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Lessons from the past

"Lessons from the past" Continued...

Issue: "Millions cut down," Jan. 17, 2009

Reformers preached and wrote about how sin was crouching at the door of many tenements, but they also warned young women to watch out for brothel recruiters who might trick and then trap them. Some 28 Girls' Protective Leagues in New York City enrolled 2,500 members who were given a "blacklist of dangerous places" and who learned the importance of spurning "improper proposals when applying for positions through newspapers and employment agencies."

Pro-lifers could not do much about the low wages characteristic in entry-level jobs at the time, but they reduced the cost of living and increased safety by setting up networks of family-style lodging houses and inexpensive, YWCA-type boarding houses where decent rooms were available for $1.50 per week.

To women already deep into prostitution, opponents of abortion spoke of repentance and forgiveness. Evangelists such as Dwight Moody made sure they had the names and addresses of families willing to provide a spare room in their homes to young prostitutes who found themselves pregnant and chose to leave the trade. Hardened hookers who were pregnant and did not want one more abortion frequently went to refuges. In New York, the House of the Good Shepherd offered shelter and help for women "who wish to reform their lives by deserting the haunts of vice," and the Home of the Good Samaritan found jobs for women "living in sin and desirous of leaving their old life." One woman who went to Chicago's Erring Women's Refuge said it was the "first place I ever lived that any person cared enough about the salvation of my soul to make it a matter of interest to me."

Pro-lifers concerned with the third at-risk group, married women liberated from biblical principles by "spiritism" or some other creed, proposed many means of containment, but two stand out. They tried to describe accurately what an unborn child looked like, and they emphasized the physical and psychological dangers of abortion to women.

The psychological stress is particularly interesting, because supporters of abortion have labeled "post-abortion syndrome" a recent invention of anti-abortion forces. And yet, in 1875 feminist Elizabeth Evans was describing the effects of abortions on women who had them a decade or two earlier. One woman, she reported, was "wild with regret at my folly in rejecting the (alas! only once-proffered) gift of offspring." Another woman described how her "thoughts were filled with imaginings as to what might have been the worth of that child's individuality; and especially, after sufficient time had elapsed to have brought him to maturity, did I busy myself with picturing the responsible posts he might have filled."

This sad lady added that she never "read of an accident by land or by water, or of a critical moment in battle, or of a good cause lost through lack of a brave defender, but my heart whispered, 'He might have been there to help and save; he might have been able to lead that forlorn hope; his word or deed might have brought this wise plan to successful issue!'" Other women told Evans similar stories, and she concluded that "the enormity of the crime of foeticide may be, in some degree, estimated by the excessive remorse which, sooner or later, is sure to follow its perpetration."

Pro-life forces distributed gripping accounts of psychological damage. "I was for a long time as near as being insane as one can be without really going mad," one woman recalled. "I had an idea that I had lost, through that unnatural deed, the normal powers and qualities of a human being. I no longer ate and drank with the old hunger and thirst, nor slept the quiet sleep of innocence; I took no heed of the passage of time, and all that I saw and hear seemed to be the occurrence of a dream, as though my life was already finished for me."

Overall, as pro-lifers compassionately aided women at risk, the abortion rate declined dramatically from 1860 to 1910 and stayed relatively low until the cultural revolution of the 1960s sent the numbers soaring again. Pro-life leaders during the 1860-1960 century of decrease understood that there never would be "total abolition of the practice." Realizing that this is a fallen world, they appreciated the educational impact of anti-abortion laws but did not expect much in the way of enforcement: Instead, they concentrated on ways to provide women with compassionate alternatives to abortion. They were not laid low by a sense of failure when, despite their efforts, many unborn children died. They rejoiced that so many were saved.

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