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Reflections on the 36th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade: There Is Hope for the Pro-Life Movement

By J. Margaret Datiles
Former Staff Counsel

Today, many pro-life Americans mistakenly believe that we are in a similarly bleak position. The pro-life movement suffered significant losses in 2008 – three state pro-life ballot initiatives failed, and the new President-elect has promised to sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), radical legislation that would establish the so-called “right to abortion” as a “fundamental right” and overturn more than 550 federal and state abortion-related laws.

But are the days ahead really as dark as they seem?

I am happy to say, firmly and resolutely: The horizon is not as dark as it appears. There is great reason for hope, and the days ahead hold opportunities and even victories for the pro-life movement. In the face of adversity, the pro-life movement will do as it has always done during such times: persevere. The cause for life has been confronted with seemingly-impossible challenges in the past, and has consistently responded by staying the course, only to emerge more energized than before. The very existence of a thriving pro-life movement in America’s post-Roe society is a testimony to this fact. History has shown that the cause for life has continued to succeed and grow despite overwhelming odds, vigorous attacks by abortion advocates, and premature dismissal by the media and academic elite.

The Obama administration, with its strong anti-life commitments, will certainly present new and numerous challenges for the cause for life. And like David walking defiantly into battle against Goliath, the pro-life movement will march with steady feet and a steadfast heart to face and overcome the challenges of 2009.

Winning the Battle for Hearts and Minds: The Majority of Americans Trend Pro-Life

A great source of hope for the pro-life movement is the growing pro-life culture in American society. Recent polls reveal that the vast majority of Americans identify themselves as pro-life, and favor greater regulations on abortion.

A 2008 ABC News-Washington Post poll reported that the number of Americans who identify themselves as abortion supporters has dropped to its seven-year low, whereas the number of “pro-life” Americans has risen significantly. Similarly, a 2008 Gallup poll showed that 71% of Americans want all abortions to be limited to rare circumstances or to be illegal.

A 2007 Zogby poll showed that abortion regulations are widely supported by Americans. For example, the poll revealed that 69% of Americans favor parental notification laws and limitations on government funds for abortions domestically and abroad.

CBS News polls in 2006 and 2007 reported that the majority of Americans want all or most abortions to be prohibited, with limited exceptions for rape, incest and to save the life of the mother. In 2006, only 12% were reported to want to abortion to be legal in all cases.

Citizen-driven pro-life efforts also indicate a flourishing pro-life movement. For example, AUL Action started collecting signatures for an anti-FOCA petition in November 2008. Thus far, over 400,000 Americans have signed the petition, and that number continues to grow by the day. Other citizen-driven pro-life efforts include the 40 Days for Life campaign, which organizes 40-day prayer vigils outside of abortion clinics around the nation. 40 Days for Life currently has 177 chapters in 47 states.

Last, but certainly not least, is the annual March for Life, held in Washington, D.C. annually on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Twenty thousand people marched in the first March for Life in 1974. Between 1977 and 1998, up to 100,000 people attended the March. From 2003 through 2006, more than 225,000 people attended. (1)

The growing numbers of actively pro-life Americans is indicative of a population that supports pro-life principles, regardless of who is in power in Washington. In the face of such overwhelming evidence of a renewed and flourishing American pro-life culture, it is clear that the cause for life is ready to take on the challenges of 2009 and beyond. 

2008 Pro-Life Successes Indicate Progress and Promise

Last year’s pro-life victories must not be forgotten amidst our growing concerns for 2009. For example, in 2008, state legislatures session considered 12% more abortion-related legislation than they did in 2007 – the vast majority of the bills were “pro life.” This is especially impressive, considering that five states (including the very pro-life states of Arkansas, North Dakota and Texas) were not in session last year. (2)  Abortion bans, ultrasound requirements, and funding limitations for abortion were among the most popular pro-life legislation considered last year. This rise in state abortion-related legislation demonstrates that common-sense abortion regulations and restrictions are issues of increasing relevance and interest and are not an outdated or “oh-so-90’s” topic as some falsely claim.

During the 110th Congress, at least 97 life-related bills and resolutions were considered. Importantly, all pro-life limits on federal funding for abortion were preserved.  (3) One notable pro-life law that was enacted by Congress in 2008 is the Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act (requiring physicians to provide expectant mothers with information on prenatally and postnatally diagnosed conditions and support services).Clearly, Congress recognizes the need to continue the debate over abortion.

In addition to pro-life legislative victories, the courts produced their own share of pro-life victories. For example, on October 6, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the Arizona case, Arizona Life Coalition, Inc. v. Stanton. In that case, the Ninth Circuit held that Arizona must allow the issuance of “Choose Life” license plates, as a denial of an application for such plates would be unconstitutional.

In Morr-Fitz v. Blagojevich, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that pharmacists and pharmacy owners have standing to challenge the constitutionality of an executive rule requiring them to dispense RU-486 upon demand, even if such practice violates their moral beliefs. This rule reflects a trend among anti-life advocates to push for policies which force healthcare professionals to participate in abortions and/or to dispense RU-486. This trend is a reaction to the diminishing numbers of healthcare professionals willing to perform abortions and/or dispense RU-486. The dwindling numbers of actively anti-life health professionals and the recent Illinois Supreme Court decision are pro-life triumphs and signs of increasing pro-life sentiment.

Last year’s pro-life legislative and court victories should provide encouragement to those who continue the fight for life.


Although it is clear that the incoming Presidential administration has espoused radically anti-life sentiments, it is equally as clear that the pro-life movement is alive and well. Recent pro-life successes in the legislatures and courts and evidence of an increasing pro-life American populace are sources of courage and hope. The fight for life (or the “abortion wars” as some term it) is far from over – indeed, it has only just begun.

(1)  March for Life, Education and Defense Fund, “The Marchers Keep Marching.” Available at http://www.marchforlife.org/content/view/13/26/ (last visited January 12, 2009).
(2)  Denise M. Burke, Review and Analysis of 2008 State Legislative Sessions, published by Americans United for Life. Available at http://aul.org/2008_State_Sessions (last visited January 11, 2009).
(3)  J. Margaret Datiles, Review of 110th Congress: Pro-Life Advances and Attacks, and Where We’re Going from Here, published by Americans United for Life. Available at http://www.aul.org/110Review (last visited January 11, 2009).