Don’t despair

An open letter to pro-lifers

From the homepage of Montanans for Parental Rights, who helped pass parental notification on Nov. 6 by over 70%

The following appeared November 9 in the online version of First Things. It was written by Michael New, professor at the University of Michigan, who has authored studies on the effects of laws restricting abortion.

The results of Tuesday’s presidential election were certainly disappointing. We knew the next president might get the opportunity to appoint as many as four new judges to the U.S. Supreme Court. We also knew that the 2012 election marked our best opportunity to repeal Obamacare. We were running against an incumbent president who very openly and aggressively supported legal abortion. We knew the stakes were high, and we responded admirably. In the end, our efforts came up a bit short.

However, I want to encourage you not to despair. We continue to make good progress. In fact, I would argue that our biggest successes during the past twenty years have neither been political nor legislative. Our biggest success story is that we have succeeded in changing the hearts and minds of millions of Americans.

Allow me to explain. One simple measure of the effectiveness of the pro-life movement is the number of abortions that are performed every year in this country. The number of abortions has declined from 1.6 million in 1990 to about 1.2 million in 2008. That is 1.2 million too many. But it is also a 25 percent decline. The consistent decline in the incidence of abortion is progress the pro-life movement could sometimes do a better job advertising.

So why has the abortion rate declined? It is due partly to the state level pro-life laws we have passed. I am probably the most dogged defender of the incrementalist strategy in the pro-life movement. I frequently cite numerous academic studies, including my own research, which shows that public funding restrictions, parental involvement laws, and properly designed informed consent laws all reduce abortion rates. I also detail how the strategies our opponents promote, like greater spending on welfare or contraceptive programs, have no effect on abortion rates—or are, in many cases, counterproductive.

However, I want to remind everyone that the abortion rate has fallen in every state—even deep blue states that have not passed any pro-life laws since 1990. Why is this? It is mostly because hearts and minds are changing. Ultrasound technology has developed that allows people to see clear pictures of sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews in utero. We have also developed an impressive network of pregnancy resources centers that provide vital assistance to literally thousands of women facing unplanned pregnancies.

Furthermore, we have become increasingly smart and savvy in our outreach efforts. There are too many good pro-life outreach efforts for me to name in this letter. However, I think that the Silent No More campaign has done a great job communicating the regret of many post-abortive women. The 40 Days for Life campaign has inspired thousands of people to become more active in their pro-life work. The annual Students for Life of America conference during the March for Life weekend routinely attracts thousands of college students—making this the largest pro-life conference in the country. Finally the videos produced by LiveAction Films have done a great job exposing unethical and illegal activities at Planned Parenthood facilities across the country.

We have realized that we have to work smarter and work harder than our opponents. Many fail to realize the difficulties that Roe v. Wade has imposed on the pro-life movement. Roe not only legalized abortion on demand and made abortion policy resistant to change, it also changed society’s sexual and cultural mores in such a way as to make subsequent restrictions on abortion more difficult to enact. It gave abortion rights mainstream political legitimacy. Moreover, it created a national network of abortion providers with a financial interest in easy access to abortion. Overall, through creativity and dedication, we have done a good job overcoming many of these obstacles.

Of course, I do not want to dismiss politics. After the 1998 election, many conservatives were disgusted that the Lewinsky scandal did not result in a greater political backlash against the Democratic Party. Some suggested that conservatives disengage from politics. However, I would never recommend that course of action. Winning elections and passing laws has certainly done some good. Furthermore, if nothing else, pro-lifers have to play defense. The unique problems posed by both the HHS contraception mandate and Obamacare will only be solved through political engagement.

Most important, I do not want pro-lifers to despair. The past 20 years have been good to us. It was just 20 years ago we received a very disappointing judicial ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. A number of surveys indicated that the pro-life position was losing ground in the court of public opinion. The Republican Party was having serious discussions about removing the pro-life plank from their platform. Pro-lifers certainly had plenty of reasons for pessimism. But now everything has changed. Many surveys show that the pro-life position is gaining support, and no one disputes that the Republican Party will remain a pro-life party for the foreseeable future.

So please keep doing your pro-life work, with pride, conviction, and confidence. Our efforts have made a difference over the past 20 years. And I have every confidence that if we stay the course, the next 20 years will be even better.

To read the original story, click here.

To add a comment, click on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ icons OR go further down to the bottom of comments to the Post your comment box.


  1. Methinks the lower number of abortions is due in part to diminished number of women to procure abortions…due to abortion!

    • Could be, Gabriel, you make a good point. “As the saying goes what goes around comes around.” Also, the younger generation now realizes that they are the survivors of abortion, and it could have been them, so many of the younger people are inclined to be more pro life. One thing is for sure — the problem and protests are NOT going to go away. It does not matter how many people are doing it, wrong is wrong and right is right.

      • Many women, too, have died from various cancers and medical problems from the carcinogen — the birth control pill. It does exacerbate certain types of cancers, so does abortion. China, which has a one child policy, is suffering from a dearth of women now, and many of their men our looking to other nations for wives.

  2. Father Karl says:

    Despair is from the devil. Yes, many times we would like to give up, because we are sick and tired of fighting, especially fighting fellow Catholics. But we must NOT! We must have courage! We are the Church militant, and daily we confront the world, the flesh and the devil. The sacrament of Confirmation made us soldiers of Jesus Christ, and we must never forget this. Watch some of the old (1950′s) films such as QUO VADIS, and see how joyous and enthusiastic the early Catholics were despite being persecuted by Nero and the other pagan Roman leaders. History repeats iself, so pray for patience, fortitude, wisdom, and joy These are all wonderful gifts of the Holy Spirit which will help us win souls for Christ.

  3. Donald Casillo says:

    The problem is the Supreme Court, four Justices are ready to retire. The Pres. will nominate pro-abort judges, and the Senate will approve them. They will be office for at least 25 years.

  4. We will not dispair, but MUST
    push forward with the “YEAR of FAITH”,
    reading or re-reading the ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition’
    and sharing it with others – - – as instructed by Pope Benedict.

    On the net search:
    ” What Catholics REALLY Believe SOURCE ”
    for quotes from our Pope on the CCC – and more info on the Year of Faith.

  5. As a catechist, pro life education is first on my slate. We have to help our youth understand the serious life changing consequences by the choices they make.

  6. these politicians change their minds and policies like socks, which should never stop the work of the church.

    romney bounced around from being pro-abortion to anti-abortion and all other kinds of nonsense, just to get get elected. GOD only knows what he truly cares about, and would actually have done.

    so we work with the president we’ve got, as always…

  7. All I can say is: BRACE YOURSELVES!!! Obama has 4 MORE years to use his UNgodly agenda to really ruin us and our America (as we will “Used To Know It As” the Blessed nation it once was…you just watch…). May God Have Mercy on America!!! Why God didn’t answer our diligent, perservering prayers (Masses, rosaries, Divine Mercy chaplets, etc.) for a PRO- LIFe President is still an extremely deep mystery??? All we can do now, is pull ourselves back up by our “boot straps”, focus our faith and trust more deeply into God, nevertheless! (It’s hard for me, I know!) He must have some kind of reasoning or plan for these next four years of UNgodlessness! They say God somehow brings good out of evil (?) KEEP BEGGING GOD FOR HIS MERCY UPON AMERICA!!!

  8. In 1968 when Reagan legalized abortion in California, many thought that it would be easy to defeat such a heinous act, that surely good doctors, good hospitals, good nurses, good judges and good Catholic bishops would work to defeat the baby-killers. How wrong we were.

    By 1973 abortion was legalized nationwide by only five educated but terribly prejudiced Supreme court judges.

    It is now almost 2013, forty years later and millions slaughtered, and a champion of the American Holocaust gets elected to secure the culture of death—and Cardinal Timothy O’Connor, head of the bishop’s lobby in the USA, congratulates him.

    Truth and justice have not prevailed, only prejudice and profit. Bishops made sure from the very beginning that right to life folks were diverted into non-political efforts like pregnancy counseling or publishing against “abortion” rather than against known abortion policy makers and abortionists. In the meantime, the issues that bishops really cared about—- the “social justice”” issues (which excluded abortion opposition) were given activist priority. This is the same brotherhood of bishops who protected child abusers within their ranks.

    I agree. We must not despair, we must defund! We must stop all contributions to any parish until the people and the priests demand the resignation of bishops like Mahony, Dolan, O’Malley, and Brom.

    We must hold the Catholic bishops, especially in California, New York and Washing,D.C. accountable.

  9. Juergensen says:

    I doubt many at the USCCB are despairing. In fact, they should be gloating at the effectiveness of “Faithful Citizenship”.

  10. Kenneth M. Fisher says:

    One comment: “Viva Cristo Rey”!

    May God have mercy on America!
    Kenneth M. Fisher

  11. No matter how anti-abortion we may be, we must come to grips with why the Republican candidate for President lost the election. Fr. Karl is right that we should not dispair, but we must do more than pray. I don’t believe that there is a chance in hell of ever outlawing abortion in this country. You can see that in the polls and the election outcomes. Whenever a candidate was outwardly anti-abortion, they lost. Especiall those that made stupid statements about “legitimate rape” or that women can prevent getting pregnant when raped. The reason President Obama was re-elected by a 2/3 majority is that he had the support of single women, Hispanics, young voters, etc. He also had the ground game. Romney put up lawn signs while Obama was tweeting his supporters and getting out the vote. The Republican party, my party, ended up being the party of old white men and ultra-right wing religious groups. How many of us went door to door to urge people to vote for our candidate. How many parishes have pastors that use social media to communicate with their younger parishioners. What has happened is that we have become irrelevant to the general public. We need to change our tactics or we will never rise again of a generation or two.

    • Bob One… define “ultra right wing” would you say Obama is supported by ultra left wing if not explain….

      • Canisius, President Obama would be considered ultra left wing by a lot of us, but the general population would consider him a moderate. The ultra right wing would be most of the people who post on this site. They are often refered to as “out of the main stream extremist”. If you are against abortion, we are called extremist by the majority who call themselves moderate. And so continues the circle of definitions..

        • And where, may I ask, are YOU in that “circle of definitions,” Bob One? I mean you personally? Your posts seem a little ambiguous on whether you are pro-life. Straighten me out, if you would–on whether you believe the state should or should not permit abortion–what should be done about it–etc.

  12. The “good news” according to Jay Leno, for those who despair, is that depression is covered by Obamacare ???

    • No, mental illness, old age, and physcial disablity are sent to the back of the bus – if there is money. Otherwise, euthanasia is in store.

  13. Let’s face it folks, part of the reason for this setback was too many moderate women being turned off by goofball comments about rape by US Sentate candidates in Missuri and Indiana (both lost), and the dustup about contraception. This time around the more important women’s issue in the election became contraception, not abortion, and that also cost Romney and GOP support among women. Obama won the women’s vote in a landslide, just as he lost the male vote in a landslide.

    Obama won all age groups below age 45, and Romney won all age groups above 45. Obama won the Catholic vote again, but this time by just 2 points.

    The timing of the Obamacare tiff with the US Catholic bishops about birth control could not have come at a worse time for pro life forces. It shifted the issue away from abortion and onto contraception, which virtually all Catholics support, much less the general population where support is unanimous. Let’s face it, folks, we can’t win political fights on the issue of birth control. It’s a slam dunk win for liberals who simply point out to moderate voters that pro lifers are actually trying to stop birth control, a position which all almost all voters think is over the top.

    2012 is yet another “pelvic politics” setback for the Vatican. Are you listening Your Holiness?

    • Well, goodcause,, the birth control does kill some women no matter who tells you it does not. Many of us who have had various types of cancers, that the estrogen in the birth contol pill would have exacerbated, are alive today because we never took the Pill nor any other kind of hormone. I have survived cancer three times because the tumors were minute, but I have known far younger women who died far earlier than I will or earlier than some of the other women who have not taken the pill. If necessary, Natural Familiy Planning is far better all the way around. One very sad part is that many much younger women are having their breasts removed and reconstructed because they are so afraid of getting cancer, yet they still take the Pill. To me that is just insane.

    • Goodcause: will these voters think that opposition to contraception is “over the top” some generations from now, when it becomes ever more obvious that birth rates across the “civilized” world have crashed to dangerously low levels since The Pill came along–levels far below population maintenance requirements–levels which threaten to render extinct many old and venerable cultures–which threaten the elderly with a severe shortage of young people to care for them and finance their continued care? Will they continue to think such viewpoints “over the top” after generations more of rampant betrayal by spouses, parents, lovers has spawned millions more emotionally damaged children, laden with “trust issues” as they go into adulthood?

  14. tom in san jose says:

    The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has published the results of their exit poll. Protestants, even when you include “black” churches who went 95% for Obama, supported Romney by 57/42. In contrast, “Catholics” supported Obama by 50/48 (i.e. pretty much the same as the general population).

    Hopefully the Bishops will take note of this at their meeting. They have a lot of work to do (as do we all.)

    • Juergensen says:

      The 50/48 Catholic vote is right in line with what EWTN News Chief Raymond Arroyo reportedly said after the 2008 election: “The bishops I spoke to say that maybe half of their brother bishops, if not more, voted for Obama.”

  15. Cole Thornton says:

    Because of the abysmal state of the Church in America, because the majority of Catholics voted for Obama with his abortion and gay marriage agenda, because the HHS mandate is staring the bishops in the face, because the leaders of the American Church have done a crap job and hopefully will be discussing these terrible results at their meeting, do you think the bishops will have the hotel they are staying at remove all the mirrors in their rooms in order to feign ignorance on who is at fault?

  16. Cole Thornton says:

    Cdl Dolan congratulated Obama on his win and reminded Obama to remember the “common good” and the “vulnerable” who included the “poor” and the “immigrant”. Well how is your scorecard Cdl Dolan? The majority of Catholics voted for ‘common evil’ in the name of the implementor of abortion/gay marriage/contraception/etc Obama, and the “poor” and “immigrants” voted overwhelmingly for the same Obama. Since the “vulnerable” went huge for Obama, why not let them run the country their way? All of us who have been the ‘makers and producers’ can now climb into the wagon, the “vulnerable” can now climb out and start pulling that wagon for a change. Since Dolan seems only to be concerned with the “vulnerable” then let them start performing all the volunteering jobs at their parishes, let them put their envelopes in the basket, let them put in some sweat equity for a change. They voted for Obama, got what they wanted, the country will be regulated and run their way, now its time to be responsible for what they voted for. Same for the Church leaders who have funded much of the radical groups who are organizing the “vulnerable”. Then good old Cole will go down to city hall and change his name to John Galt!

    • Abeca Christian says:

      Cole is that correct? Did Cardinal Dolan really congratulate Obama? If that is true, that is scandalous..I want to proof, because I will personally send another letter to Cdl Dolan of my disappointment in his leadership in our church.

      I know that he had done scandalous things recently that make me not respect his leadership but to congratulate Obama while many unborn are being murdered daily, that to me, that is truly horrific!

      • Abeca–check the Cardinal’s blog site, known as “The Gospel in the Digital Age.” He reproduces there a USCCB press release headlined: “CARDINAL DOLAN CONGRATULATES PRESIDENT OBAMA ON RE-ELECTION.” I already wrote a scathing reply, telling the Cardinal that he needs to go stepping and fetching to the president now, so that Obama doesn’t turn on him. That reply never made it to publication–so I don’t think Cardinal Dolan thinks too much of people who criticize his friendly demeanor towards the president. Wouldn’t hurt for you to try, I suppose.

COMMENTS POLICY: Comments are limited to 250 words, and should not contain offensive or libelous language. Please strive to be civil. All comments are subject to approval by our moderator and to editing as the moderator deems appropriate. Inclusion of your email address is optional.

Post your comment

COMMENTS POLICY: Comments are limited to 250 words, and should not contain offensive or libelous language. Please strive to be civil. All comments are subject to approval by our moderator and to editing as the moderator deems appropriate. Inclusion of your email address is optional.