Cover Story

30 years' war

As Roe turns 30, are medical facts and a determined pro-life movement causing legalized abortion to show its age-or is it just becoming more entrenched? While others debate the question, abortion opponents quietly legislate, litigate, and demonstrate compassion

Issue: "30 years of destruction," Jan. 18, 2003

Even for those who lived through it, most of 1973 has been long since forgotten. Notre Dame topped the college football rankings that year with a perfect 11-0 season. The Sting took home the best-picture Oscar and The Waltons swept five Emmy categories. The average American household in 1973 earned $10,500, the minimum wage was $1.60, and a first-class stamp cost 8 cents.

One event from Jan. 22, 1973, is far from forgotten. The Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision has often seemed to be signed in blood rather than ink. That decision authorized the legal killing of unborn children nationwide, and 40 million have died since then. The decision also animated a political movement that contributed to capturing the White House five times out of seven elections, leading to everything from historic tax cuts to beefed-up defense spending.

Yet the pro-life movement's ultimate legal goal of overturning Roe has proved elusive. Pro-life activists employing three different strategies-legislate, litigate, and demonstrate compassion-have managed to pass laws that protect some unborn children and change the minds of some parents. Those measures have helped to cut the ratio of abortions to live births by more than 25 percent.

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Still, about 1.3 million American women-according to Planned Parenthood's research arm, The Alan Guttmacher Institute-have abortions every year, a grim testimony to the continued influence of Roe vs. Wade. On this 30th anniversary of Roe, here's an assessment of the success and failure of various pro-life strategies-and a look to their futures.

Legislate

The constitutional fix that once seemed like the quickest solution to the abortion problem now looks like an ever-receding horizon. Sen. Jesse Helms, the pro-life stalwart who introduced the first Human Life Amendment back in 1975, just retired from the Senate. His colleague from Utah, Sen. Orrin Hatch, championed his own pro-life amendment for more than two years before seeing it go down to defeat in 1983. Yet another Human Life Amendment is currently languishing in the Senate, far short of the two-thirds vote it needs to pass.

With no total ban anywhere in sight, most pro-lifers have adopted the strategy of saving any lives they can. Last year's Born Alive Infants Protection Act, passed unanimously even by the Democratic-controlled Senate, sought to end the practice in some hospitals of leaving live babies to die after failed abortions. An even more gruesome practice, however-collapsing the skull and suctioning the brains of late-term, unborn babies-somehow failed to win unanimity in the upper chamber. Pro-lifers are hopeful that the new, Republican-dominated Senate will vote quickly to put an end to these partial-birth abortions.

The wish list doesn't end there. Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America notes that five pro-life bills passed the House of Representatives last year but stalled in the Senate. Besides the partial-birth abortion bill, her group will be lobbying for laws that make it a federal crime to circumvent state parental consent laws (Child Custody Protection Act); punish criminals who attack pregnant women and kill or injure their unborn children (Unborn Victims of Violence Act); and give health providers and insurers the right to refuse to perform, pay for, or counsel for abortion (Health Care Right of Conscience Act).

Though many pro-lifers are praying for a Washington miracle now that the Senate is in GOP hands, others say the real action is taking place at the state level. Ever since the Supreme Court OK'd laws requiring parental notification or consent a decade ago, 43 states have passed such statutes. (Moreover, as a new WORLD study has found, those laws may be statistically significant in reducing teen abortion rates; see p. 22.)

With parental consent practically a done deal, pro-life activists are turning their attention to other statewide statutes. Mary Spaulding Balch, director of state legislation at the National Right to Life Committee, sees three states worth watching in 2003. Both Minnesota and Texas are considering informed consent laws that would include information on fetal pain. Women beyond the 20th week of their pregnancies would have to be informed that babies feel intense pain during the abortion procedure. In Texas, a woman who still opts to abort would have to agree to anesthetize her child before killing it.

In the third state, Virginia, lawmakers are taking a novel approach to ending partial-birth abortion. Rather than outlawing any specific type of medical procedure, the state wants to define the exact point at which a child is considered "born." Under the new statute, once a baby's head emerges into the birth canal, the child will be considered a live human being subject to all the protections of the law. Since partial-birth abortion is performed after that point, the procedure would be defined-and punished-as infanticide in the state of Virginia.

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