Roe at 40: 'Pro-Choice' Movement Starting to Show Its Age

Stan Guthrie | Author | Thursday, February 21, 2013

Roe at 40: 'Pro-Choice' Movement Starting to Show Its Age

Life is full of little ironies, isn’t it? Forty years after Roe v. Wade, the so-called “pro-choice” movement, which has championed the legal destruction of 55 million unborn humans since 1973, is seeking a more youthful image.

As Janie Lorber of Roll Call notes, “One of the nation’s most prominent abortion rights groups is working to remake its image in response to concern that it may be overtaken by a growing cadre of young anti-abortion activists.” NARAL Pro-Choice America (formerly the National Abortion Rights Action League), one of the most visible pro-abortion groups, has just selected Ilyse Hogue, 43, to succeed Nancy Keenan, 61, to be the face of the organization.

The reason for this midlife crisis is not hard to find. Many young people, despite their decidedly liberal take on other social issues, such as “gay marriage,” are solidly pro-life. Surviving the human carnage that has come in the name of sexual freedom, they count themselves as “abortion survivors.”

Says Mark Earley Jr., a 24-year-old pro-lifer from Virginia, “It is good for everyone to know that there are a lot of young people who are very serious about wanting to protect mothers and children.”

NARAL leaders acknowledge an “intensity gap” between those for and against legal abortion. An internal NARAL poll reveals that 51 percent of pro-life youth see abortion as an important electoral issue, but only 20 percent of young “pro-choice” voters feel the same.

Pro-life leaders see the same thing. “The youth aren’t the future of the pro-life movement,” notes Mallory Quigley, a spokeswoman for the Susan B. Anthony List; “they are the pro-life movement.”

Indeed, opinion polls show a remarkable shift in the public’s willingness to self-identify as pro-life. According to Gallup, only 41 percent of Americans call themselves “pro-choice,” compared with 50 percent who self-identify as “pro-life.” The shift has come among political independents.

“The percentage of political independents identifying as pro-choice is 10 points lower today than in May 2011,” says Gallup, “while the percentage pro-life is up by six points. As a result, pro-lifers now outnumber pro-choicers among this important swing political group for only the second time since 2001.”

And while the “pro-choice” movement seeks a younger wardrobe and a cosmetic makeover, the nation itself is waking up to the enervating results of the abortion culture, which has done so much to sap our youthful vitality.

Demographers know that the replacement rate for a population is 2.1 children per woman. When the average number of children is above that, population increases. When the number dips below that, however, population contracts. Since 1970, unfortunately, the fertility rate has dipped below 2.1 and now stands at an anemic 1.6 for white women in the country. Higher rates of childbirth among immigrants  so far have kept the U.S. population from following the demographic death spirals of other countries, such as Italy, Russia, and Japan. But trends show we are not far behind. Today our fertility rate is 1.93 per woman and is headed south.

The 55 million abortions in the last 40 years aren’t the only cause, of course. Jonathan V. Last, author of the new book What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster, cites a number of other factors.

“Middle-class wages began a long period of stagnation,” Last writes. “College became a universal experience for most Americans, which not only pushed people into marrying later but made having children more expensive. Women began attending college in equal (and then greater) numbers than men. More important, women began branching out into careers beyond teaching and nursing. And the combination of the birth-control pill and the rise of cohabitation broke the iron triangle linking sex, marriage and childbearing.”

The results of this demographic shift do not portend well for the nation’s future. “Low-fertility societies don't innovate because their incentives for consumption tilt overwhelmingly toward health care,” Last says. “They don't invest aggressively because, with the average age skewing higher, capital shifts to preserving and extending life and then begins drawing down. They cannot sustain social-security programs because they don't have enough workers to pay for the retirees. They cannot project power because they lack the money to pay for defense and the military-age manpower to serve in their armed forces.”

So as much as the graying of the “pro-choice” movement might prompt a grim smile from those of us who seek to defend the dignity of human life, the fact is, our society as a whole is graying rapidly, leading to fiscal and ultimately social disaster. What to do about it?

Well, according to Last, the answer is pretty simple: “In the face of this decline, the only thing that will preserve America's place in the world is if all Americans — Democrats, Republicans, Hispanics, blacks, whites, Jews, Christians and atheists — decide to have more babies.”

While the primary motive to “be fruitful and multiply” should not be to preserve the American way of life or to gain conservative demographic dominance, is it too much to expect that pro-lifers ought to be open, if they can, to having more children for the glory of God and the good of our society?

Stan Guthrie, a Christianity Today editor at large, is author of All That Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us, Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Centuryand coauthor of The Sacrament of Evangelism. Stan blogs at

Publication date: February 21, 2013

Roe at 40: 'Pro-Choice' Movement Starting to Show Its Age