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A Troubled Conscience

1. Twenty-three years after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions, the conscience of the American people remains deeply troubled by the practice of abortion-on-demand. Because of these two decisions, abortion is legal at any time of pregnancy, for virtually any reason, in every state. This constitutes an almost completely unrestricted private license to judge who will live and who will die. That America has the most permissive abortion regime among the world’s democracies is a betrayal of the classic American promise of justice for all. That is why a new sense of moral concern is stirring throughout our country in this election year. That is why millions of Americans have refused to accept the Court’s 1992 admonition to stop debating the issue. 2. To those weary of this argument, it may seem that there is nothing more to be said in the matter of abortion. We disagree. Survey research tells us that the American people do not want a legal regime of abortion-on-demand, for any reason, at any time during a pregnancy. We believe we have an obligation to employ the arts of democratic persuasion to help reinstitute legal protection for all unborn children. The extent of the abortion license and its reach into other areas of law and public policy is widely underestimated. We believe that, as citizens of the United States, we have the responsibility to discuss with our fellow citizens the facts of the abortion license and its impact on our common life. Many women in crisis earnestly seek alternatives to abortion. We believe we ought to encourage those alternatives and help to provide them. 3. Pro-life service to women in crisis and pro-life advocacy on behalf of legal reform are expressions of our highest ideals as citizens of the United States. We affirm the nobility of the American democratic experiment in ordered liberty. We affirm the rule of law and the principle of equal protection under the law, even as we work to reform constitutional and statutory law so that the American legal system is, once again, congruent with the Founders’ claim that the inalienable right to life is one of the great moral truths on which American democracy rests. We want an America that is open, hospitable, and caring”a community of civic friendship in which neighbors reach out to assist neighbors in distress. 4. The abortion license has helped to erode the moral foundations of the American civic community. Right now we are not the country we ought to be. That is why our national conscience is troubled. That distress is, to us, a sign of moral vitality. We speak now because we seek to defend the America we love. We speak to promote the cause of an America in which women and men, together, rebuild the fabric of civil society by acknowledging our common responsibility to serve and protect the weakest and most vulnerable among us. We speak for a rebirth of freedom in these United States: a freedom that finds its fulfillment in goodness.

The Victims of the License

5. Americans of every race, economic condition, religion, and political persuasion share a common concern today for what some have called a national “virtue-deficit.” As a country, we have not paid sufficient attention to nurturing those habits of heart and mind that make democratic self-governance possible, and that undergird what the Framers of the Constitution called “civic virtue.” We believe that the abortion license is a critical factor in America’s virtue-deficit. 6. Abortion kills 1.5 million innocent human beings in America every year. There is no longer any serious scientific dispute that the unborn child is a human creature who dies violently in the act of abortion. This brute fact is the root of our national distress over the abortion license. Abortion kills: few would now deny that. But in order to defend the private “right” to lethal violence that is the essence of abortion, proponents of the license frequently resort to euphemisms like “products of conception” and “the termination of pregnancy.” The public dialogue is not coarsened by depictions of the reality of abortion. But a coarsening of our common life has taken place; it is evident in the lack of moral revulsion that follows one newspaper’s accurate description of an abortion procedure which “breaks . . . apart” the “fetus” before “it” is “suctioned out of the uterus” or “extracted.” 7. The abortion license hurts women. Some (including the narrow Supreme Court majority in the 1992 Casey decision) contend that the license is necessary to ensure social and economic gains for women. It is ever more clear, though, that women pay a huge price for abortion. By providing an alleged technological “fix” for unintended pregnancy, the license has encouraged widespread male irresponsibility and predatory male sexual behavior. Abortion-on-demand has given an excuse to men who shirk their responsibilities, claiming that the child they helped to conceive ought to have been aborted, or that the woman who declined to abort may not impose on him any responsibility for her “lifestyle choice.” Fathers have also been harmed and dehumanized by the abortion license. Some watch their child killed against their will; others learn to their distress only much later that a child they would have raised is dead. Even when agreeing to support the abortion decision, fathers, like mothers, suppress their grief, deny their protective instincts, and otherwise damage themselves when they allow the killing of their own children. Abortion contributes to the marginalization of fatherhood in America which many agree is a primary cause of the alarming breakdown of American family life. The license has thus poisoned relationships between women and men, even as it has done serious harm to the thousands of women who now suffer from the effects of post-abortion grief. The women of America do not need abortion to be full participants in our society. To suggest otherwise is to demean women, to further distort relationships between women and men, and to aggravate the difficulties of re-creating in America a community of virtue and mutual responsibility.

The Public Dimension

8. Abortion is not simply a matter of private “choice.” Rather, the abortion license cuts to the heart of America’s claim to being a law-governed democracy, in which equality before the law is a fundamental principle of justice. The abortion license also threatens the cultural foundations of our democratic political community. For if it becomes a settled matter in American law and in American public morality that there is, in fact, a private “right” to use lethal violence to “solve” personal, family, or social problems, then the claim of American democracy to be an expression of the people’s commitment to “establish justice” will be undermined, just as it was when the law claimed the “right” to exclude certain Americans from its full protection on the basis of race. Thus the abortion issue is the crucial civil rights issue of our time. 9. A sweeping abortion license was defined unilaterally by the Supreme Court without recourse to the normal procedures of democratic debate and legislation. This in itself wounded American democracy. And the Court’s persistent refusal to permit the American people to debate the basic issue of an alleged “right to abortion” in their legislatures continues to damage our democracy by alienating tens of millions of Americans from their institutions of government. 10. The Court’s definition of a “right to abortion””first enunciated as a “privacy right,” then as a “liberty right” under the Fourteenth Amendment”has had other damaging effects. The language of “rights” puts the dilemma of unwanted pregnancy into a legal-adversarial context, pitting mother against child, and even father against mother. But as the common experience of humanity”and, increasingly, the findings of science”demonstrates, what hurts one party in this most intimate of human relationships hurts both parties. The America we seek is an America in which both mother and child are the subjects of our concern and our community’s protection. To abuse the language of “rights” in this matter further advances the demeaning practice of reducing all human relationships in America to matters of adversarial adjudication. This is a prescription for democratic decay. For democracy rests on the foundations of civil society, and in a truly civil society, relationships between people have a far richer moral texture than that suggested by adversarial procedure. 11. The Court’s vain attempt to justify the abortion license in terms of an all-encompassing right of personal autonomy has begun to infect other areas of the law. Thus the “autonomy” logic of the Court’s 1992 Casey decision is now invoked as a warrant for a constitutional “right” to euthanasia. And if it were followed to its conclusion, this logic would require us to consider such profound human relationships as the bond between husband and wife, or the bond between parents and children, to be nothing more than matters of contract, with the claims of the autonomous individual trumping all other claims. The jurisprudence of the abortion license as a matter of personal autonomy not only sets mother against child; its logic pits wives against husbands and parents against children. Enshrined by the Court to legalize abortion-on-demand, this autonomy logic threatens to give us an America in which the only actors of consequence are the individual and the state; no other community, including the community of husband and wife, or the community of parents and children, will have effective constitutional standing. 12. The Supreme Court’s insistence on a “right” to abortion has had other disturbing effects on our public life. This “right” has been used to justify the abridgment of First Amendment free speech rights, as when sidewalk counselors are threatened with legal penalties for proposing protection and care to women in crisis at the crucial moment of decision outside an abortion clinic. This “right” has been used by the Federal government to coerce state governments into providing abortions, even when state legislatures or popular referenda have clearly registered the people’s unwillingness to use public funds for elective abortions. The abortion “right” has distorted our national health care debate as well as the debate over welfare reform. It has even had an impact on U.S. foreign policy. American attempts to impose the “right” on the rest of the world at the 1994 Cairo world conference on population and the 1995 Beijing world conference on women have been deeply resented by other countries, as have U.S. attempts to promote abortion overseas through foreign aid. 13. The Court’s attempt to define a “right” to abortion has polarized institutions and professions that were once among the bulwarks of American civil society. Professional associations of lawyers, academics, teachers, and civil servants have been divided by attempts to enlist their resources and prestige in support of abortion-on-demand, and in opposition to any effort even to regulate abortion in ways held constitutional by the Supreme Court. The medical profession has been deeply divided over its relationship to the abortion license. That the practice of abortion-on-demand is now widely recognized within the medical community as contradictory to the most deeply held values of the profession of healing is, we believe, a sign of hope. Yet some medical groups now threaten to reverse this trend by coercion”for example, by requiring medical residency programs to teach and perform abortion techniques. There are also disturbing signs of the corrupting influence of the abortion license in other professions. History has been rewritten to provide specious justification for Roe v. Wade . The teaching of law has been similarly distorted, as have political theory and political science. Such extremism underlines the unavoidably public character of the abortion license. The abortion license has a perverse Midas quality”it corrupts whatever it touches.

The Way Ahead

14. Our goal is simply stated: we seek an America in which every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. Legal reform and cultural renewal must both take place if America is to experience a new birth of the freedom that is ordered to goodness. We have just described, in this statement, the nature, sources, and dimension of our concern. Now, as pro-life leaders and scholars, we want to propose a program of action which we believe will appeal to Americans with open minds and hearts on this issue. 15. Means are always available to enable women to overcome the burdens that can accompany pregnancy and child-rearing. There are always alternatives to abortion. The legacy of Roe v. Wade involves a massive denial of this truth, and a deformation of social attitudes and practices so pervasive that women are actually encouraged to have abortions as the “easier” road to the goals that an unexpected pregnancy appears to threaten. As individuals and as a society, we bear a common responsibility to make sure that all women know that their own physical and spiritual resources, joined to those of a society that truly affirms and welcomes life, are sufficient to overcome whatever obstacles pregnancy and child-rearing may appear to present. Women instinctively know, and we should never deny, that this path will involve sacrifice. But this sacrifice must no longer remain a one-way street. In particular, men must also assume their proper share of the responsibilities that family life”indeed, civilization itself”requires. 16. The pro-life movement must redouble its efforts to provide alternatives to abortion for women in crisis. There are now over three thousand pregnancy care centers in the United States providing medical, educational, financial, and spiritual assistance to women who, facing the dilemma of a crisis pregnancy, bravely choose to carry their unborn children to term. We support an expansion of this service to our neighbors, so that by the turn of the century what we believe to be true today has become unmistakably clear to every American woman: No one has to have an abortion in the United States. 17. The overwhelming majority of Americans believe that adoption is preferable to abortion. We must streamline and simplify the legal procedures involved in adoption, while providing effective support to those married couples who choose to adopt. 18. The abortion license is inextricably bound up with the mores of the sexual revolution. Promotion of the pro-life cause also requires us to support and work with those who are seeking to reestablish the moral linkage between sexual expression and marriage, and between marriage and procreation. We believe that a renewal of American democracy as a virtuous society requires us to honor and promote an ethic of self-command and mutual responsibility, and to resist the siren song of the false ethic of unbridled self-expression. 19. Service to women in crisis, promoting adoption, and restoring sound sexual morality are essential if we are to experience a national cultural renewal that helps to sustain legal reform of the abortion license. The way in which we pursue the latter is also crucial, both to cultural renewal and legal reform. We pledge ourselves to exercise the arts of democratic persuasion in advancing our legal agenda. We urge Congress and the courts to reconsider their ill-advised restrictions on the rights of pro-life activists. We unequivocally reject the use of violence in the pro-life cause as contrary to the central moral principles of our movement. For more than twenty-three years, we have worked within the democratic process to advance the protection of all innocent human life, and we will continue to do so. 20. The unborn child in America today enjoys less legal protection than an endangered species of bird in a national forest. In this situation, we believe a broad-based legal and political strategy is essential. There are many steps to be taken on the road to an America in which every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. Thus we find no contradiction between a rigorous adherence to our ultimate goal and the pursuit of reforms that advance us toward that goal. Legal reforms that fall short of our goal, but which help move us toward it, save lives and aid in the process of moral and cultural renewal. 21. In its 1992 Casey decision, the Supreme Court agreed that the state of Pennsylvania could regulate the abortion industry in a number of ways. These regulations do not afford any direct legal protection to the unborn child. Yet experience has shown that such regulations”genuine informed consent, waiting periods, parental notification”reduce abortions in a locality, especially when coupled with positive efforts to promote alternatives to abortion and service to women in crisis. A national effort to enact Pennsylvania-type regulations in all fifty states would be a modest but important step toward the America we seek. 22. Congress also has the opportunity to contribute to legal reform of the abortion license. A number of proposals are now being debated in the Congress, including bans on certain methods of abortion, a ban on late-term abortions, and restrictions on federal funding of abortions. We believe that Congress should adopt these measures and that the President should sign them into law. Any criminal sanctions considered in such legislation should fall upon abortionists, not upon women in crisis. We further urge the discussion of means by which Congress could recognize the unborn child as a human person entitled to the protection of the Constitution. 23. The right-to-life of the unborn will not be secured until it is secure under the Constitution of the United States. As it did in Brown v. Board of Education (when it rejected the Plessy v. Ferguson doctrine of “separate but equal” as an adequate expression of rights secured under the Fourteenth Amendment), the Supreme Court could reject the “central finding” of Roe v. Wade , that abortion-on-demand is required by an unenumerated “right to privacy” protected in part by the Fourteenth Amendment. The claim that such a correction of error would damage the Court’s authority is belied by the experience of Brown v. Board of Education , and by the fact that the Court has corrected its own erroneous interpretations of the Constitution on scores of other occasions. A more enduring means of constitutional reform is a constitutional amendment both reversing the doctrines of Roe v. Wade and Casey , and establishing that the right to life protected by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments extends to the unborn child. Such an amendment would have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states: a requirement that underlines the importance of establishing a track record of progressive legal change on behalf of the unborn child at the state and local level. Even with a constitutional amendment, every path to the protection and welcome we seek for unborn children requires the re-empowerment of the people of the United States and their elected representatives to debate and resolve the specific statutory enactments that will govern the question of abortion. A constitutional amendment, in other words, is not a self-executing instrument that will end the debate on abortion. It will, rather, correct a gross misinterpretation of the Constitution (as was required to reverse the grievous errors of the Dred Scott decision), and require states to debate and adopt policies that do not violate the unborn child’s right to life. Such a process does not, we emphasize, amount to the determination of moral truth by majority rule. Rather, it requires conforming fundamental constitutional principle to a fundamental moral truth”that abortion is the unwarranted taking of an innocent human life. Such a process also respects the role of representative government in fashioning policies that will ultimately secure that principle in practice. The project of constitutional reform on this issue, as on the precedent issues of slavery and segregation, is to bring our legal system into congruence with basic moral truths about the human person.

An Appeal to Our Neighbors

24. We believe the pro-life cause is an expression of the premise and promise of American democracy. The premise is that we are all created equal; the promise is that there is justice for all. For all the reasons cited above, the abortion license has done grave damage to America: it has killed tens of millions of unborn children, caused untold anguish to their mothers, and marginalized fathers in our society. The renewal of American democracy according to the highest ideals of the Founders requires us to stand for the inalienable right-to-life of the unborn, to stand with women in crisis, and to stand against the abortion license. 25. Few Americans celebrate the abortion license today. For many who are troubled by the license and its impact on our society, to be “reluctantly pro-choice” is now thought to be the responsible position. We respectfully urge those of our neighbors who hold that position to reconsider. We ask them to ponder the relationship between the abortion license and the crisis of family life in America. We ask them to reconsider whether radical autonomy is a sufficient understanding of freedom. We ask them to reflect, again, on the morality of abortion itself. We ask them to think about the social impact of a legally defined private “right” to lethal violence. We ask them to ask themselves: “Is American society, today, more hospitable, caring, and responsible than it was before Roe v. Wade ?” We believe the answer is “No.” Problems that the proponents of abortion claimed the license would help alleviate”such as childhood poverty, illegitimacy, and child abuse”have in fact gotten worse, throughout every level of our society, since Roe v. Wade . Thus we respectfully ask our neighbors to consider the possibility of a connection”cultural as well as legal”between the virtue-deficit in contemporary American life and the abortion license. 26. The pro-life movement is about affirmation. Thus we ask our neighbors, of whatever political persuasion or current conviction on the matter of abortion, to engage in a great national debate about the America we seek, and the relationship of the abortion license to that future. We ask all Americans to join with us in providing effective, compassionate service to women in crisis. Work on alternatives to abortion and on the reform of adoption laws and procedures can create the conditions for a new dialogue on the future of abortion law and practice in America. We are ready for that new conversation. We invite all our neighbors to join us.

Mary Cunningham Agee

The Nurturing Network

Don Argue

National Association of Evangelicals

Hadley Arkes

Amherst College

Gary Bauer

Family Research Council

Robert P. Casey

Fund for the American Family

Campaign for the American Family

Samuel B. Casey

The Center for Law and Religious Freedom

Christian Legal Society

Charles W. Colson

Prison Fellowship

Guy M. Condon

Care Net

Marjorie Dannenfelser

Susan B. Anthony List

Midge Decter


John J. DiIulio, Jr.

Princeton University

Bernard Dobranski

Catholic University of America

James C. Dobson

Focus on the Family

Jean Bethke Elshtain

University of Chicago

Clarke D. Forsythe

Americans United for Life

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

Emory University

Wanda Franz

National Right to Life Committee

Edward McGlynn Gaffney

Valparaiso University

Robert P. George

Princeton University

Mary Ann Glendon

Harvard University

David P. Gushee

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Russell Hittinger

Catholic University of America

Kay C. James

Regent University

Phillip E. Johnson

University of California at Berkeley

William Kristol

Project for the Republican Future

Beverly LaHaye

Concerned Women for America

Richard Land

Christian Life Commission

Southern Baptist Convention

Glenn C. Loury

Boston University

Frederica Mathewes-Green

National Women’s Coalition for Life

Michael W. McConnell

University of Chicago

Gilbert Meilaender

Oberlin College

Bernard N. Nathanson, M.D.

Physician, Author

Richard John Neuhaus

Institute on Religion and Public Life

David Novak

University of Virginia

Michael Novak

American Enterprise Institute

Marvin Olasky

University of Texas at Austin

Frank A Pavone

Priests for Life

Ralph Reed

Christian Coalition

Victor G. Rosenblum

Northwestern University

Ronald J. Sider

Evangelicals for Social Action

David M. Smolin

Samford University

David Stevens, M.D.

Christian Medical and Dental Society

Jim Wallis


George Weigel

Ethics and Public Policy Center

Jack C. Willke, M.D.

Life Issues Institute