unborn child, but we take heart in knowing that every year, we are saving more than half a million children.
Shortly after the Webster decision, National Right to Life created a department of state legislation to work with our state affiliates to pass pro-life laws in the state legislatures. While our state affiliates had been (and remain) extremely active in passing pro-life laws, the Webster decision opened the door to further protective laws and we knew it was vital to provide expert and legal support to our affiliates.
Over the past 25 years, National Right to Life’s state affiliates have been successful in passing effective pro-life laws that protect a woman’s right to know all the facts before having an abortion, provide for parental notice or consent before a minor daughter’s abortion, prohibit tax dollars from paying for abortion, ban partial-birth abortion, and more recently protecting pain-capable unborn children from abortion and banning dismemberment abortions. And those are just the highlights.
These pro-life state laws, combined with efforts at the federal level, have further pushed the annual number of abortions down and have educated countless millions about the realities of abortion on demand.
Since 1990, we have seen two pro-life presidents (George Herbert Walker Bush, who was in office at the time of the rally; and George W. Bush) and two pro-abortion presidents in Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. We have also seen the number of pro-life representatives and senators swell to historic numbers (even as leadership changed hands several times between pro-life and pro-abortion leaders).
The electoral successes of the pro-life movement in electing officials who work to protect the sanctity of human life in our laws has seen numerous federal legislative victories – among them maintaining the Hyde Amendment prohibiting the use of tax dollars to pay for abortion under the Medicaid program, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which the Supreme Court upheld in 2007, the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which recognizes unborn children as victims of violent federal crimes.
The Rally for Life was more than a demonstration of pro-life support in America; it was a call to action that inspired two generations of pro-life activists to work tirelessly for the most vulnerable members of our society. And, while we have made tremendous advances in our work to protect innocent human life, there is still much to be done.
This week we remember the April 28, 1990 Rally for Life and its call to action as we continue to press on, because millions of unborn babies are counting on us.