During President Bush’s address to the 2005 Washington March for Life last month, he praised the efforts of anti-abortion activists thanking them for “the civil way you have engaged one of America’s most contentious issues.”
He went on to say that while the group’s primary goal of making abortion illegal was not likely to be achieved in the near future, they could nevertheless contribute to what the President called “a culture of life.”
“A true culture of life cannot be sustained solely by changing laws,” the President said. “We need, most of all, to change hearts.”
The President was using the language of his faith at this point. A “change of heart” in the lexicon of evangelical theology has reference to a conversion experience.
This is a striking image. The anti-abortion movement has often compared itself to the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Using techniques of civil disobedience and dramatic protest, anti-abortion forces have worked to change the law regarding abortions in the same way civil rights leaders used public protest and confrontation to bring about an end to segregation.
Dr. Martin Luther King was particularly hopeful that non-violent, non-cooperation would serve as a powerful visual demonstration of the cruelty of segregation. Dr. King dreamed that once the evil of segregation was exposed a change of heart would occur in the American people. It remains to be seen whether that dream will be fully realized. Laws have certainly changed regarding segregation, but the racism which created it is still with us.
Which prompts the question, if President Bush is right and the law regarding abortion will not soon change, how might anti-abortion forces yet achieve success in their quest to end abortions? James M. Wall, senior editor for Christian Century offered some poignant insights in a recent editorial.
Wall points out that around the globe, the presence or absence of legal restrictions seems to have little to do with whether women decide to have an abortion. For instance, in Belgium and the Netherlands abortion is legal and covered by national health insurance. These countries report an abortion rate of about seven per 1,000 women. In countries such as Peru, Brazil, Chile and Colombia, where abortion is restricted by law, the abortion rate is about 50 per 1,000 women. In the United States the rate is presently about 22 abortions per 1,000 women.
Wall asserts in his commentary that a culture of life is flourishing more in Western Europe than in Latin America for several reasons. For one thing, the Belgian and Dutch have access to government supported health care, child care and parental leave. All of this, Wall notes, “means raising a child is a more sustainable prospect.”
Wall points to other studies that seem to indicate that when economic and other social factors are favorable, the rate of abortions drop significantly. He writes, “They will choose against abortion if they have some confidence that the community around them will help them with medical care and child care.”
If the law is not likely to soon change, as President Bush has suggested, perhaps it is time for those who strive to be “pro-life” to have a change of heart about their strategy. If it is true that right and accessible and affordable medical care and child care reduces the incidence of abortion, why not pour energies into making these resources available. If the number of abortions decreases, does it really matter that it happens by grace and not by law?
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.