A look back: “Surprise, Mom: I’m Against Abortion”

By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. This post from many years past—2003, to be exact– was sparked by a column written by NRLC President Carol Tobias. She alluded to a pro-life classic that appeared in the pro-abortion New York Times: “Surprise, Mom: I’m Against Abortion.” 

For the New York Times to discreetly acknowledge that the tide had turned on abortion among young people was nothing short of remarkable. Elizabeth Hayt’s piece was hardly flawless but it hit many high points in explaining why teenagers had decisively moved in the direction of life. 

First, the setting. Hayt interviewed Minnesota teenagers in Red Wing, Minnesota–a city that voted for Al Gore for President–and their parents on both sides of the abortion debate. Her very first example was of a young sophomore who’d delivered a passionately pro-life message in a persuasive speech class. Hayt emphasized that she hadn’t learned it from her mother who had voted for Gore and was pro-abortion.

 The most famous quote came from one pro-abortion mother who told Hayt, ”The people I associate with in town are pro-choice, so I’m troubled — where do these kids come from?” Indeed, where DO they come from?

”Abortion isn’t a rights issue — it’s become for increasing numbers of young people a moral, ethical issue,” said Henry Brady, a professor of political science and public policy at the University of California at Berkeley who has taken surveys in this area. But the strong implication from Brady was that this is luxury they could afford—being against abortion—because they’d always been able to obtain an abortion. Even ten years ago it was an excuse that was as tiresomely repetitive as it was unpersuasive. 

Much of Hayt’s story laid out reasons kids were more pro-life then their parents. However, the only persuasive explanation was “the spread of ultrasound technology.”

Hayt makes passage of passage of the partial-birth abortion ban the turning point in “their receptiveness to the way anti-abortion campaigners have reframed the national debate”– what she described as the “shifting the emphasis from a woman’s rights to the rights of the fetus.”  

And it is unquestionably true that the educational campaign waged by NRLC and its congressional allies shifted public opinion: the incredibly brutal way the child is killed opened many eyes and troubled many hearts. But that long fight was only part of the reason there was the movement of younger people into the pro-life column. And Hayt ignored altogether that younger people—like their pro-life elders—believe in win-win solutions for mother AND unborn child.

Perhaps the best answer of all was given to Hayt by a speech-class teacher, Jillynne Raymond. The teenagers’ “certainty” reminded her of an earlier generation’s certainty.

”’Teenagers have strong opinions,’’ Ms. Raymond, 41, said. ‘It’s no different than the 70’s when I was a teenager, but the difference is that the majority of speeches then were pro-choice. I wanted the right to an abortion as a woman. The focus then was not having the government tell me what to do with my body.’’

”’Today,’’ she said of her students, ‘the majority is pro-life.’”

That idealism has only spread in the last ten years.

Editor’s note. You can read Hayt’s story here.