The number is stark: 57,762,169. That is through the end of last year””the number of legal abortions in America since the Roe v. Wade decision 43 years ago tomorrow on January 22, 1973. That was one of the darkest days in American history, and ever since then America has been at war over abortion. We’re now talking about four decades and more. When the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe v. Wade, the Court’s majority attempted to put an end to the abortion question. That’s actually what they thought they were doing. To the contrary, that decision has enlarged and revealed the great moral divide that runs through the center of our culture.
Most Americans actually are probably pretty much unaware of the actual contours of the abortion debate as it emerged in the early 1970s. Going back to 1973, the primary opposition to legal abortion came from the Roman Catholic Church; Evangelicals in the pro-life movement joined later. Until the late 1970s and the awakening of the evangelical conscience on abortion, most Evangelicals didn’t want to talk about the issue, considering it to be an issue for other people in other places. Roe v. Wade changed all of that legally in 1973 ruling that in all 50 states abortion on demand, as it has been called, must be considered a woman’s right. The decision was demanded by and later championed by feminists as one of the great feminist victories. The leaders of that movement claimed, and continue to claim, that the availability of abortion on demand is necessary in order for women to be equal with men with respect to the absence of pregnancy as an obstacle to career advancement.
Furthermore, the moral logic of Roe v. Wade was a thunderous affirmation of the idea of personal autonomy that had already taken ahold of the American mind. As the decision made all too clear, “rights talk” had displaced what had been seen as a higher concern for right versus wrong.