Yesterday was one of the coldest Washington days in recent memory, with wind chills below zero and the city crushed under a blanket of snow (only four inches, but that’s an ice age by D.C. standards). Yet the demonstrators at the annual March for Life did what they do every year: woke up early, braved the elements, and trekked to the Supreme Court in somber remembrance. “We march,” declared the event’s official Twitter account, “because 56 million Americans never had the chance to experience snow.”
Fifty-six million killed in abortions—it’s a horrific milestone, a malevolent ticker for those of us who remember when it was 50 million, 45 million, 40 million. Roe v. Wade was decided 41 years ago yesterday; those who fight it tend to be optimistic types, but the numbers increasingly cast a pall. And the media coverage of the March makes it worse. News editors apparently engaged in a contest this year to see who could pointlessly mention Todd Akin and the “Republican war on women” the most times.
For pro-choice activists, a few of whom showed up to counter-protest yesterday, the abortion issue is closed. A consensus exists for abortion-on-demand in America that’s under attack only by gnawing hordes of theocratic radicals—“an extreme minority” with an “ideologically driven and outdated agenda,” according to a paint-by-numbers op-ed by the president of NARAL. The March for Life is just an embarrassing aberration. Abortion rights are a subset of women’s rights, on par with civil rights and gay rights, all under the umbrella of “progress.” And progress can’t be stopped.
Calling the slaughter of children “progress” is absurd on its face, of course. But beyond that, it’s simply not true that abortion rights have the same permanence as, say, voting rights. Despite the death toll, pro-lifers should be optimistic. The so-called abortion consensus is crumbling.
This is most evident in public opinion. Over the past year, poll after poll has shown good news for pro-lifers. A Gallup survey found 80 percent of respondents think abortion should be illegal in the third trimester and 64 percent want it prohibited in the second trimester. According to a Washington Post/ABC poll 56 percent favor a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. A Knights of Columbus/Marist survey found broad support for second- and third-trimester abortion bans, parental notification laws, waiting periods, and mandatory ultrasounds.
The public hasn’t wholly jumped onto the pro-life wagon, still favoring legal abortion in the first trimester. But the momentum is unquestionably on the side of new restrictions, a palpable shift from the post-Roe 1970s when legal abortion was relatively uncontroversial.
But even if the polls weren’t so bright, does abortion really seem like something that can endure the long-term test of history? The civil rights movement has Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks; the women’s rights movement has Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton; the gay rights movement has Harvey Milk. What luminaries from the pro-choice crowd will future schoolchildren learn to revere? Norma McCorvey, the original Roe plaintiff, now a dedicated pro-life activist? Harvey Karman, inventor of the Karman cannula and “super coil” abortion devices, who murdered a mother trying to abort her child with a nutcracker in a hotel room and later joined forces with a young Philadelphia doctor named Kermit Gosnell? George Tiller, a martyr perhaps, but one who performed the gruesome partial-birth abortion procedure countless times? Wendy Davis, the frivolous pro-choice orator, who seems to have fabricated her entire biography?
Instead of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the abortion rights movement has the Jane Collective, an underground Chicago ring that made a handsome profit performing black-market abortions. Instead of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, pro-choicers have the Mother’s Day Massacre, a 1972 experiment in which 15 Jane clients were bused to Kermit Gosnell’s Philadelphia clinic and underwent abortions using untested “super coil” devices, resulting in serious complications. And of course, you’ll search in vain for another group of modern activists who produced a monster like Kermit Gosnell.
So soaked in blood is the pro-choice movement’s history that you rarely hear it discussed at all. It’s fitting in a way. The entire point of the abortion rights project is to obscure what it actually supports, right down to its annoyingly vague vernacular—“choice,” “reproductive freedom,” “medical procedure,” nothing dying here! History, which strives for honest assessment, can’t possibly judge this kindly.
As Francis Fukuyama has noted, the direction of history is towards increased recognition and empowerment of the downtrodden. Civilization is far more concerned with helping those in life’s shadows than it used to be. Sometimes this is for the better, as with civil rights, and sometimes for the worse, as with attempts to make everyone economically equal. Yet supporting abortion rights cuts against the trend entirely. It means denying recognition to the most vulnerable class of human being in existence—the unborn baby. Fukuyama also thought technological development was one of history’s crucial driving forces. As ultrasounds let us visualize unborn children, as other inventions let us keep those children alive outside the womb, how can we continue to not recognize the fetus as fully human?
We won’t and, as the polls show, increasingly we’re not. Abortion rights won’t go down in history as one of the left’s triumphs. Instead it will be remembered as one of its many humiliating cul-de-sacs, like eugenics and Prohibition. Yesterday’s pro-life marchers had a righteous wind at their backs—even if its January gusts were freezing.