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Still fighting

Abortion Present | Election returns cannot keep down the pro-life movement

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

Last November brought the worst political setback for the pro-life movement since Bill Clinton's 1992 victory. And yet, one result of the movement's increased emphasis on compassionate help is that pro-lifers could face that political change without a sense of panic.

Yes, Barack Obama favors partial-birth abortion and pledges to name Supreme Court justices who promise to uphold the 1973 pro-abortion Roe v. Wade decision, but it's likely that more unborn lives will be saved regardless of what happens in Washington. One reason is that more pregnancy resource centers are technologically up-to-date, making use of sophisticated ultrasound machines so that pregnant mothers in a crisis can see their babies.

Seeing a child usually prompts a decision not to kill him or her. "Well over 80 percent of women who see the ultrasound choose life," says Brian Boone, president of the central Indiana Life Centers, which provide help for pregnant women.

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And even in the political arena, the Democratic Party seems to be edging away from its adamant pro-abortion recent past. Democratic powers have given financial support to pro-life candidates in races for Congress and hold several seats now. Pro-life Democrats also successfully lobbied for a slight shift toward life in the party's platform language, with a call to reduce the need for abortion.

Those moves might be explained politically. Democratic strategists could see how the party was losing close races as family-values voters swung to the Republican side in the 2000 and 2004 elections. Yet some Democrats also have been morally troubled by the death-wish mentality of the pro-abortion movement, particularly in regard to babies with Down syndrome who are aborted at an 80 percent to 90 percent rate through pre-natal screening.

With support from an abortion-rights stalwart, Sen. Edward Kennedy, Congress adopted legislation in the fall to discourage the killing of babies with this disability. The legislation requires doctors to give families information about the condition and about adoption opportunities.

Newsweek, certainly not known as a pro-life publication, noted in a recent story that doctors often give insensitive and out-of-date information to mothers with a Down syndrome baby in the womb, sometimes encouraging abortion. The Dec. 15 story by Mary Carmichael also highlighted research indicating that families often wind up stronger through the experience with a child with this disability.

Nominated for vice president, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin gave a boost to this more accurate perspective on these children by giving birth to her son Trig. She provided encouragement to parents just by practicing the pro-life preaching that all humans have intrinsic worth.

An Indianapolis pastor and his wife, Richard and Beckie Johnston, know the natural fears of parents when they find out their child has this special need. They already had two children, Brad and Kim, when Stephen was born in 1990.

"Like most parents of Down syndrome, I rejected Stephen in the first hour of his life," Johnston said. "I wanted a normal child." The diagnosis for Stephen didn't change, but Johnston's thinking did, over a 10-year period. "Through his special needs, I learned what is really important in life," Johnston said.

Stephen turned 18 years old this week. "Each morning he hugs me, and each night he says I love you. He floods my life with joy, enthusiasm, simplicity, and love," Johnston said. "To Stephen I am the most important person in the world, and he embraces me with his smile. We are best friends and buddies."

Politically the pro-life movement is not enjoying the best of times. But the movement has parallels with other humanitarian efforts such as the abolitionist attempts to abolish slavery, or the civil-rights movement. These efforts did not thrive solely on politics or victories at the ballot box. A dedicated minority always persevered in the conviction that America has room for those who previously had suffered discrimination. That's the case today for those who choose the preservation of life over putting to death others, even babies with disabilities.

Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.

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