No time like the right time for ending abortion

Commentary by David Brandao

"If you were waiting for the opportune moment," said Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, "that was it."

After 34-plus years of decriminalized abortion, one begins to wonder if the pro-life movement had its opportune moment years ago and missed it; and having missed it, sailed mournfully into the sunset wondering "what if," fearful that another opportune moment would never pass again.

Veterans of pro-life work who got involved right after the Supreme Court's infamous Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 thought the opportune moment would be right around the corner. "When we took up the pro-life message," one woman told me, "we thought we'd be able to fix things relatively quickly and then get on with whatever we'd been doing before. But it didn't work out that way."

Back then, abortion was something of a taboo topic that was discussed only in whispers. Many people considered it a sin, and thought that the good men and women of Congress and the state legislatures would see through the evil thing the Supreme Court had foisted upon the nation and quickly set the country back on the course of sanity.

It wasn't long, however, before abortion was seen as the antidote to one of the unfortunate byproducts of the sexual revolution–those pesky babies who showed up as the undesired result of contraceptive malfunction. Soon, surgical abortions were being done at the rate of more than 4,000 a day, and pro-life people began to see that the battle they faced was more complex than they had first imagined; maybe, indeed, they had missed their opportune moment.

Over the years, the abortion toll has grown. Perhaps 48 million lives-if not more-have been lost to abortion; reporting is not mandatory in all states, and figures in many cases are just estimates. The number of surgical abortions each day in the United States still exceeds 3,500. So when is the right time for this to stop, if not now?

It seems a simple question; but time and again, division is sown in the pro-life movement by those who say it's not the right time to pursue an absolute ban on abortion.

Why, then, do backers of other causes say that today is the right time to end capital punishment? Global warming? The war in Iraq? If anti-war activists say one more day of U.S. involvement in Iraq is one day too many, why don't more pro-life activists express the exact same thought about abortion?

It's a baffling question that doesn't seem to have an answer. At least, not a reasonable one.

As a candidate for president in 1999, George W. Bush said, "America is not ready to overturn Roe v. Wade because America's hearts are not right." Well, Mr. President, maybe hearts aren't right. But abortion isn't right either. Why isn't that a factor?

Perhaps Mr. Bush was just echoing his advisors, who were aware that efforts to totally stop abortion haven't gotten much political traction lately.

At each session of Congress over the past 34 years, pro-life stalwarts have introduced some form of legislation designed to end abortion. The proposed Right to Life Act collected more than 100 co-sponsors in the most recent Congress, but it went nowhere. There were no votes, nor even any hearings. After all, it wasn't the right time. Or was it? The 2006 elections may have some asking in hindsight if that was yet another missed "opportune moment," now that congressional leadership is in pro-abortion hands.

Last year in South Dakota, there was an abortion referendum in which pro-life legislation that was approved by the state legislature and signed by the governor was voted down by the people. The pro-life campaign was hampered because some of the major national organizations did not fully support the effort. In their eyes, the timing was wrong. The law would be challenged, it was said, and if it got to the Supreme Court, it would be ruled unconstitutional on a 5-4 vote. So let's wait for the judicial planets to be more favorably aligned and try then. Never mind the countless lives that will be lost in South Dakota alone as we wait for what is deemed the proper time.

Just this week, they're singing another verse of the same song in Ohio. Sponsors of a bill before the state legislature say the measure would greatly restrict abortion. But support for the legislation, even among pro-life lawmakers, was dampened when one spokesman noted that even if it passed, the governor promised to veto the bill and there were not sufficient votes to override his veto.

In other words, the timing is wrong.

Don't they owe it to the babies who will be aborted in Ohio this year to even try? Don't they put at least some faith in the ideal expressed quite clearly in Ohio's state motto? The motto has been dragged through various court challenges, but it still holds true: "With God, all things are possible."

It is clear that most great battles for social justice are marathons, not sprints. Runners, as the apostle Paul once noted, keep their eyes on the prize and strive to finish the race. They don't stop running; and with the abortion fight, the stakes are a lot higher than just a gold medal.

So why quit running?

There are no timeouts in marathons; nor can there be any timeouts in the struggle to end abortion. Another 3,500 babies will die today-and tomorrow, and the day after-unless we do something. Why doesn't that foster a sense of urgency that utterly negates all this "not the right time" lunacy?

Perhaps Rev. Martin Luther King best summed up the "timing" issue in his letter from the Birmingham jail: “Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was ‘well timed’ in view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ … This ‘Wait’ has always meant 'Never.' We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that 'justice too long delayed is justice denied.'” The same certainly applies to abortion.

In other words, if we're looking for an opportune moment to end legal abortion, this is it.

Release issued: 18 Jul 07