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Where are they now?

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

In 25 years, many leaders on both sides of the abortion debate have come and gone. Here's what's become of half a dozen of the pioneers: In 1942 Alan Guttmacher began openly promoting legal abortion. He became the head of Planned Parenthood and saw his work culminate in the pro-abortion success of 1973. He did not have long to celebrate, for God took him in 1974. Today his daughter, Sally Guttmacher, carries on his struggles. As a member of the Association of Professional Health Studies at New York University's School of Education, she promotes condoms for the young. Last September, in an article in the American Journal of Public Health, she praised a New York City public school condom distribution program. In 1962, Sherri Finkbine became famous for traveling to Sweden to abort her child. She had taken thalidomide, which can cause major birth defects, and reporters used her difficulty in obtaining a local abortion to condemn America's anti-abortion stance. Mrs. Finkbine was depicted as the perfect wife and mother (she already had four children), but after the abortion she obtained a divorce and married a gynecologist. Now Sherri Chessen, she has two more children and has had several careers, including working as an estate agent, recording voice-overs for television commercials, and writing a children's book, The Gorp's Gift, in which she depicts the dangers of guns to children. Thirty years ago Lawrence Lader wrote pro-abortion books, attacked Catholic leaders, and was a founder of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL, now the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League). Today he continues to pursue the abortion cause by promoting the drug RU-486 through writing and as president of Abortion Rights Mobilization, a nonprofit group based in New York that conducts clinical trials of mifepristone. According to regulations ARM cannot charge the women for the drug itself, but the women do pay doctors' fees. Bernard Nathanson was one of the other founders of NARAL. In the1940s he was a medical student; when his girlfriend got pregnant he persuaded her to have an abortion. In his early career he presided over thousands of abortions, but with the development of ultrasound equipment he considered more the humanity of the child and began to question the morality of his actions. Eventually Dr. Nathanson made up his mind that abortion was wrong; his career took an about-face as he became vocal in speaking out against abortion. Dr. Nathanson, from a Jewish background, was baptized at Easter, 1996. Now he speaks for salvation as well as against abortion. Mildred Jefferson was the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School. Early on she took a strong pro-life stand and became the first president of National Right to Life. Today she is a surgeon at Boston University Medical Center and the chairman of the Citizens Select Committee on Public Health Oversight in Boston. She promotes moral education, noting that it is important to talk to youth about developing character within a family context. She works with parent groups that emphasize abstinence, and she stays involved in the political scene fighting for pro-life causes. Soon after Roe vs. Wade, Nellie Gray founded March for Life, Inc. The group's goal is to memorialize the court's decision and unite pro-life voices in a march on the U.S. Capitol. Over two decades later Nellie Gray is still the organization's president, and every year tens of thousands still come together to march. Such perseverance shows that pro-life leaders are committed to keeping attention on the issue of abortion.

Harder to swallow?

Walter Larimore, a pro-life evangelical who is a family practice physician from Florida, surprised fellow doctors and nurses recently by announcing that he will no longer prescribe birth-control pills. The reason, he says, is that he believes "the Bible teaches that life begins at conception and that there is a significant chance that all hormonal birth control can have an abortive mechanism at least some of the time." The 40-member Physicians Resource Council of Focus on the Family does not back Dr. Larimore's refusal to prescribe birth-control pills. The council met last fall to determine whether and how to revise its policy statement that accepts the use of contraceptives. Brad Beck of the Focus staff told WORLD, "All available studies were examined and discussed in an effort to shed light on this issue. The preliminary conclusion was that no direct evidence exists at this time supporting the hypothesis that oral contraceptives allow fertilization and then cause abortions." The debate may be heating up. With studies such as Randy Alcorn's Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions? (Eternal Perspectives Ministries) circulating within the evangelical pro-life community, this issue-which has been brought up largely by Catholic pro- lifers over the past 25 years-does not seem like one that will go away. Here's what the debate is about: Dr. Larimore's concern about birth-control pills is based on his research into evidence that the pills perhaps 4 to 8 percent of the time do not prevent ovulation; that on those occasions a conception (union of ovum and sperm) might occur; and that one effect of the pills, according to the Food and Drug Administration, might be creation of a "hostile" environment in the lining of the uterus so that the approximately one-week-old tiny human being, known scientifically as a zygote, cannot implant, and thus dies. Dr. Larimore and a professional colleague, Joe Stanford, have developed a mathematical model for determining the likelihood of the abortifacient effect by type of hormonal birth control and other variables. Their research, presented recently to the North American Primary Care Research Group's annual meeting, suggests that the annual possibility of the pill's causing a very early abortion is remote for some women but not improbable for others, depending on usage and other factors. Their findings note some indirect medical studies, including those that led the FDA to list the "hostile endometrium" as a mode by which birth-control pills prevent pregnancy. Drs. Larimore and Stanford, also noting some evidence that women using birth-control pills are more likely to have ectopic (outside the uterus and usually unsuccessful) pregnancies than those not taking pills, argue that patients should be informed of the abortifacient possibility. They hope that their work will stimulate the pharmaceutical industry and other researchers to come forward with direct evidence that will resolve the medical uncertainties. However, Don Nelson, a pro-life evangelical physician in Iowa and a friend of Dr. Larimore, has reviewed the research and noted that the FDA studies were made on women who had not ovulated. Dr. Nelson theorizes that the uterine environment is altered once ovulation occurs, with hormones secreted by the ovaries preparing the endometrium to become more favorable for successful implantation. David Hager, a pro-life OB/GYN from Kentucky, also believes the "hostile endometrium" may be an overstatement: Yes, birth control causes the endometrium to thin, but "the thinning should not necessarily inhibit implantation because the target of the implanting zygote is the mother's blood supply which lies below the endometrium." Overall, the anti-pill position is based on a theory that is unproven. Questions about use of birth-control pills by pro-life evangelicals are especially difficult because of uncertainties in medical science as to whether the abortifacient effect is real. And yet, since human life is involved, pro-life physicians are not taking this debate lightly. Dr. Beck's statement about the physicians' meeting concluded, "Valid theoretical concerns exist and were discussed; it is clear that further scientific study is needed. The Physicians Resource Council will continue to monitor the issue as additional data become available."

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