During the 1980s, the issue of abortion emerged as the most pressing social concern in America. Once thought to be a settled issue, the abortion debate fiercely reentered the public arena with polarizing force. According to public opinion polls taken in the ’80s, the majority of Americans viewed abortion as “one of the most important issues facing our nation today.”
Both Ronald Reagan and George Bush made abortion one of the central themes of their campaigns by firmly stating their commitment to the sanctity of life. Bush’s victory over his pro-abortion opponent – along with his outspoken promotion of adoption as an alternative to abortion – insured that the unborn still had a voice standing in favor of life. One of Bush’s first actions as president was a meeting with pro-life activists in which he pledged his commitment to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
Throughout the decade, several pro-life justices were appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, rounding out a pro-life majority which put the future of the Roe decision in jeopardy. The 1989 Webster decision was the first sign that the decision about abortion rights would eventually be returned to the states.
After many years of organization and prayer, groups such as National Right to Life, the Moral Majority, and Concerned Women for America made some headway against legalized abortion. But perhaps the most instrumental group to bring national media attention to the abortion issue was Operation Rescue (OR), a loosely organized band of pro-lifers who staged non-violent sit-ins in front of abortion clinics and risked arrest, incarceration, and police brutality. It was no coincidence that after 17 years of pro-life lobbying efforts and education programs, progress in a pro-life direction began to accelerate when the rescue movement began in 1987.
Taking Proverbs 24:11 as a biblical mandate (“Rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to death; don’t stand back and watch them die.”), OR turned hundreds of mothers away from abortion mills where their babies were about to be slaughtered. To date, 25,000 people have participated in rescues. Randall Terry, founder of OR, had been involved in the pro-life lobbying process, counselled pregnant women, and picketed the sanctioned murder of unborn children in front of abortion clinics. But one day Terry realized that while pro-lifers were winning some battles, “they were losing the war.” Over 15 years of political lobbying had not achieved the necessary results.
“If my little girl was about to be murdered,” reasoned Terry, “I certainly would not write a letter to the editor. If a child you love was about to have his arms and legs ripped off, what would you do? Would you write your congressman? No! You would do whatever you could to physically intervene and save the life of that child! That is the appropriate response to murder.”
Even though the national attitude has changed concerning abortion, pro-life leaders realize that the ultimate victory over legalized abortion will be secured only when a constitutional amendment is passed which outlaws child killing. While very limited pro-life victories were gained on the state level in Pennsylvania and Missouri, the decade of the 1980s closed without any major sign that abortion would end. An estimated 15 million babies were killed through legalized abortion during the ten-year span.
A war of words was sparked during the ’80s over the abortion issue. The news media implemented pro-abortion terminology, calling pro-life activists “anti-abortion” and those who favored abortion “pro-choice.” Disproportionate coverage was given to pro-abortion demonstrations, and the American public was portrayed as favoring abortion even when major newspaper polls reflected otherwise.
But on the eve of a new decade, pro-life activists have not lost hope in the struggle to end abortion. Even though there is only a minority aggressively dedicated to the complete eradication of legalized child killing, history has shown that a minority standing up for righteousness can effect great change over time. Before the Civil War, abolitionists were a minority. Although most Americans favored restrictions on slavery in the early 1800s, few were initially dedicated to slavery’s complete abolition. Christians dedicated to the sanctity of life in the 1980s are in the same situation. The 1990s have apparently been reserved for the final victory over the legalized killing of the unborn.