Cover Story

30 years' war

"30 years' war" Continued...

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

"It eats away at people once they start thinking about it. They cannot come to terms with giving a death sentence to an unborn child.... Some people come in with outright contempt for us but walk away saying, 'I agree with 90 percent of what you had to say.'"

The numbers back up Ms. Foster's observations. Among college freshmen-a notoriously liberal lot-approval of abortion has dipped 10 percentage points in the past decade, even as the teen abortion rate itself plummeted nearly 40 percent. And college freshmen aren't alone: A Zogby Poll released in December found that 32 percent of Americans have changed their minds about abortion in the past decade, with 21 percent saying they viewed abortion more negatively, while only 11 percent viewed it more positively. More than two-thirds of Americans now say they would strongly urge a woman not to seek an abortion.

Increasingly, pro-life activists are focusing on the needs of the mother as well as the rights of the child. Patricia Heaton, the Emmy-winning co-star of the hit CBS sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, serves as honorary chair of Feminists for Life. Her message on the organization's webpage is typical of the new approach. Under the headline "Refuse to choose," a glamorous-looking Ms. Heaton appears with this quotation: "Every 36 seconds in America a woman lays her body down, forced to choose abortion out of a lack of practical resources and emotional support. Abortion is a reflection that society has failed women."

Women Deserve Better, a new marketing campaign launched by six national pro-life groups, takes a similar tack, stressing that "Abortion is a reflection that we have not met the needs of women. This campaign is dedicated to promoting women-centered solutions to significantly reduce abortion and protect women's health."

While "health of the mother" has long been a pro-choice escape hatch from protective abortion laws, pro-lifers are now using the issue to hammer back at their opponents. Armed with studies showing a host of abortion-related health risks, from breast cancer to sterility, pro-life educators are undermining the image of a post-Roe utopia in which abortion is "safe and legal."

Teenage girls, too, are getting the message that abortion is a much riskier procedure than, say, plucking their eyebrows. Thanks to abstinence programs like Sex Respect and Wonderful Days, more teens are learning about the dangers of abortion and the wonders of life within the womb.

And for those who don't get that message in time, the pro-life movement has learned some lessons of its own. As the Operation Rescue model has largely fallen by the wayside, activists are choosing compassion over confrontation. As they have for decades, perhaps 3,000 crisis pregnancy centers across the country continue to offer expectant mothers services ranging from professional counseling to baby formula.

The volunteer counselors at these centers were compassionate conservatives before compassionate conservatism was cool. Many of the larger centers now have ultrasound machines so that pregnant women and boyfriends can see pictures of not just any unborn child but of their child. Some are now reemphasizing a long-neglected alternative: adoption. And many also offer counseling to post-abortive women experiencing guilt over the choice they made. This kind of support at a time of extreme vulnerability may be one of the most important techniques of all, since nearly half of all women entering abortion clinics are "repeat customers."

"We all know anger doesn't change a heart," says Jenny Dixon, vice president of Care Net, a national association of nearly 700 pregnancy centers. "But compassion does. We meet each woman at the point of her need and lend a helping hand. That's riveting to a girl who walks in off the street.... Fighting the battle on the political front is important, but when you're dealing with people who are hurting and afraid, you have a chance to make a real difference."

According to Care Net's statistics, 44,165 women walked into their facilities considering an abortion last year-but opted to give birth instead. The change represents only a small fraction of abortion deaths each year, but activists insist that progress will continue until Roe itself is swept away, just another relic of the '70s like The Waltons and the 8-cent postage stamp.

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