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How Large Is the Pro-Life Movement?

Later today (January 25th), hundreds of thousands of people will descend on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life.

Crowds are expected to exceed last year’s 400,000 participants, to walk a now-familiar route to the steps of the Supreme Court to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that, along with an accompanying ruling in Doe v. Bolton, legalized abortion-on-demand across the United States.

The official theme of this year’s march is “40 = 55M.” It’s an equation meant to reflect the enormous cost of 40 years under the ethic of Roe: Since the Supreme Court’s decision in 1973, an estimated 55 million abortions have been performed.

Like many annual March for Life events before it, there will likely also be smaller groups of counter-protests by abortion advocates holding signs and chanting slogans championing the ethic of Roe that pledges unwavering allegiance to a right of abortion-on-demand, for any reason. But those now-tired slogans are no longer able to convince a new generation that denying life to some will lead to a more just society and freedom for others.

It is a simple witness by a tireless pro-life movement over the past 40 years that has reoriented the hearts and minds of an entire generation toward the dignity and worth of every individual—born or yet to be. Despite obstacles, the pro-life movement has achieved notable victories in public opinion, law, and culture.

Today, roughly half of Americans now identify themselves as “pro-life,” including many of the millennial generation who will make up the crowds at today’s march.

More than 100 pro-life laws have been passed in states across the country since 2010, including parental notification, informed consent, and abortion clinic regulation legislation. Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, which is leading the legal defense of life, notes: “There is a rising tide across this country of pro-life legislators who are picking up the flag and advancing the defense of life in law.”

“Pregnancy resource centers are just now entering their heyday,” writes Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the education arm of the Susan B. Anthony List. Indeed, every day, roughly 2,500 centers harness the best of the power and spirit of civil society to provide compassionate counseling, accurate information, and life-affirming alternatives to women facing unplanned pregnancies.

Despite the many cultural advances and legal gains of the pro-life movement, challenges persist—especially as the Obama Administration insists on entangling taxpayers in the abortion business here and abroad, and Obamacare finds new ways to force the American people to foot the bill for elective abortion.

As the March for Life draws to a close and Americans look to yet another year under the waning, yet still deadly ethic of Roe, there remains hope that government will one day soon return to a deeper respect of the principles that founded and sustain America by ensuring the basic rights of liberty and life to everyone—including those yet to be born.

For, as then-President Ronald Reagan wrote in 1986:

Respect for the sanctity of human life has not died in America. Far from it. With every passing year it shines ever more brightly in the hearts of more and more of our citizens as they come to see the issue with greater clarity in all of its dimensions. As we carry this message to our courts, our legislatures, and our fellow citizens, let us never be discouraged. … May we soon rejoice in the day when reverence for human life is enshrined as surely in our laws as in our hearts.

Sarah Torre is a research assistant in the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation.

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