by Peggy Hartshorn, Ph.D., Board Chair
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
As we end the 5 decades when the Roe v. Wade decision “ruled” how abortion would be dealt with in our country – both on a personal level and in our laws, society, and culture – we’d like to take this moment to look back on that Roe-world. My husband and I were witnesses of it all.
I reflect here at those fifty years and the damage left behind, but also reflect on how God has brought forth good out of the evil. Because He has, we can all Take Heart!
In hindsight, we can all see the carnage left by Roe, probably at least 50 million abortions (an average of about 1 million per year) in the US, with not only the babies as victims but also their mothers, fathers, and families, plus all those who were complicit either through participating some way in the abortion or by standing by and doing nothing. Abortion became, and still is, a big, money-making business.
The carnage spread around the world as the US exported, through the United Nations and through our popular culture, the “abortion mentality.” We funded, with our tax dollars, population control and abortion worldwide, and we still do.
However, at the same time, God’s people stepped up in every area of life in our society and worked unceasingly to fight the abortion juggernaut and “overturn Roe.” That was finally accomplished, of course, in the Dobbs decision on June 24, 2022, through the grace of God and the work of the amazingly creative “movement” that also grew and developed over these 50 years.
Just to clarify, the Roe v. Wade decision, handed down by the Supreme Court on Jan. 22, 1973, essentially said that abortion as a choice was somehow covered in a “right to privacy” (that was not written down in our Constitution). It said that abortion was “between a woman and her doctor.” It could only be regulated somewhat, but only for the woman’s health in the second trimester, and, in the third trimester it had to be allowed for the “health” of the mother. A companion decision, Doe v. Bolton, extended that to “mental health” so, essentially, abortion was legal during all 9 months of pregnancy.
At first, pro-lifers who had begun to form into groups and get involved in educational and political efforts during the 5 years prior to Roe (when activists were trying to pass laws legalizing abortion state by state) were devastated. It seemed that we could do nothing to stop abortions. The number of abortions surged, and infant adoptions (the primary choice in an unexpected pregnancy for unmarried women before Roe) dropped dramatically.
But the good news is that the pro-life movement began to develop dramatically after Roe. My husband and I joined the movement with a phone call to our local Right to Life chapter, found in the phone book, on January 22, 1973. Apparently, thousands of other people were motivated to do the same, year after year!
The first strategy proposed to “overturn Roe” was to amend the Constitution with a Human Life Amendment but that proved divisive (even with the growing pro-life movement) and never gained traction in the first two decades after Roe.
Amazingly, creative legal minds (in cities, counties, and states) also began trying to “chip away” at what was at first thought to be a “right” with no restrictions. The first effort that I remember was the Akron (Ohio) Ordinance, passed by a city council in 1978. It included parental notification, a waiting period, rules on fetal remains, and other common-sense provisions. Although it was finally declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1982, it pioneered other examples of the “incremental approach” to fighting and limiting abortions, including the 15-week limit to abortions in Mississippi (because the unborn child can feel pain then) that eventually was the basis of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that brought us into the post-Roe era.
Meanwhile, during the five decades of Roe, other “arms” or branches of the pro-life movement, developed a laser focus on many other priorities: on prayer, especially in front of abortion clinics, on civil disobedience, on regulating abortion clinics, on education – debates at first, then entire programs and curricula for schools and churches, on websites, social media, and other vehicles of popular culture -- film, music, art, literature, and more!
And I have saved the “best” (in my opinion) for last – the pregnancy help movement! The five Roe decades brought to life all of YOU reading Take Heart! You are an essential part of one of the 3,000 pregnancy help centers across our nation that are now saving thousands of babies and mothers per week from abortion, offering love and support, offering hope and healing to those who have had abortions, providing for the health and safety of new families, providing pro-life medical care on many levels, housing homeless pregnant women and helping them get “on their feet” again, providing help to trafficking victims, sharing the Gospel, linking to churches, social services, businesses, and “movers and shakers” in your community, and doing even more!!!
Between 1968 and 1973, before Roe, a couple hundred (at the most) pregnancy help centers existed in the USA, thanks to the Lord working through our pioneers – especially through Heartbeat (then called Alternatives to Abortion, founded in 1971 to link and grow this network).
The original housing services were limited (girls were housed in private homes and then small group homes). The centers were small, all volunteer, many operating out of the offices of pro-life OB/GYNs (who had to send urine test samples to laboratories and get back the results in a few days!). Some volunteers manned hotlines and met with girls and women who thought they might be pregnant on park benches and at restaurants. From these small seeds, a mighty network has grown! (Read much more about our growth over these 50 years in The Power of Pregnancy Help: The First Fifty Years)
One of the best fruits of the Roe era, in my opinion, has been the unity developed among Christians called to this work, especially among Catholics (the first to “answer the call” in the late 1960’s and 70’s) and Evangelicals (who joined the movement in massive numbers in the 1980’s). We experience it within Heartbeat and see that we are always better together!
God’s people never gave up and never gave in over the last 5 decades. Some of God’s pro-life warriors have passed into eternity already, but so many others have taken their places, and the work goes on!
Our battlefield has changed post-Roe. Once focused on a national field, we now must include all 50 states, plus our cities, counties, townships, and neighborhoods. We are back to where we were, in one sense, when the battle was raging in the states from 1968-73, right at the grassroots level.
At least one other thing has clearly changed – while pregnancy help centers have been under “attack” since the 1980’s (in the media, by local and national legislators and courts), the attacks have now become more angry and more physical, fueled by fear of the loss of a “right” to abortion and the woundedness of those who have experienced abortion or are part of Big Abortion. And in the midst of it, we should rejoice. It is our effectiveness that makes us a target, and the enemy has certainly taken notice.
So Take Heart as we continue to serve those taken in by the lie of abortion because in many ways, our work is beginning again.
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Romans 12:12