Pro-lifers need to better understand the history of the pro-life movement and what Roe did to it.
On the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, it has suddenly become fashionable in certain circles to suggest that the controversial Supreme Court decision was actually a blessing in disguise for pro-lifers, because it breathed new life into a fledgling right-to-life movement and put the abortion rights movement permanently on the defensive. Pro-choice activists have been “losing ever since” Roe, a Time magazine cover story proclaimed this month. Jon Shields pushed this argument even further in the January issue of First Things, declaring that Roe “crippled the pro-choice and energized the pro-life movement, creating one of the largest campaigns of moral suasion in American history.”
Unfortunately, most pro-lifers are unprepared to respond to claims like these, because for years pro-lifers have not really understood what Roe did. They have too often accepted the myth that neither legal abortion nor an organized pro-life movement existed prior to Roe. Although they have denounced Roe vociferously, they have justified doing so with the erroneous argument that Roe was the primary cause of the nation’s high rate of legal abortion, as though legal abortion did not exist in the United States before 1973.
Actually, Roe did not introduce legal abortion to the United States; it did something even worse. Prior to Roe, legal abortion existed, but so did a large, vigorous pro-life movement, and that movement was beginning to win the public debate on abortion. Roe deprived the pro-life movement of its legal victories and allowed abortion to become more available to poor and minority women. It subverted the democratic process and led to a partisan polarization that only grew worse with time. Perhaps worst of all, it nullified the pro-life movement’s constitutional arguments and enshrined in case law a constitutional interpretation that deprived the unborn of any constitutional rights.