By Carol Tobias, President
Editor’s note. This appears in the May issue of National Right to Life News, the “pro-life newspaper of record.” Please share this story and all the other contents of this 42-page issue with your pro-life family and friends.
The pro-life movement finds itself in a difficult position. Pro-life people, of course, want to protect all unborn children. That’s what we’ve been working for for 50 years! However, the American public has not yet come to that same conclusion.
By and large, the American public has not changed its position on abortion in many, many years. Most people oppose most abortions. They don’t like late abortions and they don’t like unlimited abortion for elective reasons.
They do, however, want abortion available in the so-called hard cases– life of the mother, medical emergency, when the child has a fatal condition, or in cases of rape or incest. These cases make up about 5% of all abortions being performed.
I want to thank Phil Lawler, writing for Catholic Culture, for reminding us of a 1989 Boston Globe poll which found that 86% of respondents believed abortion should be legal to save the life of the mother; 86% believed abortion should be legal in cases of rape, 83% in cases of incest, 81% if the mother’s health is endangered, and 63% in cases of genetic deformity.
Thirty-four years later — a recent poll conducted for National Right to Life found strikingly similar numbers — 88% thought abortion should be allowed to save the life of the mother, 87% thought abortion should be allowed in case of a medical emergency posing serious risk of substantial irreversible physical harm to the mother, 82% thought abortion should be allowed in cases of rape, and 81% thought abortion should be allowed in cases of incest.
Abortion in these cases collectively accounts for about 5% of all abortions.
Respondents were then asked if they would support allowing abortion only in those four circumstances; 72% said yes with 51% strongly agreeing.
If the general public is willing to support legislation that will prohibit 95% of all abortions, why are some pro-lifers opposed to legislation which would limit abortion to those cases? Of course, people conceived in rape or incest, and babies born with serious anomalies deserve protection, but we can help mothers and babies to deal with those situations in other ways.
As David N. O’Steen, Ph.D., former executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, has been saying, the law is just one of many tools in our toolbelt that can be used to save lives. As he wrote in the April issue of NRL News, “Those tools can include increased public resources to support adoption, the expansion of pro-life pregnancy resource centers, and both new and/or strengthened private and public programs to reach out to and aid rape or incest victims and save their babies.”
The goal of NRLC has always been to save as many babies as possible as soon as possible.
Prior to Dobbs v. Jackson, the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v Wade, that goal was put into practice by working for laws to prevent some (but not all) abortions or which encouraged women to choose life for their baby.
Some of the laws required abortionists to provide abortion-seeking women with information about possible complications and available alternatives. Some prevented the use of tax dollars from paying for or promoting abortion. Some prevented abortion once the child could feel pain or had a detectable heartbeat.
None of the laws were perfect, but they did save lives.
While some states now have laws which protect all, or almost all, preborn children, other states are grappling with what to do as an in-between — or “at this time” — measure. We need to pass laws that are reasonable to most people and will save as many babies as possible. And we have to work in other ways to save the rest of our preborn brothers and sisters.
There is no quick or simple solution in a deeply divided country. But if the pro-life movement insists on making voters choose between legalizing all abortions or no abortions, the public has shown it will choose to allow all abortions.
Pro-life people can disagree on the best path forward but we share the conviction that every baby saved is a victory for life.