Cover Story

Back to basics

Pro-life movement, with its defeat at the polls, enters a new era

Issue: "Back to basics," Nov. 28, 1992

The modern pro-life movement of the United States emerged in 1973 following the shock of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. The movement's political emphasis brought about quick success as concern about abortion contributed to formation of a Republican/"Reagan Democrat" coalition that captured the White House and the Senate in 1980.

During the '80s, leading journalists and idea merchants remained supportive of abortion, and many people opposed abortion except for those they loved or hated-daughters of minorities. Yet a string of Supreme Court appointments seemed to portend a Roe reversal, and several court decisions restricted slightly the abortion liberty. Pro-life hopes were high.

Those expectations turned blue in 1992, as three Reagan/Bush court appointees joined two Roe holdovers to form a five-justice pro-abortion majority in the Casey decision. This month, a president who spoke softly on abortion but at least carried a big veto was voted into political exile, and so was a movement that had placed its hopes on politics.

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In January, when pro-life forces gather in Washington for a somber march on the 20th anniversary of Roe, proclamations of imminent new victory will be few.

Twenty years! Twenty years of some success in holding the line: the number of abortions has not gone up since the late 1970s, even though unmarried pregnancies have increased sharply during that period. But running in place over 1.6 million new, small skulls each year satisfies no one

The main pro-life emphases for two decades have been political, legislative, and judicial, but other strategies also have emerged: the blockade approach of Operation Rescue and the compassionate ministry of crisis pregnancy centers are two of the options.

Now that the political approach seems to have crashed, will there be a shakeup in the movement? When will it begin?

The shakeup begins next Tuesday, Dec. 1, when it will be announced that Guy Condon, president of the legal-oriented Americans United for Life, is moving to a similar position with the compassion-oriented Christian Action Council. For Condon, who succeeded in expanding AUL's budget six-fold during his eight years there, the change is not a lateral transfer but an embrace of a different vision.

In an interview last week, Condon emphasized a point he had been making since before the election: "We are losing miserably the battle for perception and public conviction, which means the public is allowing the policy elites to advance the abortion agenda."

One problem, he said, is that "we have engaged in a top-down strategy, concentrating on litigation, legislation, and scholarship to influence the policy elites through the intellectual argument." Press accounts have made pro-lifers "appear to be fighting for a special interest, rather than serving the general public's shared interest."

Well-intentioned activities, Condon added, have given pro-abortion media an opportunity to make "pro-lifers look like 'fetus freaks' with no regard for the legitimate needs of the woman facing a crisis pregnancy or the needs of an unplanned child who is born." Gallup surveys, he said, "tell us that Americans are more likely to see pro-lifers as violent and uncaring toward women than those who are killing children and manipulating women to do so."

The clear priority, Condon continued, is compassion, not politics: "I believe that God is showing his people that we can no longer look to the institutions of power to fulfill his commandments to us. He's calling us to help one woman at a time, to help meet her medical, emotional, and spiritual needs."

Condon has many specific plans to discuss with the Christian Action Council board, which already has aided in the development of 450 crisis pregnancy centers. In general, he says, "We want to create a caring network that will make it easy to link up those who want to help with those who need help."

Condon envisions the network to include thousands of "caring network churches linked to local care centers and adoption centers nationwide," with families pledging to provide shelter for young women in crisis and homes for children in need.

Even some of the toughest anti-abortion crusaders are returning almost exclusively toward compassion and education. Judie Brown, the brassy leader of American Life League who actually opposed Louisiana's anti-abortion law because it was too weak (allowing abortions in cases of rape and incest), has said she's "through debating abortion."

In the current issue of ALL's magazine All About Issues, Mrs. Brown writes that "the reality of a hostile administration and unfriendly federal courts does, in fact, create a new freedom for the pro-life movement." That freedom, she says, is from politics.


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