Cover Story

One step forward

"One step forward" Continued...

Issue: "Roe vs. Wade 25," Jan. 17, 1998

But that seemingly neat definition begs yet another question: When does fertilization actually occur? An hour after sex? A day? Two days? Dr. Gene Rudd, an OB/GYN with the Christian Medical and Dental Society, says that because sperm are viable for up to seven days, the optimal window for conception is several hours to several days after intercourse. Even the National Right to Life Committee won't be too specific. In its response to the so-called morning-after pill last year, NRLC acknowledged that "some chemical compounds may work to either prevent fertilization or kill the developing human being which has begun to grow." It went on to urge women to consult with their doctors to determine whether, "in their best medical judgment," using the pills would prevent a pregnancy or terminate one.

That debate will likely gain prominence-and passion-as very early abortions become more common. If, as some abortion advocates predict, contraception and abortion blend into a "seamless web," will the pro-life movement itself come apart at the seams? Many evangelical women, after all, have never thought twice about using the pill or other birth-control devices. Catholic ethicists have long viewed that as inconsistent with a pro-life philosophy, but they have largely kept their views quiet for the sake of saving babies. Now, however, medical advances are forcing the Catholic critique to the surface.

"With 'technological progress' the moral case against contraception is even stronger ... and the Catholic position looks more and more prophetic," claims Ralph McInerny, professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He predicts the new abortion technology will lead evangelicals to re-think their position in favor of contraception. "I think it's got to. Given the goodness of heart and the liveliness of faith there, it's got to carry over sooner or later. There's a continuing coming together on this issue. In the practical, moral order, it's just too hard to distinguish between taking a life and preventing one."

Many evangelicals would acknowledge that the "practical order" might make certain types of contraception questionable, but they would bristle at the suggestion that contraception is an absolute wrong in the "moral order." Many evangelical and Catholic pro-life leaders agreed in the 1980s to put aside their differences over contraception for the sake of the babies; any change in strategy now could seriously strain the alliance that can take some credit for saving hundreds of thousands of lives.

"I would be very sad if a schism were created in the pro-life movement over contraception when the issue is still abortion," says Laura MacLeod, director of legislation and public policy at Concerned Women for America. Although CWA does not take a position on contraception, Mrs. MacLeod predicts that if there were a squabble over the issue, "you would probably lose a lot of evangelicals simply because there's a lack of education" about the difference between contraception and chemical abortifacients. She says it is crucial that evangelical women become more familiar with the facts about chemical abortions so that they can make informed decisions. "It's just going to be a huge, huge issue, and it's one that no one is talking about."

That emphasis on education may prove to be the key not only to preserving the pro-life alliance but to advancing the pro-life cause in the next 25 years of life after Roe. Evangelicals and Catholics agree that very early abortion procedures-both surgical and chemical-will make it imperative to reach women earlier and earlier in their pregnancies with information regarding the choice they are about to make. Counseling centers in the Care Net system, for instance, compete with Planned Parenthood by offering very early tests that can determine a pregnancy in as little as 10 days after conception. But instead of a syringe, Care Net counselors then offer spiritual guidance, emotional support, and abortion alternatives to women who find themselves pregnant unexpectedly.

Even Operation Rescue, long regarded as the guerrilla wing of the pro-life movement, recognizes the need for new tactics in response to medical advances. In Dallas, OR's Flip Benham already has been mapping his strategy. "If the abortionists are talking about getting to them [the women] 8 days, 10 days after conception, we've got to get to them before conception," he says. "That's why we've got to focus more and more on abstinence education." To that end, OR volunteers are doing what other pro-lifers have done for years, taking the battle into the high schools to provide information about abstinence among girls who might otherwise be easy targets for the new abortion/contraception techniques.

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